Cover image for Postcolonial Vietnam : new histories of the national past
Postcolonial Vietnam : new histories of the national past
Pelley, Patricia M.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Durham [N.C.] : Duke University Press, [2002]

Physical Description:
x, 326 pages ; 25 cm.
General Note:
"A John Hope Franklin Center book"--P. [i].

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
DS556.5 .P45 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



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.

Author Notes

Patricia Pelley is assistant professor of history at Texas Tech University.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

Nationalism has been a worldwide phenomenon, but nationalist movements are quintessentially national--every nation approaches its goal in its own unique way. In this well-researched book, Pelley (Texas Tech Univ.) offers an intriguing story about how the modern Vietnamese, a people with whom many Americans have interacted in one way or another, have constructed their nation via history, ethnography, and commemoration. While their nine-year war with the US remains a fresh memory that, as some of their historians have argued, attests to the "fighting spirit of the Vietnamese nation," to most Vietnamese their nation-building project has to deal with more important foreign relations, namely, the influences of China, France, and the Soviet Union over the years, if not the centuries, in their land. Pelley vividly describes the ambivalence and anxiety of official historians in their exhaustive official historiographical project for a new national history, which it sometimes seems they can never complete. The author also provides interesting discussions on how similar uncertainties were registered in museum exhibits, ethnic taxonomy, and ceremonial activities. A useful case study for anyone interested in nationalism and colonialism in today's world. ^BSumming Up: Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above. Q. E. Wang Rowan University

Table of Contents

A Note on Diacritics
Introduction: Postcolonial Visions
1 Constructing History
2 The Land of the Viet and Viet Nam
3 Chronotypes, Commemoration: A New Sense of Time
List of Abbreviations
Selected Bibliography