Above: Bob Jones III, who collected 3,500 valuable books
from Vietnam Era for the UW Library.
By KATHERINE LOH
University of Washington News Lab
(Student in Department of Communication News Laboratory)
Hoang Ngo is a graduate student in the history department at the University of Washington. He is currently writing his dissertation in Vietnamese Studies and thinks that UW’s recent acquisition of Vietnam era collection will benefit his research.
“Vietnamese studies show that politics don’t really align. When it comes to memories of history, there is always that tension,” said Ngo. “Those things don’t always align and it’s hard to talk about because one is a personal thing and the other is an object of studies with no attachment to it.”
Hence, his great interest in the Bob Jones III Vietnam era collection. It represents more than 3,500 book titles ranging from manuscript materials, journals and French, Vietnamese and English literature on Indochina. Many are treatises on colonial law, climate, agriculture, geography and history that were made available to Jones on the streets of Saigon as well as at antiquarian markets during the years of conflict in Vietnam, 1966-1975.
Bob Jones III was the longest-serving US Foreign Service officer during the war in Vietnam, according to an abstract that accompanies the collection. During his tenure at the Embassy in Saigon, he was an avid book collector. After the war
he remained active in the Vietnam Studies and Vietnamese American communities.
Sheryl Stiefel, Director for Libraries Advancement, said that the libraries have used interest income of $150,000 from the Magnuson endowment as well as other sources and departments around campus to acquire the bulk of the collection, but there is still fundraising efforts to be done.
“The actual collection is going to cost about $200,000,” said Stiefel. “We split the balance of the payment down; we need an extra $50,000 to complete the acquisition and an additional $50,000 to begin the inventory, cataloging and the assessment of the conservation and preservation of the collection to make it accessible to students, scholars and those worldwide.”
Stiefel states that a lot of the research that can be done has to do with socio and political economic changes in Vietnam from the 1880s through about the mid-1970s.
Cristoph Giebel, historian, Vietnam specialist and professor in International Studies at the UW, said he spoke with a Vietnam political scientist named Bill Charlie who was familiar with the collection a few years ago.
“The collection already became quite legendary among knowledgeable people in Saigon during the late war years,” said Giebel. “[Bill Charlie] said in those days, people knew that Bob Jones was an embassy official that spent an inordinate amount of resources and time on collecting materials; it was already fabulous and kind of famous.”
Judith Henchy, lead UW librarian and curator in the Southeast Asia Section, Libraries of International Studies, said she met Jones at several academic conferences. He was apparently seeking to give his collection to an academic institution. However, after Jones’ passing in 2011, the collection went into the hands of a private book dealer, from whom the UW acquired it. It arrived on campus May 21.
Henchy has a number of ideas on how the collection can be used. “We have a plan … to develop some sort of interdisciplinary links between different departments,” Henchy said. “We are going to try to put together some classes that will bring together the history and the French departments, as well as the Jackson School and Asian languages and literature, to bring more of a focus on Vietnamese language and literature and to teach about Vietnam through the humanities.”
Besides bringing together different academic entities at UW, the collection could help researchers, faculty, students, policy makers and the public learn more about Vietnam. It also enhances the UW’s status as a top-tier institution for study of history, politics, historical geography, as well as the American war period.
The collection will put UW libraries squarely on the map, according to Giebel.
“These are extremely rich sources that I look forward to (using),” said Giebel. For undergraduates who are accustomed to mostly online research, the collection offers something new. This is the kind of education that online resources cannot provide [because] it helps ideas become action and I think it is a fascinating step in transforming history.”
Ngo hopes the collection will provide more meaningful insight into a vast culture that many in the Vietnamese community are not aware of since the struggles of the Vietnam War.
“I hope that more Vietnamese Americans take more of an interest after this collection is put together,” Ngo said in reference to history post-war. “After all, there is still a lot of pain and suffering.”
Available to all three UW campuses — Tacoma, Bothell, and Seattle — the collection will help bridge the recruitment of graduate students interested in Vietnamese history according to Sheryl Stiefel, Director for Libraries Advancement.
Stiefel would like to encourage individuals, businesses and foundations as well as the local Vietnamese community to help raise the extra money.
For more information, you can contact Sheryl Stiefel through her work number, (206)6851973 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org
or Judith Henchy at email@example.com.
(KATHERINE LOH is a student in the University of Washington Department of Communication News Laboratory.)
also in Vietnamese Translation on Northwest Vietnamese News www.NVnorthwest.com & Danquyen Newspaper (www.DanQuyen.com)