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Alumni Spotlight: Dr. Hieu Phung


Our April Alumni Spotlight is Dr. Hieu Phung (University of Michigan Center for Southeast Asian Studies; University of Hawai’i Department of History; The Ohio State University Department of History). Read her story below!

Hieu’s first conference in Europe (2019) where she presented on Vietnamese traditional maps

I was born and raised in Hanoi, Vietnam. Later I spent almost 8 years in Hawaii during my doctoral degree, finally graduating in May 2017. Since graduation, I have been living between Columbus, OH and Ann Arbor, MI during this academic year. At UH Mānoa, I mainly studied Vietnamese and Chinese history during my PhD training. The bulk of my research has focused on northern Vietnam and its environment.

I have done extensive archival research on the environmental history of northern Vietnam from around 1000 to 1800, with a particular focus on the historical agency of water and climate in stimulating social and political change. Before starting my doctoral degree, I had been trained in reading Classical Chinese and the old Vietnamese script called Nôm for years. This educational background had initially “trapped” me into only thinking about the long-term, complicated relationship between China and Vietnam. During my PhD studying at UH, I made a turn to environmental history, thanks to Professor Barbara Watson Andaya. I have found a new way to understand the history of the Vietnamese people by carefully examining their interaction with the natural environment. The focus on environmental history has also helped my research and teaching connect with many interdisciplinary studies about Southeast Asia.

Currently, much of my time is devoted to teaching. Thanks to the generous support of both University of Michigan and University of Hawai’i, I have taught several courses in Southeast Asia, including the “Environmental Crises in Southeast Asia: Past & Present” this Winter semester. In addition, I am teaching a mini graduate course – Rethinking the Environmental Repertoire in Southeast Asia, sponsored and organized by the Graduate Education and Training in Southeast Asian Studies (GETSEA) consortium, which UH is a cofounder of. I will also be teaching 2 history courses for UH in Fall 2021 – History of Southeast Asia and The World of the Mekong, funded by UH’s Title VI grant (NRC).

At the same time, I have also been working on my book project, tentatively entitled “The Production of a Water Space: An environmental history of early modern Vietnam.” (Editor note: We’re so excited for this book project!) In addition, I have had some other writing projects on river history, meteorology history, and traditional maps and historical geography.

Fun fact! Since I moved to Hawai’i, I began biking a lot. My bike has travelled with me through Taiwan, back to Vietnam, and then to Ohio and Michigan. One time I biked all the way from the UH campus to Kailua and Makapu’u lighthouse, on O’ahu.

Publications & Other links:

I have published some works on premodern Vietnamese literature in Vietnamese prior to my PhD. After the turn to environmental history, my latest article (see below) was published by the Journal of Southeast Asian Studies:

Phung, Hieu. “Naming the Red River — Becoming a Vietnamese River.” Journal of Southeast Asian Studies 51, no. 4 (2020): 518–37. doi:10.1017/S0022463421000011

“What Kind of Ecological Culture Do We Need? Drought History & Lessons from Premodern Southeast Asia,” Hieu’s December 2020 virtual talk with the University of Michigan

Hieu will also be speaking on our upcoming co-sponsored roundtable panel: The Spirits and Spiritual Life of the Mekong, April 7, 2:00pm – 3:30pm Hawaii Time.