Book Manuscript

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

Reading and Misreading examines the cultural and political history of French colonial libraries and print control in Vietnam from 1865 to 1958. I analyze the changing mission of colonial libraries as a hybrid of state documentation and public space for self-directed education and social life. I also embed libraries within the multilayered landscape of print control—the politics of production, dissemination, and preservation of print matter. I follow the dynamic debates on print control among colonial and post-colonial government administrators, librarians, archivists, translators, publishers, and readers. These diverse actors investigated the content, language, and influence of ‘good reading’ and initiated projects to disseminate reading matter through translation, publishing, and libraries. Administrators also policed cases of ‘misreading,’ the violation of proper library decorum or consumption of politically subversive texts.

The chapters follow a historical and thematic chronology: the builders, the readers, print industry, print control, and decolonization. Focused primarily on the state-initiated Central Library in Hanoi and Saigon, this dissertation advances a two-part argument on the history of colonial 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 documentary heritage. Second, library users shaped the everyday mission and social function of the library beyond the hegemonic aspirations of colonial and post-colonial states. As seen in the Hanoi and Saigon Central Library Reading Rooms in 1920s to 1950s, readers transformed the tranquil space intended for administrative research into a dynamic public space for study and social life. This two-part argument reveals the significance of the library as an institution of state-building, print control, and public reading culture.

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