2003 Student-Faculty Fellows: California Lutheran University

Mentor: David Del Testa, Department of History
Students: Michael Barker ’03; Brusta Brown ’05; Ryan S. Mayfield ’05

Research trip to Vietnam postponed to Summer 2004 because of 2003 SARS Crisis

Abstracts of Reflections and/or Research

David Del Testa

I found the trip and the research I accomplished invaluable. While this project only helped my own scholarly research in a general way by providing more texture to aspects of colonial society, in terms of its pedagogical achievements, this project will fulfill extravagantly my personal goal of providing good information about historical and contemporary Vietnam to undergraduate and other students where little interesting documentation is currently available. I feel very lucky leading this ASIANetwork sponsored research trip; few historians have the opportunity to recreate history in such a three-dimensional manner while achieving those goals with the help of students. In this case, in contrast to international and Vietnamese literature that portrays colonial society in simplistic terms, the larger reconstruction of Ms. Beaucarnot’s life and the individual student research reveal how complex colonial society was and how influential it remained after decolonization.

Through this trip, I was able to confirm my hypothesis that colonial society in Vietnam was far more diverse and vibrant than contemporary scholarship gives credit. More importantly, with the help of my students, I gained sufficient material to develop a website illustrating the group’s research and augmenting the scanty resources available to undergraduates on French colonial Indochina.


Michael Barker
Missionary Intelligence: Political Work of American Protestants in Colonial and Post-Colonial Vietnam

The research trip to Vietnam had a very important and significant impact on my overall outlook toward the world and my role within it. Through this experience, I have matured academically but more importantly, personally. My career plans have, for some time, revolved around the world of politics, which is inherently a path of personal discovery and reflection of perspective. This trip to Southeast Asia broadened my horizons and taught me much about the world and the way it works as a whole.

The major shift in my viewpoint brought by this trip to Vietnam was regarding the issue of internationalism and America’s role in the world. While the focus of most of my previous encounters into politics had been on the domestic front, this trip made me finally understand the significance of international policy. America has an excellent opportunity at this point in history to make amends with the world and take a light heart into the international scene. Thus, in addition to the factual and cultural information I obtained in Vietnam, the knowledge that I value most is the fact that Vietnamese people, who have every right to be wary of people from the United States, nonetheless value people who do not take themselves too seriously. Because of this, in my pursuit of a career in politics and public policy, I will hopefully remember to be light-hearted and jovial with those whose input and acceptance I value.

Research Abstract: I was successful in terms of traditional research, even though the work had to occur less openly than had originally hoped. Ms. Beaucarnot’s diary mentions the increasingly frequent presence of Protestant churches as she and her family travel southward from Hanoi to Saigon. The government of North Vietnam forbid the practice of Protestantism after 1954, and sanctioned it severely when Vietnam reunified in 1975. Responding to popular desires and its own need to halt the spread of evangelical Protestantism practiced in secret, the Vietnamese government permitted an official Protestantism to operate in Vietnam after 1991. By counting churches, quietly visiting with willing pastors, and collecting what documentation that could be found, I came to several interesting conclusions about the continuities and differences between colonial-era and contemporary Protestantism in Vietnam. Meetings with two state-sponsored pastors and documentation collected from them and others enriched the documentary research done in the United States.

Brusta Brown
Neither Vietnamese nor French: Issues of Race in the Beaucarnot Diary

Our trip to Vietnam was an eye-opening experience. You can only understand so much reading the Beaucarnot diary but to be in the middle of it, to really experience it, gives you a true understanding of the culture and the people. I believe the three things about which I truly learned were: (1) the role of women in Vietnamese history. Despite the modernization of the colonial period and after, women still come in second to men; women are still stuck in rigid social and cultural roles bound by social decorum; (2) Next was the impact of the colonial era. In the past and now, many people believed that whiter skin is better than darker skin, an idea that I believe stems from the domination of the Vietnamese by the French – the French put themselves in a superior position partly on the basis of skin color, and (3) The enduring importance of religion to the Vietnamese. Visiting the pagodas and temples made me understand how important religion plays in Vietnamese life.

In conclusion this trip to Vietnam has been one of the most important experiences in my life. I have learned many things about myself, and how I fit in the general scheme of the world. I will continue to try to understand Vietnamese culture, traditions and behaviors. I will use the Beaucarnot Diary as a yardstick by which I can measure changes and continuities in their culture and society.

Research Abstract: Not having the opportunity to conduct the planned interviews of Ms. Beaucarnot’s friends nor do further library work with French documents limited the documentary research that could be accomplished. However, I was able to observe the ethnic homogenization of Vietnam since the colonial period and experience the reaction of Vietnamese people to me, a person of mixed-“race” background. For example, in contrast with the images presented in Ms. Beaucarnot’s diary, lowland Vietnam has been emptied of non-Vietnamese people. However, the discussions we had with the leader of the Lat village near Dalat provided invaluable and unanticipated insight into the relationship of ethnic minority people to ethnic Vietnamese as well as illuminated the mixtures between Lat and people of French and American origins. Rather than an exploration of heterogeneity presented in the diary, the field experience exposed the homogenization of states that embark on strict nationalist policies.

Ryan S. Mayfield
Indo-China’s Road to Modernization:
Understanding Consumer Trends in French Indochina Using the Example of the Automobile

Overall, my experience in Vietnam brought about many insights relevant to my research. Now I realize that Vietnam’s relationship with the automobile is a little more complex than I had previously thought. I noticed some things regarding the automobile in Vietnam are the same as they were in the United States but simply on a smaller scale. While GMs, Daewoo, Hyundai, Ford, and Toyota all have a presence in Vietnam one cannot go to the nearest city and browse around for their preferred car. Only the principal cities have dealerships and their inventories are limited. The Ford dealership in Nha Trang had 4 cars: two luxury sedans, an SUV, and another car.

Research Abstract: Observing transportation modernization and seeing its results provided important illustration of the conclusions I had already made in pre-departure research. Experiencing the impact of road widening projects, tunnel constructions, and enhancements to the railroad system all added circumstantial evidence to my previous work. Just the sheer fact that travel times have changed little between 1943 and today further stimulated my thinking about the relationship between transportation modernization, increased road use, and increased traffic that reduce the gains of transportation modernization. However, I was not able to access the French-language documents of the National Archives nor have the opportunity to conduct planned interviews. But unplanned discussions with the group’s driver, museum officials, and other Vietnamese enhanced the statistics and commentaries that I had been working on before we left.

Venues for Sharing

Bucknell University, Professor Del Testa’s new employer and a new ASIANetwork member, has agreed to host the website that will serve as the primary vehicle for the dissemination of this project’s research and conclusions. The project will assuredly achieve its primary goal – of disseminating the research of the three California Lutheran University students – as well as its secondary goal, that of providing a seriously needed site to which undergraduates can turn to learn more about French colonial Indochina through the 1943 vacation diary of Claudie Beaucarnot. The source of materials for the website as well as the anticipated format is described in detail in the preliminary report. Viewers will be able to relive parts of the colonial-era, see what changes have (or have not) occurred, and read discussions of why changes have (or have not) occurred. Comments by the student researchers will also appear within these sections. Credit and links to the sponsors and supporters of this project (the ASIANetwork, California Lutheran University, Bucknell University, Sisters Tours, Sheen Travel, etc.) will be incorporated at appropriate points.