Anthropology Assistant Professor Conducts Field Research in Vietnam

By Staci Wilson, CHASS Dean’s Office Student Intern
November 18, 2010

UCR Assistant Professor Christina Schwenkel is currently in Vietnam, conducting field work in the city of Vinh. Recognized as the cultural and economic center of northern Vietnam, Vinh has been war-torn multiple times throughout history. U.S. bombing during the Vietnam War, however, completely destroyed the city’s architecture. After this destruction occurred, the city was remodeled and rebuilt by socialist East Germany. Though Vinh was once a pillar of socialist modernity, it is now labeled a “sustainable development.” There is a movement currently taking place to remodel Vinh once more, primarily in order to facilitate further capitalist commerce there. Many of the city’s residents, though impoverished, hang onto the heritage they believe is embodied by their current, German-built, housing and oppose the structural changes being proposed. They believe that their buildings should not be torn down, but instead repaired and remembered.

Professor Schwenkel’s project, Revitalizing the City: Socialist Architecture, Postwar Memory, and Urban Renewal in Vietnam, explores residents’ attachments to these old structures. Her primary goal is to observe the post-war community in Vinh, and discover how the community itself seeks to recover from the devastation it experienced as a result of war and physical destruction. Schwenkel is living in one of the now worn structures created by East Germans back in the nineteen-seventies, and hopes to observe how post-war human needs, to forget or remember, to move or to stay, are tied to the physical architectural structures in Vinh.

Schwenkel’s research is funded by prestigious fellowships from the American Council of Learned Society (ACLS), Fulbright Hays, and the University of California Pacific Rim Research Program. Since its foundation in 1919, ACLS’s mission has been, “the advancement of humanistic studies in all fields of learning in the humanities and the social sciences and the maintenance and strengthening of relations among the national societies devoted to such studies.” ACLS is a non-profit organization, which donates millions of dollars on an annual basis to projects based in the field of humanities. The Fulbright Hays Fellowship Program dedicates its efforts to aiding faculty research abroad. Its primary goal is to bring a greater understanding of foreign languages and cultures to the United States, and strives to do so by providing stipends for both travel and research expenses. The University of California Pacific Rim Research Program focuses on UC student and faculty research in areas bordering Pacific coast lines, especially projects that involve, “research that is new, unique, and specific to the region and that fosters the development of scholarly collaboration across national boundaries and among disciplines.” Each of these fellowships involves an extensive and extremely competitive application process, complete with a specialized board of scholars for review.

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