Dông Sơn bronze drums are today a symbol of Vietnam. The images of bronze drums and the details on them (birds, etc.) can be found everywhere in Vietnam. But why do people think that they are so representative?
And if they don’t really represent Vietnam, then what does?
This is a question that Digital Humanities can help answer.
Digital Humanities (or DH for short) refers to at least three different phenomena: 1) the digitization of originally non-digital materials, 2) new ways of engaging in research that digitization and digital tools make possible, and 3) the presentation of research through digital media (blogs, ebooks, video, etc.).
As for #2, one tool that can enable people to look at the past in new ways is a concordance tool called AntConc that can be downloaded for free here.
It is very simple to use. First you need textual data that has been saved as a text (.txt) file (or you can have multiple files) in UTF-8 encoding.
Then start the program, load the text (.txt) file(s) by clicking “Open file(s)” in the “File” menu, and then search the file(s) for words. Just input a word and click “start.”
What is wonderful about this software is that it can handle Asian languages. However, for it to work with Chinese text you must click the box called “Regex.”
To do another search, click “Clear All Tools” in the “File” menu.
To load different files, click “Close All Files” in the “File” menu and then click “Open file(s)” in the “File” menu.
Under “Global Settings” you can change the font size.
I did a search of the Đại Việt sử ký toàn thư and the Đại Việt sử ký toàn thư tục biên for bronze drums. This term for drum appears in two forms, 皷 and 鼔. The two characters 銅皷 bring up some references to Bronze Drum Mountain (Đồng Cổ Sơn) in Thanh Hóa or the spirit of Bronze Drum Mountain.
Searching for 銅鼔, meanwhile, brings up a reference to a ritual that was held at Lam Sơn in Thanh Hóa in 1456 in which bronze drums were struck.
By clicking on the word that was searched for (in blue), you can view the passage where that word appears.
So from conducting these searches, I found that in the premodern period, bronze drums were only mentioned in two instances, and both were related to Thanh Hóa. What is more, only in one of those instances can we find evidence that the drum was actually used (that is, struck/hit to make a sound).
At that same ritual in 1456 where a bronze drum was struck, buffaloes were sacrificed. So I decided to do a search for buffalo (牛).
That term appears 79 times.
Doesn’t that indicate that buffaloes were more a part of the Vietnamese world in the past than bronze drums were? If so, then why aren’t buffaloes the symbol of Vietnam? After all, they have played such a bigger and more important role in Vietnamese life throughout history than bronze drums have. And they were of value to everyone who lived within the borders of the area that is now Vietnam, not just to an elite or to a minority group.
In any case, this is the type of topic that using a DH tool like AntConc can help us research and think about.
One can also load Vietnamese languages files into AntConc and search through them. When doing so, be sure to un-click “Regex.”
Here are files for the Đại Việt sử ký toàn thư in classical Chinese: DVSKTT Han
And in modern Vietnamese: DVSKTT quoc ngu