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Postcolonial Vietnam: New Histories of the National Past (Asia-Pacific)by Patricia M. Pelley
Synopses & Reviews
New nations require new histories of their struggles for nationhood. Postcolonial Vietnam takes us back to the 1950s to see how official Vietnamese historians and others rethought what counted as history, what producing history entailed, and who should be included as participants and agents in the story. Beginning with government-appointed historians’ first publications in 1954 and following their efforts over the next thirty years, Patricia M. Pelley surveys this daunting process and, in doing so, opens a wide window on the historical forces and tensions that have gone into shaping the new nation of Vietnam.
Although she considers a variety of sources—government directives, census reports, statistics, poetry, civic festivities, ethnographies, and museum displays—Pelley focuses primarily on the work of official historians in Hanoi who argued about and tried to stabilize the meaning of topics ranging from prehistory to the Vietnam War. She looks at their strained and idiosyncratic attempts to plot the Vietnamese past according to Marxist and Stalinist paradigms and their ultimate abandonment of such models. She explores their struggle to redefine Vietnam in multiethnic terms and to normalize the idea of the family-state. Centering on the conversation that began in 1954 among historians in North Vietnam, her work identifies a threefold process of creating the new history: constituting historiographical issues, resolving problems of interpretation and narration, and conventionalizing various elements of the national narrative. As she tracks the processes that shaped the history of postcolonial Vietnam, Pelley dismantles numerous clichés of contemporary Vietnamese history and helps us to understand why and how its history-writing evolved.
Explores the relation between the precolonial and colonial past to the postcolonial present in the Democratic Republic of Vietnam.
About the Author
“A lively and well-written contribution to both southeast Asian and postcolonial studies, exploring the construction of myth and memory in an Asian society with unusually severe constraints on such activities, given its multiple colonial dependencies in modern times.”—Alexander Woodside, University of British Columbia
“A welcome, thoughtful, and insightful analysis of the politics of historical reconstruction among Vietnamese scholars that takes seriously the engaged debates and sustained labor that went into what Michel de Certeau termed ‘the historiographic operation‘ in postcolonial Vietnam. In attending to internal divisions that were not simply those of ‘north’ and ‘south,’ Pelley not only replaces a binary analytics with a more nuanced one: she does the hard work of showing how much political and cultural contest goes into historical production”—Ann Stoler, University of Michigan
“This wonderful and truly outstanding book presents little-known archival material in a most compelling fashion. Patricia M. Pelley has written an elegant and lucid book that will generate much scholarly discussion in the years to come, and in a number of disciplines. It will become mandatory reading for all those interested in Vietnam and Southeast Asian history. ”—Panivong Norindr, author of Phantasmatic Indochina: French Colonial Ideology in Architecture, Film and Literature
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