June 20, 2005
Microfilm project preserves war-era Vietnamese newspapers
A large collection of yellowing newsprint documenting Vietnam's war era is being archived for posterity, thanks to cooperative microfilming projects undertaken by Cornell University's Carl A. Kroch Library and other institutions.
"What just jumps out at me is we have so many different titles from this era, and the fact that so many titles came out in this general time period," said Carole Atkinson, Asia Collections public services assistant, as she looked over a selection of newspapers from 1960s Saigon in the library's Severinghaus Asia Reading Room. "We have 13 out now [on the table], and we've filmed 70 titles already. Some are papers that no one else has."
The ongoing work is part of the Southeast Asia Microform Project (SEAM), established in 1970 and administered by the Center for Research Libraries (CRL) in Chicago. SEAM's holdings -- including dissertations, manuscript collections and hundreds of different historic newspapers from every country in Southeast Asia -- are available for loan to CRL member libraries and universities for research purposes. Cornell has the largest collection of Vietnamese print materials outside of Vietnam, Atkinson said.
Once the newspapers are filmed locally by Challenge Industries, Cornell sends a copy of the microfilm to Chicago for CRL to catalog for its collections. To free up storage space in library vaults, the originals will then be recycled.
"I know it's hard to think of them being thrown out -- in some cases we only have a few issues," Atkinson said. "Nonetheless, it's important to film these as they start to deteriorate." She added that she will save at least one issue of each title.
Most of the editions filmed for the CRL since Atkinson took over the project in 1996 are from 1960 to 1975, with a few examples dating to 1951 and others running into the 1980s. The library has also collected many Southeast Asian periodicals via subscriptions and other means over the years, Atkinson said.
Cornell also is teamed with the Library of Congress on a similar project, to combine the two institutions' holdings of Vietnamese newspapers for a complete run of each title.
"We both have big runs of some Vietnamese titles," seven to 10 years' worth in some instances, Atkinson said. Of the 10 large runs of newspapers sent so far from Cornell to Washington to be filmed, seven are from Hanoi, including a run of Tien Phong covering 1975-2003 and Quan Doi Nhan Dan from 1981 to 2004. Cornell also receives a copy of the Library of Congress film for its collections, Atkinson said.
The front pages of the newspapers are varied in their design, visual impact and content. Some of the early 1960s editions of South Vietnamese government, student and Buddhist weeklies now being filmed -- titles including Nang Thep, Viet-Chien, Cong Ly and Sinh Vien -- feature cartoons or photographs of such political figures as Richard Nixon, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam Henry Cabot Lodge Jr., South Vietnamese leader Nguyen Van Thieu and Communist North Vietnam chief Ho Chi Minh. A Dec. 2, 1963, issue of the government paper Quoc Gia features news of Kennedy's assassination Nov. 22 in Dallas.
"TAM NGUNG CHIEN U MIEN TRUNG," reads the headline splashed across the front page of Cong Ly, dated Nov. 21-27, 1964. The headline is an appeal to the government to stop the fighting, said Yen Bui, a Vietnam native and longtime cataloger of Vietnamese publications at Kroch Library. An illustration of a skeletal hand next to the headline represents the war dead.
"Going through them, it's just irresistible to look through them, even though I don't read Vietnamese," Atkinson said. "I often take these over to Yen to see what a title or headline is."
Bui said many Vietnamese students come to Cornell because of its collections, and she makes annual trips to Vietnam and seeks out old newspapers at bookstores and street markets. "Even with a high price, we still pay," said Bui, who will act as a guide when a television crew from Vietnam visits the Cornell campus June 23-24 to shoot footage for a state-sponsored documentary on U.S.-Vietnamese trade.