SEAM Preservation Microfilming Project in Viet Nam

The Southeast Asia Microform Project received grant funding of $180,000 in late 1993 from the Henry Luce Foundation to establish preservation microfilming facilities at the National Library of Viet Nam. The objective of the proposal was to film early newspapers published in the Romanized vernacular quoc ngu script, with a focus on those titles not held in the Bibliotheque Nationale de France.

The project also aspired to film materials generated by the revolutionary authorities in the Resistance Zones outside of French-controlled areas during the Indochina War of 1946–54, and some manuscripts held in small museums and private collections. Additional grant funds of $35,000 from the Harvard-Yenching Institute were used to purchase the Zeutschel 35 mm planetary camera.

The Luce Foundation funds supported extensive training programs in 1995 which were taught by the micrographics consultant Robert Mottice, of Mottice Micrographics and UMI, and by John Dean, then Director of Conservation and Preservation at Cornell University. The Foundation has generously allowed its funds to be expended long beyond the initial period of the grant, enabling the project to overcome its initial logistical and political difficulties, and to continue to use those funds for the purchase of filming supplies and new processing equipment. The project, which was the first international effort of its kind since the end of the American War in Viet Nam, has filmed a range of newspapers and serials dating from the early 20th century.

Initial problems faced by the project were the cause of great excitement for our first on-site Project Managers: Michele Thompson, a graduate student of the University of Washington at the time, and Bergit Hussfeld. First, the Zeutschel camera was damaged in transit and delayed in its arrival; we were then unable to import processing chemicals for the ProStar desktop processor, and were thus obliged to use powdered chemicals left over from a Soviet-sponsored filming initiative in the 1960s; we mixed the chemicals in a bucket and ran the film through the liquid by hand. Despite these early obstacles, the project has been generating some 80 reels of film a year over the past few years, greatly contributing to the resources available to researchers at SEAM member libraries (Microfilms of these materials are available on interlibrary loan to scholars in North America through the Center for Research Libraries. See Requesting Materials.)

Our current Project Manager, Gerard Sasges, a graduate student at UC Berkeley, presided over the move of the preservation facilities to an impressive new National Library building, which opened in central Hanoi in 2000. With this move, together with various administrative changes and the rising number of library professional returning to Viet Nam from overseas training, has come revised attitudes towards collaborative projects, and profound changes in library services and preservation practices. The project purchased film scanning/printing equipment in the past year, allowing researchers to be much more comfortable with microfilm as a preservation and research medium.

After many years of discussion and negotiation, the new Director of the National Library of Viet Nam, Mr. Pham The Khang, feels confident the project can now proceed with the filming of some of the unique Resistance Zone materials, generated by the Viet Minh authorities, 1945–1954.

Highlights from the materials filmed to date by the project include: the women’s journal from Hanoi Ðàn bà, and Ðàn bà moi from Saigon; early issues of the influential journal Ðông Duong tap chí, and its interesting successor, published in 1937; and the Viet Namese language version of the pro-French L’Impartial, Trung Tap Báo, including its last two years of publication, during which time editorial control was taken over by revolutionary nationalists Nguyen An Ninh and Nguyen Van Tao.

In addition to the priority lists of vernacular language materials supplied to the National Library, the early years of the project included some extremely valuable French language serials, including city-level budget reports, and proceedings of the Cochinchina legislative body, the Conseil Colonial, reflecting a period of increasingly broad popular suffrage and participation by candidates representing a range of religious, social, and labor groupings and revolutionary ideologies.