Map Data: 1960 Security – Upland District

I had a nice skype interview with a grad seminar at my alma mater yesterday, UW in Seattle, and one student very rightly asked me when I was going to upload the map data I’d promised in my book to readers. The answer, friends, is NOW. I am renting some space on this server, 100GB, and I intend to USE IT! I’ll start with an archival map from the Vietnamese National Archives in HCM City from the records of the Cabinet of the First Republic of Vietnam (Đệ Nhất Cộng Hoa or Đ1CH in my notes in the book). The following image is super-cool as an example of American and CIA-inspired choropleth mapping used to describe communist-friendly areas in Southeast Asia. The use of pie charts, for example, with pink for “pinkoes” or “communist sympathizers” and the yellow for Republic of Vietnam loyalists (their flag was yellow with red stripes).

The map georeferenced, overlaying satellite imagery.

Here’s a link to the full-rez, georeferenced (for ArcGIS) FILE. Source info: File 17331, Record Group ĐICH, Vietnam National Archives Center No. 2.

Before I go further, let me just apologize outright to my geographer and GIS friends for providing no metadata on this. Please sympathize, I’m not an agency supplying data but an historian offering up usable files for the few.

Now, what’s cool about this map, especially when overlaying current satellite imagery, is how what was once a jungle clearing, bull-dozed grids of housing blocks and “enemy bases” has grown in the postwar era into a full-fledged town and district called Nam Đồng!

This illustrates a very important point about the communist nation-building effort, that not only were they establishing key strategic nodes in highland areas, but they were continuing a centuries-old program of “cultivating” these highland spaces. This term (giao hóa) suggests a particularly Vietnamese (and Chinese) style of interacting with highland groups. Bringing in highlanders to trade, providing literacy (in Vietnamese), integrating them into an expanding – topological – network of “the state”.

By contrast, the Diệm government, especially his brother Cẩn’s shadowy government ruling the central region, took a more brutalist approach to these highland areas that communists had been “cultivating” since 1947.

So, enjoy the map! Download the file, play with it, and let me know if it says anything more to you.

More info:

Here’s what I write about this map and how it fit into RVN nation-building in 1960, from Footprints of War, pp. 124-5:

“The new military rulers in the uplands of the province introduced new political maps with light and dark pink shadings that conveyed their singular purpose of counterinsurgency. Dark pink described areas that were deeply contested while light pink suggested fading support. While such maps fed into national military planning for the RVN, they also informed American military allies who had for years been drawing up similar maps in neighboring Laos and Thailand. The military authors of this map used dark pink shading to indicate areas still largely under the communists’ control. They used a lighter shade of pink to indicate lighter opposition in the hills west of Hoà Mỹ and southwest of another evacuated area, Khê Trái.

As a cartographic projection of the ARVN’s ambitions in 1960 for mopping up these bases of communist support, the map presented communist-controlled regions in symbolic terms most familiar to American counterinsurgency experts at the time. Small pie charts in each highlands commune showed, via darker shaded sections, the approximate percentage of people who were “Việt Cộng in the region,” still a majority across the hills. Lighter pink shading indicated areas with diminished support, and colored or empty circles indicated villages that supported a particular side or had been abandoned, respectively.

Excerpts of the map showing the map’s deep pink areas, the hills around Nam Đồng and the A Sầu Valley, bear closer inspection, for they show how ecological and political boundaries coincided, often separating ARVN posts from communist base areas by only a few kilometers. Reconstituted self-defense units and communist cells, pushed almost to annihilation during several years of unrelenting police sweeps, extended their political and communications networks to the very tips of streams and tributaries on the highest slopes. ARVN troops could not easily penetrate the dense forests without support from Katus and highland groups while communist partisans retained the older practice of navigating by rivers and mountain ridges with help from native highlanders.”

Back to the Mekong Delta

I had the pleasure of co-leading a group of graduate students to the Mekong Delta after having not been in the region for a good seven years. (My second book is focused on the central coast of Vietnam.) It was fun to revisit old sites and see old friends while traveling with the group. Below are some favorite shots from the trip.

Vinh Te Canal. View looking west from Chau Doc.

I love the above picture for the layers of activity and occupation. Houses on stilts back up into the canal while int he foreground a man fishes from a “ghe tam ban” or three plank canoe. In the distance, a barge approaches us. The water is reddish brown and opaque, almost milky with the fine silt washing down from the Mekong.

Chau Giang Mosque.

The group visited the Cham muslim community’s central mosque. During the visit, one of the imams received our group, and I learned something new.

Imam explaining the mosque and community history.

He corrected me on the history of *his* community and ancestors. They were not Chams who migrated west to the region in the 1700s and later converted to Islam but instead Malays who migrated north and east from Terengganu in Malaysia through Cambodia in the 1700s and finally settled here. Because Cham and Malay are distantly related, Austronesian languages, the Viet chroniclers and imperial officials in the area simply classified them as Cham. The post-1975 Socialist Republic of Vietnam likewise recognizes this community as a Cham ethnic group. One of the students, Nurrhoman from Bandung, Indonesia, communicated some basic phrases with the imam in Malay/Bahasa.

Group at Miếu Bà Chưa Xứ.

