Le Minh Khai's SEAsian History Blog

Always rethinking the Southeast Asian past

The History of Domestic Tourism in Thailand

As is well known, in the 1960s and 1970s Thailand became a major destination for international tourists.

During those same years, Thailand’s domestic tourism market also expanded.

I was in the library the other day and came across a magazine that targeted potential Thai tourists in the 1960s and 1970s. In just looking at the images on the front cover of this magazine it’s interesting to see the kind of image of Thailand that was being promoted.

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Gia Long and Nôm

In his 1971 work, Vietnam and the Chinese Model, historian Alexander Woodside sought to demonstrate that there was a discernable distinction between a (Southeast Asian) “Vietnam” and a “Chinese model” of elite cultural ideas and practices that the Nguyễn Dynasty sought to impose in the nineteenth century.

In making this argument, Woodside indicates that without a deliberate effort to force Vietnamese to follow the Chinese model they would not do so. We see this with the issue of Nôm, or the demotic script that was used to record the Vietnamese language.

For example, Woodside argued that there was a return to the use of Nôm in the chaotic years of the Tây Sơn Rebellion in the late eighteenth century when it was difficult to impose the “Chinese model” and that Nôm continued to be used in the early years of the Nguyễn Dynasty under Emperor Gia Long.

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Việt-Nam Khảo-Cổ Tập-San #1

At the beginning of 1956, the president of the Republic of Vietnam ordered the establishment of the Historical Research Institute (Viện Khảo-Cổ) under the Ministry of Education.

This institute had a broad mission. It was to research about the history and culture of Vietnam from the past to the present and to do so in a multidisciplinary manner.

In 1960 the institute began publishing a journal, the Transactions of the Historical Research Institute (Việt-Nam Khảo-Cổ Tâp-San).

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The Absence of South Vietnam in “The Vietnam War” and in the American Consciousness

I just finished watching “The Vietnam War” by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick. While I really disliked the first episode (as it was extremely reductionist and simplistic), I found the rest of the documentary to be of much higher quality.

Ultimately, this is a movie about “America” rather than “Vietnam.” What Burns and Novick try to demonstrate is that the deep divides in American society today can be traced back to the time of the Vietnam War.

In exploring how America became divided at that time, Burns and Novick try not to privilege any single person or group in/from America by showing the complexity of each person or group, and by doing so they change how these years are often presented. For instance, almost every time that Burns and Novick discuss a famous event in the history of the anti-war movement, they follow that by noting that polls at that time showed that Americans favored the actions of the police/the establishment rather than the anti-war protestors.

There are some who will see this as a conservative distortion of “the facts,” but if the goal of this documentary is to explain why America is so divided, then contextualizing the anti-war movement in this way is helpful.

Continue reading “The Absence of South Vietnam in “The Vietnam War” and in the American Consciousness”

Minh Mạng and Nôm

Alexander Woodside’s Vietnam and the Chinese Model (1971) is a pioneering work of scholarship that remains today an important study of nineteenth-century Vietnam and the Nguyễn Dynasty. Woodside was the first scholar in the English-speaking world to make extensive use of Nguyễn Dynasty sources and no scholar since has produced a work of scholarship that ranges so broadly over the nineteenth-century Vietnamese historical record.

Like any pioneering study, however, Vietnam and the Chinese Model can still of course be improved upon, and we can see this with regards to one issue that Woodside discusses in this work, the role of Nôm, or the demotic script, in early nineteenth century Vietnam.

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Modern Southeast Asian History Seminar: Colonizing Animals (Week 4)

This week in the seminar we read some of the scholarship of Jonathan Saha, an historian at the University of Leeds in the UK.

While I discuss his scholarship in the video, it is also important to note that Jonathan maintains a wonderful “online presence” through his blog, Colonizing Animals.


Here are the articles that we read:

Continue reading “Modern Southeast Asian History Seminar: Colonizing Animals (Week 4)”

South Vietnamese Soldiers, American Bodies and Racism

I found the first episode of The Vietnam War by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick to be so simplistic that I wanted to stop watching, but in the end I did keep watching, and I’m glad that I did, as the second episode gets better, and I’m now watching the third.

The most valuable part of this documentary are the interviews, as the people interviewed say things that are more complex and revealing than the narrative in the documentary.

For instance, through some of the interviews we can learn about the presence of racism in the interactions between Americans and South Vietnamese soldiers, a topic that the narrative of the documentary does not directly address.

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Engaging in Vietnam in An Giang

Engaging With Vietnam is going to An Giang!! Our original plan for the upcoming 9th Engaging With Vietnam conference was to have the conference in HCM City and Phú Yên. We are now dividing it between HCM City and An Giang.

For more information see the following video:

And for more information about the conference, please consult the conference website:

Seminar in Modern Southeast Asian History: Thinking Big (Week 3)

This week in the seminar we looked at “big history,” that is, history that is large in scope, be that temporal (i.e., looking at a society over the longue durée) or spatial (looking comparatively at a topic across a large geographic area).

The most famous work on Southeast Asian history that falls into this category is undoubtedly Victor Lieberman’s, Strange Parallels: Southeast Asia in Global Context, c. 800–1830, a work that examines the trend toward state centralization in Southeast Asia over a long period of time, and then places that history in a global context.

Strange Parallels, is thus “big” in its examination of the past at both the temporal and spatial levels.

I’ve assigned Strange Parallels in seminars before, but this time we decided to look at a series of articles that take a “big” approach to the past in various ways by another scholar, historian Eric Tagliacozzo of Cornell University. My intent here was to try to give students a sense of not only what different forms of “big” history can look like, but to also give a sense of what “big” scholarly output looks like as well, as Tagliacozzo has been extremely productive, and in the academic world that is important.

Continue reading “Seminar in Modern Southeast Asian History: Thinking Big (Week 3)”

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Le Minh Khai's SEAsian History Blog

Always rethinking the Southeast Asian past

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a collection of thoughts and writings on Burma

Colonizing Animals

A blog about beasts, Burma and British imperialism

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on knowing the past in Singapore


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