Completion of SEAM/Luce Vietnam Filming Project

After nearly 15 years of activity, the Center for Research Libraries (CRL) and Southeast Asia Microform Project (SEAM) have finally expended the funds provided by the Henry Luce Foundation to support microfilming, cataloging, and preservation of historical materials in Việt Nam. Under the consistent project direction of Judith Henchy (Head, Southeast Asia Section, University of Washington), the SEAM/Luce program achieved considerable success in pursuit of its goals.

As we reported in an earlier issue of FOCUS (Fall 2005, v. 25, no. 1), SEAM received support from the Henry Luce Foundation and the Harvard Yenching Institute to film early newspapers published in the vernacular quốc ngữ script, and materials generated by the revolutionary authorities in the Resistance Zones outside of French-controlled areas during the Indochina War of 1946–54. This pioneering project was the first international effort of its kind since the end of the American War in Vietnam.

This effort has resulted in an 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.

The titles filmed include many of the key newspapers from the 1920s and 1930s that document the intellectual fervor and political discourse surrounding the rise of the Indochina Communist Party. The earliest titles preserved under the grant include several francophone publications documenting colonial-era perspectives from Indochina, such as L’Extreme Orient (1894–99), L’Indo-chinois (1900–10), and Le Courrier d’Indochine (1908–12). The collection also contains abundant vernacular newspapers such as Thuc Nghiep Dan-Bao (1920–22), a Hanoi daily aimed at the growing Vietnamese bourgeoisie; Trung Lap Bao (1924–33), a widely circulated newspaper published in Saigon and (despite its title, “Neutral News”) subsidized by French commercial interests; and Hà Thanh Ngo-Bao (1927–31), noted for its pursuit of modern journalistic practices and standards.

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.

Finally, the project was able to preserve a selection of unique Resistance Zone materials generated by the Viet Minh authorities during the period 1945–54. To date, 52 monograph titles from the collection have been filmed as well as several serials (contained on two reels of film labeled “Sach Khang Chien”). These publications cover a wide range of topics, including speeches by Ho Chi Minh; essays on historical materialism, Socialism, and Nationalism; and popular texts treating subjects such as agricultural practices, Communist principles and ethics, and poetry.

In addition to the valuable resources preserved, the project is notable for its success in establishing a microfilm preservation unit at the National Library in Hanoi, with grant funds applied to the acquisition and repair of microfilm equipment (camera, processors), staff training in conservation and preservation techniques, and film supplies and processing chemicals for production. The program also supplied a modern microform reader/scanner to encourage use of microfilms over the original, increasingly fragile, collections in Vietnam.

The SEAM/Luce project was able to extend its activities over a considerable period of time due to cost savings of the National Library (augmented by interest income from the original grant funds as well as direct financial and in-kind support from SEAM and CRL). Though production was often sporadic, training and enhancement of preservation capacity allowed the National Library to extend its preservation efforts to additional materials in its collections.

The Luce-funded project at the National Library remains one of the most prominent international initiatives to have significantly enhanced worldwide research access to collections. The importance of the Luce project to the National Library was affirmed in January 2009 when Project Director Judith Henchy was honored at a ceremony of recognition by the Ministry of Culture, Sport, and Tourism for services to Vietnamese culture.

With the funds remaining in the project, SEAM has 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. The National Library will continue filming material targeted by the original grant, plus content identified subsequently by the Library and project team members. In addition, we hope to continue filming selections from the Resistance Zone materials. 

For more information (including a comprehensive title list), please visit the project Web page.