Cindy Nguyen Bio Portrait Brown
Cindy Nguyen is a University of California Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Fellow based in the History and Literature departments at University of California, San Diego. She earned her Ph.D. in Southeast Asian History at the University of California, Berkeley, and was previously an International Humanities Postdoctoral Fellow at Brown University. She specializes in the history of Vietnam, Southeast Asia print culture, digital humanities, and libraries. Her book manuscript, “Bibliotactics: The Social Life of Libraries and Colonial Control in Vietnam, 1865–1958” examines the cultural and political history of libraries in Hanoi and Saigon from the French colonial period through to the decolonization of libraries. She reveals how the library reading room became a space of urban sociability, cultural imperialism, and self-directed education. Her research has been awarded the Phyllis Dain Library History Best Dissertation Award from the American Library Association, the Pattana Kitiarsa Southeast Asia Council Prize, and a Center for Khmer Studies Senior Fellowship.

Nguyen’s research informs and is informed by her art and personal history. Nguyen’s body of work includes award-winning multimedia film, poetry, visual art, and essays on the topics of translation, memory, and feminism ( Her interdisciplinary work bridges the diverse fields of history, technology, education, art, and language. As a refugee from the Vietnam War and English as a Second Language Learner, she is committed to advance the understanding of the complex history and culture of Vietnam as well as intergenerational memory and language. She is committed to advance the mission of education, information literacy, and libraries development, especially within underrepresented communities in Vietnam and the United States.
research and teaching cindy nguyen

Book Manuscript

Bibliotactics: The Social Life of Libraries and Colonial Control in Vietnam, 1865-1958


This book examines the cultural history of the library, its builders and users, and the politics of public reading and print control in colonial to postcolonial Vietnam. Focused primarily on the state Central Library in Hanoi and Cochinchina Library in Saigon from 1865 to 1958, this book advances a two-part argument on the history of libraries and print control in Indochina. First, to build libraries is to build the state. Libraries legitimized the authority of the state as infrastructures of symbolic modernity, print control, and authoritative knowledge. The colonial state attempted to instrumentalize the library to carry out a new information order to enact the French civilizing mission and to define colonial knowledge. Second, library users cultivated a distinctive public reading culture in the library space, shaping the everyday mission and social function of the library beyond the hegemonic aspirations of the state. As seen in the Hanoi Central Library and Saigon Library in the 1920s to 1950s, readers transformed the tranquil institution intended for administrative research into a dynamic public space for study and social life. The well-lit, open, and centrally located reading rooms offered opportunities for urban readers to engage in the practices of leisure reading and public social exchange. The library reading room and lending section provided an incomparable resource for broad self-directed learning and free access to global literature, reference works, and news periodicals in Vietnamese vernacular script quốc ngữ and French. Furthermore, the library was an important political battleground for Vietnamese intellectuals, journalists, administrators, and French reformists to debate contradictions in state cultural and educational policy. I uncover how the distinctive library infrastructure, cosmopolitan reading matter, and urban centrality gave rise to a public reading culture grounded in civic discourse and public space. Thus, I show how the Hanoi and Saigon libraries functioned as important sites for the fomenting of twentieth century Vietnamese public civic life and cosmopolitan consciousness.

Ongoing Digital Humanities Research

  1. Vietnamese Visual Texts: Critical Analysis of Collaborative Colonial Texts

[Critical Digital Humanities, Computer Vision, Content Analysis, Virtual Reality, Pedagogy, Digital Reading]

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I am the principal investigator on “Vietnamese Visual Texts” which critically examines indigenous knowledge production within colonial visual texts. In the first phase of the project (2019-2020, Brown University), I led a team of undergraduate researchers to content code a rare visual encyclopedia of Vietnamese crafts, cultural practices, and technologies commissioned in 1909 by a French colonial administrator and produced by a team of unnamed Vietnamese contributors (draftsmen, researchers, annotators, translators, and woodblock printers). The encyclopedia includes visual sketches of Vietnamese crafts and social practices as well as annotations in both French and Vietnamese (in Chữ Nôm, an endangered logographic Chinese writing system of Vietnamese language). I apply content analysis, visual and textual analysis to investigate the invisible authors and representation of race, gender, and labor. In the current stage of research, I collaborate with computer science professor Dr. David Laidlaw (Brown University) to data model descriptive patterns according to languages (Vietnamese Nôm script, French), visual depiction, and aesthetic style (visual archetypes, emotion, modularity). I use these patterns to uncover a plurality of authorship and the production of racialized and gendered hierarchies of knowledge. Our team is also developing a virtual reality tool for visualizing multilingual visual texts and historic data in spatial non-linear formats. As a close cultural analysis and computational investigation, this study offers novel contributions to the fields of science and technology studies, history of the book, Vietnamese history, labor history, and colonial studies. Furthermore, the virtual reality tool seeks to offer a virtual environment for research and teaching through virtual immersion and spatial organization of historic data.

