By Kathryn Kopchik
LEWISBURG, Pa. — David Del Testa, assistant professor of history at Bucknell University, has received a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to enhance a multimedia Vietnam history course. He is one of 10 winners nationally.
The teaching development grant will support the project, "Four Roads to Vietnamese History: A Re-Visioning of a History of Vietnam." The five-month project is a revision of Del Testa's History of Vietnam course as a series of modules and accompanying website developed around four historical narratives. Del Testa will work on the revision beginning in January for his fall 2010 course.
In spring 2005, Del Testa developed an online version of the journal of Claudie Beaucarnot, a 19-year-old Franco-Vietnamese woman who traveled with her family through colonial Vietnam in 1943.
The online journal, Adieu Saigon, Au Revoir Hanoi, links Beaucarnot's diary, the journey she took while keeping the diary, and the journey retraced by Del Testa and his history students in 2004.
The project's website allows users to travel virtually through colonial Vietnam and make comparisons of it with the Vietnam of 2004. "In 2006 and 2008, when I taught the course again, the online Beaucarnot Diary served as an important student resource," said Del Testa.
Diary a lucky find
Finding the Beaucarnot Diary was a lucky happenstance. Del Testa was researching material for his doctoral dissertation in Aix-en-Provence's Colonial Archives in France in 1999 when he came across a transcript of the diary.
He created a 50-page transcription and a 100-page annotated translation of the diary. That led to a course at California Lutheran University in 2003, where he taught before coming to Bucknell the following year.
At the conclusion of the course, he and his students traveled to Vietnam to retrace Beaucarnot's steps. Upon their return, Del Testa began building his website.
Meeting with the author
Del Testa spent four days with the diary's author in her home in France in 2002, interviewing her about her life in Vietnam and describing his plans for the website.
"When I spoke with Claudie about this project, she agreed to allow this site to be put up because I said it would be useful for students," he said. "She and I remain in close touch. I have appreciated her willingness to share and continue to expand her story; she continues to work, at least indirectly, with my undergraduate students with interest in the project."
Del Testa calls the site "a rough draft, launched to elicit commentary from a larger public." Suggestions and comments about the site may be sent to TheBeaucarnotDiary@bucknell.edu.
The NEH-funded project has two parts: reconfiguring the course to use additional travelogues as vehicles to deliver course content and create a hybrid traditional/online instructional interface; and creating a digital interface for the course by using both GoogleEarth and Drupal content management software. GoogleEarth will provide a digital canvas on which to paint the course's travelogues and Drupal a digital frame.
Del Testa hopes his project will become an important resource for those interested in Vietnam and serve as a model for other instructors. To facilitate this, he plans to make the core of the site available publicly and to advertise its completed form widely on e-mail list serves. He also will provide a detailed step-by-step explanation of how he utilized publicly available software to construct the site.
"This project will aid not only in enhancing the effectiveness in teaching this course but also my own research on people of 'mixed race' background and their place in Vietnam," said Del Testa. "This course is my favorite one to teach, enjoys strong student enthusiasm, and is a vital part of the non-Western history courses offered at Bucknell.
"Typically, the 15 to 20 students who have taken the course have found the history of Vietnam fascinating, but they have all particularly appreciated the richness of the learning experience created by the online diary," he said.
Four historical narratives
Beaucarnot's journey, which focuses on colonialism from 1853 to 1954, forms the third of four travelogues. The others include a module using the Legend of Au Co (1500 BCE to 1000 CE), Vietnam's foundation myth to teach about kingship and colonization; a second module (100 to 1853 CE), where the journey of a prominent physician to Hanoi focuses on Vietnam's importance in the international traditional medicine trade; and the fourth, dated 1954 to the present, which draws from the diary of a young North Vietnamese doctor who travels from North to South Vietnam in support of the North's war against the South and the United States to focus on the struggle for independence.
Del Testa received his B.A. in modern European studies from the University of California-Davis, where he also received his M.A. and Ph.D. in history.
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