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ARTH 633 Creative and Critical Literature in Art History: France and "Indochina": Colonialism, Resistance, and Cultural Exchange/Hybridity

  • Wednesdays, 11:30-14:30
  • EV-3-760
  • Instructor: Marco Deyasi

Our diverse and globalized twenty-first century world was made by the earlier material, social, and political exchanges that happened during the modern period (c. 1875 and after). This course is an examination of one region which allows us to analyze these exchanges in a closely-historicized way. This course centers on the art and culture of French colonial-era Vietnam and Cambodia (“Indochina”) during the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, with a focus on the cultural inter-relationships between the colonizers and the colonized. Earlier historical narratives have tended to either celebrate European colonialism in Asia or to assert nationalist anti-colonial histories. By contrast, this class will draw on recent postcolonial theory and the well-established field of French colonial history, in order to discover the ways in which the colonial period was a kind of “contact zone” (in Mary-Louise Pratt’s formulation) characterized by complex and fluid cultural exchange and hybridity. For instance, as Penny Edwards has demonstrated, indigenous nationalists did not simply mobilize their national heritage to fight colonialism, instead the elaboration of a national heritage by colonial and indigenous intellectuals eventually produced nationalists. We will examine the art, culture, and history of Vietnam and Cambodia—as well as France—in order to understand how art and artistic production both embodied social and cultural identities as well as intervened in political and colonial debates. We will begin with a survey of the history of Cambodia and Vietnam, quickly moving to the colonial period. We will study both the efforts by the colonizers to transform Southeast Asia and the indigenous responses, including multiple forms of resistance, appropriation, and hybridity. The final portion of the course will look more closely at the postcolonial present, including issues of memorialization and how history is written; these remain live political issues today. Student research projects can focus on any aspect of Southeast Asian or French colonial art and culture addressed in the course. Students are also welcome to develop a project where they apply themes, issues, and approaches from this course to other geographic regions. No previous study of Asia or Asian art is required.

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