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Click the image to the left or follow the link below for a full listing of events at the Weiser Center for Europe and Eurasia this semester.

WCEE Winter Events

CREES Noon Lecture. To See and Write Vietnam: Polish Socialist Travelogues and Documentary Photography

Thục Linh Nguyễn Vũ, German Kennedy Memorial Fellow, Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies, Harvard University
Wednesday, November 15, 2023
12:00-1:20 PM
555 Weiser Hall Map
Literature and documentary photography on decolonization and the postcolonial period played an essential role in forging global socialist connections, a sense of connectivity, and in shaping grassroots imaginaries of socialist anti-colonialism. These discursive moorings brought closer to the audiences in Eastern Europe the far-away conflicts and developments that came with decolonization and life amid war in Southeast Asia. As part of the then-newly established political contacts between Poland and Vietnam, Polish professionals were delegated to Vietnam, leading to a series of books, memoirs, and reportages covering the situation on the ground in Vietnam. In my talk I will analyze the largely forgotten travelogues and documentary photographs that were published in state-socialist Poland by journalists and diplomats who had spent time in Vietnam amid and, subsequently, after unification. This material underlines how literary works and documentary photography dealing with cultural and societal transformation have the power to reveal, obscure, and construct the perception of national liberation struggles.
Rather than negatively casting the work by Monika Warneńska and Jerzy Chociłowski as mere socialist propaganda or treating it as “purely” documentary, my talk will unpack how the postcolonial period—especially after the Second Indochina War—was narrated and understood in these publications and photographs. Vacillating between different genres and political commitments, the travelogues and documentary photography point to shifting boundaries of strongly context-dependent knowledge production. Chronicling prolonged wartime violence and hardship as well as the challenges that came with postcolonial restructuring and social upheaval, this discursive production around the war and post-war period in Vietnam used the power of literary narrative to humanize and translate to another context the experience of a seemingly perennial war without victimizing Vietnamese society.
The talk will also address how literary and visual representations and misrepresentations contribute to or undermine global socialist awareness of decolonization and postcolonialism—whether in line with or against the intentions of the authors and their political sponsors. Merging empathy and political rationale, the travelogues and documentary photographs I discuss warrant asking: Were these overtly political yet empathetic accounts immune to an Orientalizing gaze and framing? Does the empathy towards war-torn Vietnamese society, seemingly based in an ideal of socialist brotherhood, suffice as a tool for self-validation and motivation? How exactly did the Vietnamese version of the story come to matter in these representations?

Thục Linh Nguyễn Vũ is a German Kennedy Memorial Fellow at the Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies (CES) at Harvard University and a postdoctoral fellow at the Research Center for the History of Transformations (RECET) at the University of Vienna. Linh is a cultural historian with a strong interest in interdisciplinary approaches. She is currently working on two books manuscripts: one on the cultural history of everyday life and of political mobilization in a dissident milieu in socialist Poland, and a second one on contacts between Poland and Vietnam after 1955. Linh has published in Cahiers du Monde Russe, East European Politics and Society, and History Workshop Journal, as well as in non-scholarly outlets such as TAZ and

If there is anything we can do to make this event accessible to you, please contact us at Please be aware that advance notice is necessary as some accommodations may require more time for the university to arrange.
Building: Weiser Hall
Event Type: Lecture / Discussion
Tags: European, History, International, Southeast Asia
Source: Happening @ Michigan from Center for Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies, Center for Southeast Asian Studies, International Institute, Copernicus Center for Polish Studies, Weiser Center for Europe and Eurasia