History of the Project
The Center for Research Libraries, on behalf of the Southeast Asia Microform Project (SEAM), submitted a proposal to the Henry Luce Foundation in October 1993 for preservation microfilming activities of important historical material in Vietnam. The Luce Foundation awarded $180,000 to SEAM for this project in 1994; the Harvard Yenching Institute provided an additional $35,000 to support the purchase of camera equipment. Project funds have been used to purchase filming and processing equipment, support travel for researchers and consultants involved in negotiations and training with Vietnamese institutions, and pay for project staff engaged in the administration and duties of the project. The project aims to make specific materials available to U.S. researchers, while providing Vietnamese research institutions with the capacity for sustained preservation activities.
The proposal successfully drew attention to the urgency of the preservation issue in Vietnam, where much valuable information has been lost due to poor storage conditions, dislocation, and destruction during the years of war and political unrest. Conditions in Vietnamese archives are very poor. The humid climate and lack of preservation awareness threatens Vietnam’s historic record in a variety of institutions, from the largest of state facilities in Hà Noi to the smallest provincial museums. Despite the commendable progress of upgrading facilities and staff training over the last couple of decades, the problem of endangered collections remains one of overwhelming scope and urgency.
The project was divided into three phases. The initial phase aimed to establish filming facilities at the National Library in Hà Noi and provide training in micrographics and conservation technologies to staff of all the important research repositories. Filming would commence at the National Library based on an agreement to film early quoc ngu newspapers. For the second phase, a portable camera would be used to film smaller format materials at off-site repositories; it was hoped that this project would be based in Hoi An, where many interesting documents remain in private family houses. In the final phase of flexible duration, project participants would continue to film materials as they are made available.
The bulk of initial project activities has been based at the National Library in Hà Noi (Thu Vien Quoc Gia). SEAM and the Harvard-Yenching Institute assisted in the provision of full microfilming facilities for the National Library. John Dean of Cornell University and Robert Mottice of Mottice Micrographics, Inc. conducted preservation workshops in 1995 to train a number of staff from various libraries across the country in microfilm techniques, film processing, and film archiving technologies.
SEAM’s initial collaboration with the Hoi An Service of Vestiges Management (Ban Quan Ly Di Tich Hoi An) met with difficulties following a restructuring of the province boundaries and the local offices of the Culture Ministry. Collaboration with the Social Science Information Institute in Hà Noi (Vien Thông Tin Khoa Hoc Xã Hoi) and the General Sciences Library in Ho Chi Minh City (Thu Vien Khoa Tong Hop) also remain under negotiation.
Current Project Status
After nearly 15 years of activity, the project has finally expended the funds provided by the Henry Luce Foundation to support microfilming, cataloging, and preservation of historical materials in Viet Nam. The SEAM/Luce program achieved considerable success in pursuit of its goals.
The most significant outcome is the enormous body of vernacular and French language materials from the National Library in Hanoi preserved on microfilm, now accessible to an international audience. The project microfilmed 219 titles, available on nearly 500 reels of microfilm. Films produced under the project have been cataloged and are available via interlibrary loan from the Center for Research Libraries.
Among the titles filmed are many of the key newspapers from the 1920s and 1930s that document the intellectual fervor and the political discourse that surrounded the foundation and rise of the Indochina Communist Party. Besides those titles that the project had prioritized, the National Library also included a wide array of important French language official reports from this period, including transcripts of the Colonial Council sessions, local government budget plans and many other resources that will prove invaluable to future research.
Negotiations to film Resistance Zone materials have proved politically sensitive. However, in the last years of the project, Judith Henchy was able to assess the contents held at the National Library and to arrange for the preservation of a selection of material. To date 52 monograph titles from the collection have been filmed, and several serials (contained on two reels of film labeled “Sach Khang Chien.”)
With the remaining funds for the project, SEAM arranged for additional film stock and supplies to be provided to the National Library, along with a small amount of money to continue filming for the next 18 months.