The Engaging With Vietnam Story
The Engaging With Vietnam story begins in the late 1990s when its founder, Phan Le Ha, went to Monash University in Australia to pursue post graduate studies. Confident in her knowledge about Vietnam, Le Ha found to her surprise in interacting with professors and students in Australia that some of the “truths” that she believed in could be seen from other perspectives. At the same time, she also recognized that some of the “facts” that scholars outside of Vietnam felt they understood about her homeland were problematic, and with the many changes taking place in Vietnam at that time, were in some cases outdated as well.
As she looked around at fellow post graduate students in Australia, Le Ha also saw that there was a growing number of people who were like her, a new generation of globalizing Vietnamese who had come of age in a new Vietnam and who were now trying to navigate their way through various established bodies of knowledge.
It is in this context that Le Ha came up with the idea for the Engaging With Vietnam: An Interdisciplinary Dialogue initiative.
To put it simply, Le Ha came to realize that none of us can really understand Vietnam (or any other place) if we do not look carefully and critically at knowledge production. If we do not think critically about what we think about Vietnam and why we think that way, then we cannot really be confident in our knowledge.
She therefore came up with the idea of creating a “dialogue” that would enable scholars to discern how certain types of knowledge about Vietnam were influenced by the contexts in which they were developed, and to benefit from the insights of colleagues, particularly those in other disciplines, who produce knowledge from different contexts and perspectives than one’s own.
So in 2009, now as Dr. Phan Le Ha in the Faculty of Education at Monash University, Le Ha proposed to Professor Stephanie Fahey, the then Deputy Vice Chancellor (Global Engagement) at Monash University, the idea of establishing an annual conference that would address the issue of knowledge production.
Stephanie said “Yes!”, and the rest is history. . .
Well, no, it of course was not quite that easy. . . but (spoiler alert) there is a happy ending to this story!
In fact, at first Le Ha was not sure who would support the Engaging With Vietnam initiative. Beyond its intellectual purpose, she also wanted the conference to serve as a kind of bridge between Australia and Vietnam as a way to thank those two countries for providing her with the opportunities to pursue her educational career dreams. So she reached out to everyone she felt might be interested, from established academics, to professionals in the diaspora, Vietnamese international postgraduate students at that time, and to the Australian diplomatic community.
And they came, and Le Ha was grateful. But something else happened as well. The intellectual dialogue about knowledge production that Le Ha wanted to engage in did indeed start to take place, and it continues today.
Historian Liam Kelley, an Associate Professor at the University of Hawaii, joined forces with Le Ha in 2011, and together they now co-organize the annual Engaging With Vietnam: An Interdisciplinary Dialogue conference. While the theme changes every year, encouraging scholars to think critically about knowledge production, and helping to develop the strongest possible scholarship on Vietnam continues to be the core mission of the conference.
Finally, over the years the Engaging With Vietnam conference has developed a unique “style” or “culture” of its own. It has come to be known as a space where established scholars, people from the professional world, and graduate students can all interact freely with each other in a supportive environment, and where conference participants come away with a sense of not only having learned a great deal, but of also having had an enjoyable time interacting with new friends, indeed, with a new “family.”
We welcome all of you to join the Engaging With Vietnam family at a future conference as we work together to produce great scholarship.