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Vietnamese National Archives III

Page history last edited by Paul Keenan 11 years, 1 month ago

Date of Tip: 20/7/05

Source: Julie Pham, juliepham2@hotmail.com


Location: 34 Phan Ke Binh, Ba Dinh District, Hanoi, Vietnam. 


How to get there: It's a 20-minute motorbike ride in peak hour traffic from the city centre, near the Daewoo Hotel. 


Language: Vietnamese


Getting Started: For foreign researchers, anticipate at least waiting 1.5 weeks to get your reader's card approved. Expect that you will not be able to look at the index of archival documents until your application for a reader's card has been approved and the archivists have decided which index you are allowed to look at and ordered from. If you tell the archivist your time is limited, they will try to expedite things as much as possible. That usually means saving a few days or at most, a week. Some people have waited months before getting permission to use the archives. 

On your first visit, bring photocopies of your passport, visa, a letter from your advisor (a Vietnamese translation is sometimes necessary). The director, Nguyen Tien Dinh, has told me if you call him (84-4-832-6291), you can arrange some things ahead of time to save some time. The archives do not have the finances to call you on your mobile phone, to email you or to fax you anything. I found when I tried to do this, I got a huge run-around and did not save any time at hotel, but wasted a lot of money faxing and calling. 

You should also bring an ID photo just in case you will need one for the reader's card (policies were changing when I left and you may need one now). 

For some topics, you need to have a letter from a Vietnam-based supervisor; this entails having a student visa sponsored by a university/research centre and having the head of that centre write you a letter of sponsorship. The letter must be specific to each archive. You must have a clear idea of your time frame of research. The administrators will also look at your visa in determining when your reader's card should expire. If you have not heard about your application after a week and a half, call every day to check on the process. Be careful when you describe your research project. It needs to be narrow enough that it will be approved by archive officials but should be broad enough that when you order documents, those documents should fall under your topic (as they will constantly check to make sure you're not looking at documents that are not under the topic you were originally approved for). You will need to justify why you need to consult the documents at this archive. They will want to know: 1) name 2) nationality 3) passport number     4) visa number and date of entrance into Vietnam 5) telephone and address 6) research subject 7) goal of research 8) duration of research. The entire application must be written in formal Vietnamese. 


Opening Hours: I can't remember for sure, but I think 9-4:30, and closed for lunch, Monday-Thursday. I believe they are only open in the morning on Fridays. They often have unannounced staff meetings and close the reading room unexpectedly. It's always best to call before you come in or to ask the day before if there will be a meeting that afternoon (if you are there in the morning) or the following day.


General Working Conditions: The building is new and the reading room has good lighting. There are individual desks for each reader. No library on-site, and no microfilm machine. There are lockers outside for you to lock your materials. Remember to bring the appropriate electric prong converter for you laptop. I went in the winter and it was freezing cold. I expect in the summer, it's boiling hot. 


Consultation: Foreign researchers have to go through a three-tier approval system. Their requests for documents must be approved by the director of the archive, the central government agency overlooking the archives (in Hanoi), and then by the storage staff. 

Researchers are given sheets on which they write out their requests for dossiers, and they are allowed to submit two sheets a day. So, how many dossiers you can order per day depend on how many you can write onto your request sheet. You have to give a fairly decent description of the content of the dossier (which will be described in the index) to show how it relates to your topic. If you alert them of your time limitation, then you may be able to submit more than two sheets a day. Expect to wait at least a week after you submit your requests to be able to look at the documents. You have to be careful as not to ask for too many documents because if they deemed you have 'read too much' (which appears to be pretty arbitrary and nothing you can argue against) over a period of time, you won't be able to request any more documents and you may not be able to look at documents you had already requested and are waiting for. 

You will be expected to pay a small fee (about 20 US cents) per dossier that you are allowed to see, payable at the time that you receive the documents. All documents at this archive are written in Vietnamese, and your request, likewise, must be written in Vietnamese. The president of the reading room is very particular as to how the forms should be filled out. Do it exactly as she instructs or she will make you begin again. 


Policy on technology: Laptops are permitted, but scanners and cameras are not. The room is so small; don't even try to sneak in a camera. People can have their mobile phones on, and then exit into the main corridor to accept phone calls. 


Photocopy policy: Requests for photocopies have to go through the same three-tier check process as requests to see documents. You will have to fill out a similar request form for photocopies. Photocopies have recently become relatively cheap. You will have to wait a long time to receive the documents, sometimes 4-6 weeks. Expect to arrange to have a friend pick them up and pay for the photocopies in your place if you need to leave the country before the photocopies will be done. This involves you writing a letter of permission, which includes their name, passport/visa/ID number, and your information. Be as organized as possible when ordering the photocopies, as that will expedite the process. You are allowed to copy about 20% of any given dossier. 


Particularities: The archivists, once they warm up to you, are very nice. Do not hesitate to ask questions them if you cannot decipher the handwritten Vietnamese and shorthand. They can be very picky about following procedures, so be sure to always follow the rules of the reading room. 

The gate guards will make you sign in your name every single time you come in and give you a name tag to wear around your neck. 

You should also have a clear photocopy of your passport ID page and visa page to give to them as ID (some will request it, others won't). They sometimes request it in the Reading Room. 

I recommend taking your completed request forms for the dossiers and photocopies out of the archives and photocopying them before you submit them, for your own records. There are no nearby photocopy shops. You should keep a record because then you can check what you ordered against what you actually received; this comes in handy when you are ordering photocopies. 

Try to have exact change when you make payments to see documents and photocopies.  

There is a nearby Internet Cafe that you can go to when the archives are closed during lunch. There are no real places to eat within a 20 min walking distance. There are a group of regular    xe om (motorbike taxi) drivers outside. Try to get a regular driver who you will not have to constantly bargain over the price with to drive you home and to wherever you eat lunch. There are quite a few Western places within a short xe om drive because the area is populated with many embassies.


How to apply for classified files: Technically, all files are classified. There's really no point in trying to re-request a document that they have already denied you. In fact, doing so might give them the impression that you are 'difficult' and make getting other documents more difficult.

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