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Land & Water: A History of Fifteenth-Century Vietnam from an Environmental Perspective.

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Title:Land & Water: A History of Fifteenth-Century Vietnam from an Environmental Perspective.
Authors:Phung, Hieu M.
Contributors:History (department)
Date Issued:May 2017
Publisher:University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa
Abstract:Debates and concerns about contemporary environmental problems have challenged historians to
examine the human past from a perspective that explores the role of the natural environment in
the historical development of individual societies. This dissertation examines how premodern
Vietnamese rulers, officials, and scholars perceived “the environment” in the fifteenth century
and how they documented the human-environment interaction. The fifteenth century, especially
the long reign of King Thanh Tong of the Le dynasty (1460-97), was one of the most prosperous
eras in Vietnam’s pre-twentieth-century history, and the aim of this study is to shed new light on
this historical period. Rather than focusing on court politics, intellectual developments, or
warfare, this dissertation uses the Vietnamese primary sources in classical Chinese as a basis for
understanding how the environment was conceptualized. A recurring theme in these sources
concerns the attitudes towards land and water, which were fundamental in facilitating humannature
interactions in fifteenth-century Vietnam. The evidence shows that when the Le rulers
established their dynasty in northern Vietnam, they focused on understanding how the landscape
should be conceptually “mapped” and on recording the natural resources that different regions
within this land could provide. Their emphasis on land resources reveals a deeper environmental
goal: how to transform the land into an environment that would be eminently suited to wet rice
farming. This goal is also illustrated in the Vietnamese state’s efforts to build dikes and to
develop strategies to cope with water-related natural disasters such as droughts and floods.
Overall, the environmental analysis in this dissertation posits that “geographical considerations”
can have some application in certain contexts, like fifteenth-century Vietnam. However, it was
through a long historical development that the Vietnamese people came to self-identify as
inhabitants of a society where rice-growing lay at the cultural core. In this history, both the
particular environmental conditions of northern Vietnam and the historical conjunctures of the
fifteenth century lent impetus to a Vietnamese self-perception of themselves as quintessential
wet rice producers.
Description:Ph.D. Thesis. University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa 2017.
URI:http://hdl.handle.net/10125/62480
Rights:All UHM dissertations and theses are protected by copyright. They may be viewed from this source for any purpose, but reproduction or distribution in any format is prohibited without written permission from the copyright owner.
Appears in Collections: Ph.D. - History


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