International Development, Community, and Environment

Title

History Reformatted: Vietnam’s Great Famine (1944–45) in Archival Form

Document Type

Article

Abstract

The number and types of memory projects in Vietnam have proliferated rapidly since the mid-1990s. These projects, most of them intensely local in focus, reconfigure selective aspects of different “pasts” for strategic use in the present. Government- approved memory projects exhibit similar patterns. However, some of them openly diverge from official narratives of patriotic resistance. The project featured in this essay—the creation of an archive to document the Great Famine (1944–45) by a joint Vietnamese-Japanese research commission—is such an example. Close attention to the methodological procedures used to assemble this archive, which is highly unorthodox in form and content, provides insights into how historical evidence is fashioned rather than found in the Vietnamese context. The details reveal partial silences in four thematic areas: (1) the allocation of blame, (2) the suppression of sentiment in oral form, (3) the depersonalization of suffering in visual form, and (4) the comparative absence of organized resistance. Close attention to these elisions explains why the Great Famine and the hungry ghosts it produced continue to resist incorporation into state-approved histories of the “exceptional dead,” who sacrificed their lives to defend the “nation” from foreign aggressors.

Publication Title

Southeast Asian Studies

Publication Date

8-1-2016

Volume

5

Issue

2

First Page

187

Last Page

218

ISSN

2186-7275

DOI

10.20495/seas.5.2_187

Keywords

archive, commemoration, famine, history, memory, Vietnam

Disciplines

Social and Behavioral Sciences | Sociology

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