Landscape and Memory in Vietnam

I trust that all of you had a Happy Thanksgiving with friends and family. My Thanksgiving included an invitation to join a team of educators and historians from the United States and Vietnam to develop an interactive, inquiry-based set of instructional materials that will align with the upcoming commemorations and anniversaries of the American Vietnam War for use in the secondary and post-secondary classroom. The project is being organized by the National Humanities Center in Durham, North Carolina.

The first stage of the project will focus on the French-Vietnamese conflict of the 1950s and the political, social, cultural, economic, and historical threads of the Black River Region (Northwest Region). The key historical event that will frame our inquiry is the battle of Dien Bien Phu. Such a focus will provide many opportunities to create instructional resources that set students up to better understand the complexities of American involvement starting in the early 1960s.

Though my role will certainly evolve as the project develops, it looks like I will focus primarily on the landscape of the Dien Bien Phu battlefield along with its memory and commemoration. It goes without saying that I am very excited about this opportunity, which includes 10 days on the ground in Vietnam next summer.

I certainly have a good deal to learn and that is where you come in. I recently read and thoroughly enjoyed Viet Thanh Nguyen’s, Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War, which was a finalist for this year’s National Book Award and is one of the finest memory studies that I have ever read. My familiarity with the relevant historical literature is pretty good, but I am always interested in recommendations. So, what should I try to read before next summer and please don’t confine your suggestions to history?

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14 comments… add one
  • Doug Didier Dec 5, 2016 @ 12:54

    They Marched into Sunlight is a good book. Captures the experiences at a particular time, home and in Vietnam.

    • Kevin Levin Dec 5, 2016 @ 15:23

      Thanks, Doug.

  • Peter I. Marcus Dec 3, 2016 @ 14:10

    Hello Kevin,
    two books that I think that you will find informative. The first is a general history of the Cold War by Arnold Offner, Another Such Victory: President Truman and the Cold War, 1945-1953. It is an excellent work of scholarship. The second title is Our Vietnam, The War 1945-1975 by A.J. Langguth. I see some one already recommended Embers of War. A powerful, deeply knowledgable work of scholarship.

    • Kevin Levin Dec 3, 2016 @ 14:12

      Thanks, Peter. I will definitely check out these recommendations.

  • Peter Thomas Nov 30, 2016 @ 13:42

    Hi Kevin:

    I hope all is well. I participated in a program over the summer at Auburn University called “Dialogues on the Experiences of War.” We spent some time discussing WWI and Vietnam. I had a chance to meet Philip Beidler, who is an English professor at the University of Alabama. He’s written several books and articles discussing Vietnam and memory. You should check out his department webpage for some potential reads. He gave a powerful talk on his personal Vietnam experience, and I imagine his writing conveys the same tone. Take care!

    • Kevin Levin Nov 30, 2016 @ 13:52

      Hi Peter,

      This is perfect. Will definitely follow up with your suggestion. Thanks.

  • Boyd Harris Nov 30, 2016 @ 7:14

    The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien is the best book I’ve ever read on the Vietnam conflict and memory. It greatly influenced my understanding of remembering/forgetting and would offer a great start to this project. Good Luck!

    • Kevin Levin Nov 30, 2016 @ 7:24

      Agreed. That’s one I team taught in an American Studies class.

  • Bjorn Nov 29, 2016 @ 8:13

    I took one Vietnam seminar, and ended up writing about Laos. It was worth it. I’d recommend Keith Quincy’s Harvesting Pa Chay’s Wheat: The Hmong and America’s Secret War in Laos. If your initial reaction is to think that Vietnam is not Laos, and the border places these events outside of the parameters of your topic, I would respectfully suggest you take your objections up with Messrs. Ho, Giap, Johnson, McNamara, and Casy. 🙂

    • Kevin Levin Nov 29, 2016 @ 9:24

      Thanks, Bjorn.

  • David starr Nov 29, 2016 @ 4:03

    Logevall Embers of War for the global piece
    Bernard Fall

    • Kevin Levin Nov 29, 2016 @ 4:05

      Thanks, David. Bernard Fall is definitely on my list. Will order Logevall as well.

  • Mike Butler Nov 28, 2016 @ 15:59

    What a great project! I teach a senior level seminar on the war at Flagler College and lead study broad programs to Vietnam, so I am envious of your project. Some recommendations: Appy, “Patriots,” Turse, “Kill Anything that Moves,” Greene, “The Quiet American,” Ning, “The Sorrow of War,” Bradley/Werner, “We Gotta Get Out of This Place.”

    • Kevin Levin Nov 28, 2016 @ 16:26

      Thanks for the references, Mike. Will keep you and everyone else updated on this project. Perhaps it will be something that you can use for your seminar.

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