The Bayon relief in Angkor Thom, depicting the Cham and the Khmer in a naval battle, 12th century (photo by M.H. Tam and Charlotte Pham © N.H. Tan & C. Pham). View larger version here.


The main objective of this research is to reconstruct aspects of the maritime history of central Vietnam through the study of boatbuilding traditions. Based on a multi-disciplinary approach the historical narrative will explore the maritime aspects of a major transitional period in Vietnamese across a longue durée. The approach involves both a maritime perspective and an anthropology of technology approach. By using material culture as a new source of data to complement the sparse yet more conventional evidence, this approach will bring together the disciplines of history, ethnography and archaeology. Practically speaking, the research will marry data drawn from European and Vietnamese archives with data gathered from maritime ethnographic field work. Ultimately, it will also demonstrate the potential value of boat studies to the field of historical studies.

A maritime approach offers the possibility to address central Vietnam, from an environmental and technological perspective. This will enable the research to transcend nationalistic narratives and boundaries. By addressing the boats, I consciously decide not to address the history of Dai Viet or of Champa. On the contrary, I hope to bridge these two intermingled narratives, which tend to be considered as oppositions in Vietnamese studies. The purpose of looking at a region rather than at the separated delimited spheres of the Viêt or the Cham is to give voice to the environment. After all, the environment is not solely defined by politics or cultural delimitations, rather it influenced these different societies in their way to negotiate with it politically, economically, socially or culturally. The maritime perspective allows just this: to break from the traditional narrative for the history of Vietnam, and to consider the ecology and how it shaped the history of central Vietnam.

A view from the sea (©

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