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  1. Social Library

[Database, Visualization, Prosopography, History of the Book, Publishing and Library Data]

I am the principal investigator of the Social Library, an open database on twentieth century Vietnamese intellectuals and their publications and a digital companion website to the book project “Bibliotactics.” As the first large scale intellectual and literary study of Southeast Asia, this is an ambitious project to visualize the social and cosmopolitan world of Vietnamese writing, reading, and thinking. This focus on Vietnamese writers and readers decolonizes literary scholarship from the West, by showcasing the dynamic ‘Republic of Letters’ literary exchange in Southeast Asia during the colonial and postcolonial period. Social Library will compile data on Vietnamese intellectuals (prosopography) in conversation with Vietnamese publishing and library data (history of the book). This digital research tool will yield large scale analysis of authors, publishing houses, titles, and readers, thus offering insight on temporal and spatial patterns of literature and audiences. This will be an invaluable research tool for my historical scholarship on Southeast Asia and will be an important intervention in digital, literary, and bibliographic scholarship. The database will be open to contributions from other researchers and users can create visualizations from the shared data. The database and visualizations will function as an interactive digital public history platform where researchers, educators, and students can co-create the database and garner new interpretations through visualizations. Initial development of this project was funded by the Social Science Research Council IDRF and Institute for East Asian Studies at UC Berkeley.


A 1936 ‘Bibliobus’ mobile library serving Southern Vietnam. Paul Boudet, Gouvernement général de l’Indochine. Rapport sur la direction des archives et des bibliothèques: 1937-1938. (Hanoi: Imprimerie Le Van Tan, 1938)

3.Virtual Angkor

virtual angkor

Virtual Angkor project (SensiLab, University of Texas, Monash University, Flinders University, Brown University) is an immersive virtual reality and 3D simulation of 13th century Angkor metropolis for teaching history, archaeology, and visual art. The project won the 2018 Rosenzweig Prize for Innovation in Digital History by the American Historical Association. Since Fall 2019, I have been an affiliated faculty on the project and worked with the Virtual Angkor team to bring the VR scenes into a teaching module on visual representation in my courses at Brown as well as workshops on Virtual World Building at UCSD.

Archive of Past Digital Work

Deconstructing Libraries: Predicting Titles, Topics, and Publication City

[Computational Text Analysis, Library, NLP, Semantic Models, Experimental Design]

This project analyzed a complex non-English language historical data source—bibliographies of the United States Library of Congress collections of Vietnamese language materials retrospectively collected up to 1979 and 1979-1985. We employed a dual approach of 1) contextualized historical reading and 2) machine learning methods (frequency counts, topic models, Naive Bayes, permutation tests) to understand library collecting patterns, the relationship between topics and publication location, and change over time. This originated as the final project for ”Deconstructing Data Science” course taught by Professor David Bamman (School of Information, UC Berkeley 2016), where I collaborated with co-principal investigator Jordan Shedlock to examine the relationship between book titles and publication city.

Since 2014, I have been co-principal investigator on the DH at Berkeley Mellon funded project  Vietnamese Intellectual Networks Database (VIND)  along with collaborator Matthew Berry. VIND provides detailed historical data regarding key Vietnamese intellectuals, their geographic movement, and their intellectual networks. In the future, VIND will function as a collaborative resource for researchers, educators, and those interested in Vietnamese history.

In 2014-2015 I was the Digital Humanities Assistant and co-convener of the Digital Humanities Working Group. I contributed to the development of the DH at Berkeley program, working group events in the Berkeley community, and was the coordinator of Berkeley DH Faire (April 7-8, 2015).

In 2012-2013 I was involved in digital humanities projects such as the creation of the MSU Vietnam Group Archive led by the digital humanities center MATRIX  and University Archives at my Master’s degree institution Michigan State University. While at MSU, I participated the CHI fieldschool on data visualization and digital humanities and helped to build Detroit Digital.

Mission: Education, Open Source, and Sharing

Often the ivory tower of academia is portrayed as self-serving and removed from the larger community. Pushing against the image of the isolated ivory tower of intellectualism, I aspire to make the research, reading, and writing process more transparent through my own work. My mission for my website consists of two parts:

  1. Contribute to diversify the body of online knowledge about Vietnam.
  2. Share my experience as a graduate student and researcher as a process of exploration, experimentation, and communication.

I want to contribute to a culture of sharing things in progress. Working papers, thoughts, typos, unpolished ideas. Join me on this online community of open knowledge, discussion, and sharing.

All of my project files are available on GitHub–access, share, and contribute to improving my projects and datasets.

Everything on this website is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License
  Creative Commons License

Second Project

Distributing Revolution: Propaganda, Statistics, and Information in the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (1955-1975)

Distributing Revolution is an information history of propaganda production, distribution, and reception. My project argues that the DRV state created an ‘information order’—an elaborate infrastructure to distribute propaganda, collect statistics, and monitor its citizens. Furthermore, I will demonstrate how the institutions and technologies of measurement such as the Central Distributor [sở phát hành sách trung ương] operated to increase governmental legitimacy and to quantify social, cultural, and economic transformation under socialism.

Archive of Previous Research

“Where People & Places Meet: Travel and the Spatial Identities of Indochina, France, and Hue in 1920s-1940s Vietnamese Print”

By Cindy A. Nguyen

A Thesis Submitted to Michigan State University for the degree of Master of Arts in History, 2013