Why is Vietnam's modern history so closely associated with a place that lies only just within the country's borders? What was at stake in the contest for the mountainous Black River region that culminated in the legendary French defeat of 1954? How did the different ethnic groups living around Điện Biên Phủ position themselves, when forced to choose between France and the Democratic Republic of Vietnam? Why did some groups in the region dream of greater autonomy, under a just king, following the pivotal battle? How come women played such a crucial role in this conflict? In what ways has the Vietnamese state deployed "lessons" from Điện Biên Phủ, for nation-building purposes? And how far does what happened there force us to rethink our understandings of notions of territory, and how "ethnic minorities" are constructed and imagined?
Christian C. Lentz, Associate Professor of Geography at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, discusses his ground-breaking book Contested Territory Ðien Biên Phu and the Making of Northwest Vietnam (Yale 2019) with Duncan McCargo, Professor of Political Science at the University of Copenhagen.
Contested Territory is the winner of the 2021 Harry J. Benda Prize, awarded by the Association for Asian Studies for the best first book in Southeast Asian Studies.
Duncan McCargo is an eclectic, internationalist political scientist and literature buff: his day job is directing the Nordic Institute of Asian Studies at the University of Copenhagen. Learn more here, here, here, and here.