We visited a number of important spiritual sites in the region, including this temple dedicated to the Lady of the Realm, a goddess spirit followed especially by ethnic-Chinese inhabitants at a site that, in ancient times (before 6th century CE) was most likely a temple to Siva or Visnu. Allegedly those who pray to the Lady for good fortune who receive it must return to make offerings of thanks. The money from this return traffic then goes to various charities.

Prof. John Agbonifo and Martina van den Haak at Khmer temple, Oc Eo.

One great aspect of the trip was sharing the teaching with two fantastic scholars, John Agbonifo of Osun State in Nigeria and Debjani Bhattacharyya at Drexel University, and the author of the newly published Empire and Ecology in the Mekong Delta. It is a fascinating read!

Prof. Debjani w/ a local official in Can Tho, myself and the group.

We ended our delta trip in Can Tho with several meetings in this booming city. I left it in 2011 at 500,000 people, and now the city has tripled in area with a population of 1.5 million! My favorite meeting there was with an old friend, Ms. Huynh Le, who visited the group and spoke about life in this boomtown.

Huynh Le at her language school.

The trip ended in HCM City on Friday and students gave presentations on Saturday. Thanks to Ms. Hoang for the cute little souvenir! Pictured in the background is “Team Non Lá (Conical Hat)”.

Team Conical Hat

I leave you with a shot from old Saigon, the back of it’s main open air market. I like this shot for the many layers visible here. In the foreground the butcher stalls and flower stands of Ben Thanh. In the background are old facades from the French colonial and post-colonial eras. Then in the way back are the towering spires of recently completed skyscrapers. Farewell until next time, Vietnam!

Ben Thanh Market, Saigon

Going Back to the Mekong Delta…

Next week I am excited to be a co-leader for the Leiden-based International Institute for Asian Studies’ In Situ Field School. The topic is “Delta Cities: Rethinking Practices of the Urban. I’ll be joined by two fellow “delta scholars” I very much admire:

Debjani Bhattarchaya – who has just come out with this FANTASTIC new book, Empire and Ecology in the Bengal Delta: The Making of Calcutta

John Agbonifo – who as a sociologist with historian tendencies has produced AMAZING studies on resource conflicts in the Niger Delta. 

Lục Bình (water hyacinth, Eichornia crassipes) on a Mekong Delta canal.
Photo Credit: David McCaskey

Also in tow will be two UCR graduate students from the History program, David McCaskey and Todd Luce. It’s a rare pleasure to share a trip to my study sites with them. Luce is completing a PhD on the water politics and history of the Salton Sea while McCaskey is just beginning his research on fisheries and development in Vietnam.  

UCR Video – The Vietnam War’s Environmental Legacy

I worked with our crackerjack media team this summer to develop this video about my research and my teaching at UCR designed to complement an article and press release on the soon-arriving book. Of interest to some, they wanted a location to shoot this that in some ways reflected connections to Vietnam.  I didn’t really know how closely the nearby March Field Air Museum’s exhibits might relate, but we found that this all-volunteer museum, drawing on contributions from veterans, has reconstructed a Vietnam-era firebase. Pics below capture some of our shooting “on set.”


Escaping to the Early History of SE Asia This Autumn…

This autumn I get to teach one of my favorite survey courses at UCRiverside, a survey of early history in Southeast Asia. As a specialist on the twentieth century, the ancient past here offers me a return to the kinds of vacation-in-the-past adventures that sparked my childhood interests in studying history that led me here.

Ta Prohm Temple, Angkor Wat, 2005
Ta Prohm Temple, 2005

I know that as a professional historian I should frown upon the romantic fascination with ruins or at least throw in a footnote. But I nevertheless remain captivated by sites like this, a purposefully-left, crumbling temple at Angkor Wat. These places, their multi-layered, material histories and even the ways they figure into the politics of the present fascinate me.

During my research in the Mekong Delta as a graduate student, I had the good fortune to visit Dr. Pierre-Yves Manguin‘s archeological dig at Oc Eo, a site important to an ancient kingdom of waterways and a city of warehouses built on wooden pilings known widely as “Funan”.  Dr. Manguin’s research includes topics in my dream list of projects, the History of Boats in Island SE Asia.

2002. Re-surveying Malleret’s 1944 dig site at Oc Eo, Kien Giang, Vietnam

Through Pierre-Yves and a fantastic staff of archeologists and ceramacists affiliated with the French School of the Far East (EFEO), I was able to witness not only a fascinating excavation of ancient baths and a newly excavated pilgrimage site but also the scholarly diplomacy of a French organization working closely with Vietnamese institutions, scholars and agencies. 

I hope I can bring some of this escapist fascination with Southeast Asia’s ancient past to the enthusiastic young students at Riverside this fall. The materials are all nestled within our campus platforms, but I share my syllabus here.  

UC Study Abroad in Hue 2019

We are finally going again! Next summer Hồng Anh and I will lead the UC Exchange Abroad Program to Vietnam in Huế for five weeks. Unfortunately the program is only open now to UC students, but it will be good to return with the family! If you know of students interested in going, let me know. 

One nice souvenir from past trips is the blog “Hue Stories” that the American and Vietnamese students produce. Following here is a one story I particularly enjoyed – Boy with a Camera – by UCR student Phong Hong about his Vietnamese student partner Nhat Hao Tran Dinh

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