In the 1950s, historical scholarship in the DRV was part of an international world of scholarship. First and foremost, Vietnamese historians in the DRV were in dialog with their Communist Chinese and Soviet counterparts, and all were involved in creating a new “scientific” history based on Marxist historical theory.

Edward Yang has written about the dialog between the Chinese and Soviets in his “Between Marxism and Nationalism: Chinese Historiography and the Soviet Influence, 1949-1963,” Journal of Contemporary China9:23 (2000): 95-111.

In dialog with Soviet historians, Communist Chinese historians in this time period wrote about such topics as the formation of the Chinese nation, the periodization of Chinese history, the role of peasant wars in Chinese history, signs of the emergence of capitalism in the Chinese past, and the issue of land ownership in “feudal” China.

These are all topics which Vietnamese historians in the DRV addressed as well. They did so in a journal which they entitled Nghiên cứu lịch sử, a title remarkably similar to the title of the journal which Communist Chinese historians published their articles in, Lishi yanjiu. . . As such, Vietnamese historians were part of an international effort to use a certain theoretical approach to address certain issues. (Patricia Pelley deals with this to some extent in her Postcolonial Vietnam: New Histories of the National Past.)

Then in the 1960s this all came to an end. During the war, nationalism took prominence over Marxist theory, and since that time I would argue that the role of theory in historical scholarship in Vietnam has disappeared. For the past 50 years, I cannot find any serious signs that Vietnamese historians have employed any new theoretical insights to advance historical scholarship.

What I do see many signs of, instead, is a “blank space.” What I mean by this is that I find no signs of the major theorists that have influenced historical scholarship in the West over the course of the past half century.

So whenever I read something which a Vietnamese historian writes these days, I get confused. I don’t understand what Vietnamese historians think they are doing.

Do they think that they are participating in the world of “international” scholarship? If so, then they desperately need to fill in that “blank space” because they will not understand anyone outside of Vietnam, nor will anyone be able to understand them, until they do so.

Do they think that they are participating in a more limited world of “Vietnamese” scholarship? If that is the case, then there is really no reason to hold “international” conferences and workshops in Vietnam, and there is no reason for Vietnamese historians to attend such events outside of the country, because these two worlds have no reason to interact with each other.

Ultimately my guess is that historians in Vietnam simply don’t really know or think that much about what they are doing. They are just content to drift through that “blank space.”