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The Development of Vietnamese Studies since 1980: A Roundtable in Honor of Prof. Hue-Tam Ho Tai. (Session 1: Religion, Social History, and Political History)

Fri, April 1, 3:00 to 5:00pm, Washington State Convention Center, Floor: 6th Floor, Room 603

Session Submission Type: Roundtable Session

Abstract

Over the past 35 years, Vietnamese Studies has experienced remarkable growth and change. In 1980, only a handful of Vietnamese Studies specialists taught at North American universities. Conducting research in Vietnam was difficult or impossible for foreign scholars, due to Cold War politics and the country’s diplomatic isolation. But since the advent of the Đổi Mới era in the late 1980s, the field has thrived, as reflected in dramatically expanded research opportunities in Vietnam and in the hiring of dozens of Vietnamese Studies faculty in the United States and elsewhere.

This two-part roundtable explores the transformation of Vietnamese Studies through the work of Hue-Tam Ho Tai, who began teaching at Harvard University in 1980 and who has profoundly impacted the field through her research, writing, and mentorship. In the first session, five discussants will reflect on how Tai has shaped the study of three interrelated themes: Vietnamese religion, Vietnamese social history, and Vietnamese political history. Charles Keith revisits Tai’s path-breaking first book, Millenarianism and Peasant Politics (1983), especially its determination to move past flattened-out class categories, its resistance to the equation of religion with “tradition,” and its deep attention to place in Vietnam. Haydon Cherry shows how Tai opened new avenues for the study of the social history of French Indochina, especially with regards to the study of business, labor, state power, and Overseas Chinese communities. Philippe Peycam discusses Tai’s efforts to incorporate subjective individual experiences into Vietnamese historical narratives, with particular attention to the new paradigms introduced by colonialism. Nhung Tran considers the ways in which Tai’s work on both religion and history has helped a generation of Vietnamese Studies scholars to take new approaches to region, method and subject. And Edward Miller will discuss how Tai’s work has shaped the study of postcolonial Vietnam, especially with respect to the connections between religious belief and political history in the era of the Indochina Wars. These five commentaries will provide the frame for a broader conversation with audience members and with Professor Tai.

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