Archipelagic Vietnam: Rethinking Nationalism and Trans-Pacific Regionalism at the Shoreline

Lecture | December 4 | 4-5:30 p.m. | 180 Doe Library

 David Biggs, Professor of History, UC Riverside

 Center for Southeast Asia Studies

Until recent conflicts over islands in the South China Sea, Vietnam’s history has been almost wholly described in terrestrial terms. Vietnam’s nationalist struggles, we were told, involved epic battles with American and other troops in highland jungles and city streets; and the nation’s territorial expansion from Hanoi happened in two directions: southward and uphill. The sea, as so many history books taught, was a nothing space where foreign invasions began. Vietnam’s geo-body was tied to a Westphalian notion of sovereignty reified in so many books and maps. Real sovereignty in Vietnam, however, was and still is relational; and seaborne connections across the East Sea and the Pacific played key roles in defining modern Vietnamese spaces and identities. Rather than assume a closed model, this talk reimagines Vietnam as an archipelago, a more permeable nation-system of nodes linked by flows of energy, food, people and technology moving from the sea to the mountains and spaces beyond.

David Biggs is a Professor of History at UC Riverside, specializing in twentieth century environmental history with an area focus on Vietnam and Southeast Asia. His first book, Quagmire: Nation-Building and Nature in the Mekong Delta (University of Washington Press, 2012), won the 2012 George Perkins Marsh Prize in Environmental History. His most recent book is Footprints of War: Militarized Landscapes in Vietnam (University of Washington Press, 2018). He is currently working on a trans-Pacific history of the mid-twentieth century., 510-642-3609