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Modernities Recovered: Connected Histories of Vietnam and Korea

Kathlene Baldanza, John Phan, Sixiang Wang

The histories of Korea and Vietnam are marked by many parallels. Before the traumas of division, civil war, and colonial occupation in the modern period, both were countries of “manifest civility,” polities ruled by an elite who prided themselves as cultural heirs to a Confucian antiquity. Both were countries touched by the scriptures of Mahayana Buddhism. Both confronted across uncertain boundaries an imperial China that was at once an existential threat and a source of cultural inspiration. Behind these parallels are also stark differences in historical trajectory, but the structure of graduate training has steered scholars away from conducting comparative work on Korea and Vietnam. New digital databases and methodologies are making this kind of research more and more possible. Our project aims not only to put scholars of both countries in dialogue with one another, but to create a framework for meaningful collaboration across fields by providing training in digital tools. The first phase of the project would involve bringing a core group of scholars together at Penn State to familiarize one another with digital resources for the historical study of Korea and Vietnam and plan the next steps for a volume of collaboratively written essays enabled by these resources.