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Vietnamese National Archives II

Page history last edited by Paul Keenan 14 years, 2 months ago

Date of Tip: July 2005

Source: Julie Pham,  juliepham2@hotmail.com


Location: 2 Le Duan, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam


How to get there: It is very close to the University of Social Sciences and Humanities and across the street from the Sofitel Hotel


Language: Vietnamese, French, some employees speak English but don't count on it


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. 

The process of getting a reader's card depends can depend on your topic and the employees will often tell you they have to wait for "permission from Hanoi". 

On your first visit, bring photocopies of your passport, Visa, a letter from your advisor (a French or Vietnamese translation would be helpful but not necessary). 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. Letters should be written for the different specific archives. 

I tried contacting the archive beforehand and found it pointless in terms of trying to save time. The archives do not have the finances to call you on your mobile phone, to email you or to fax you anything. 

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. 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


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 has 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: There is inconsistent air conditioning and a limited number of power strips to plug in laptops. No library on-site, no microfilm machine. The lighting is poor. There are lockers outside for you to lock your materials. Remember to bring the appropriate electric prong converter for you laptop. 


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 pertains 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. 


Policy on technology: Laptops are okay, 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, and you should describe everything in French (even those documents written in Vietnamese). 

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. You indicate the documents you want photocopied by paper clipping pieces of paper to the document you want.

 I advise bringing your own box of plastic coated colored paper clips (which you can buy at the nearby stationary stores) so you do not have to rely on the archives' limited supply. 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: There are many places to eat nearby, of all different price ranges. The gate guards can be difficult and exceedingly curious and make you sign in your name every single time you come in or be completely indifferent and wave you in after they recognize you. 

There are many mosquitoes in the reading room, so put on anti-mosquito cream. 

You can bring in a Walkman.

I recommend taking your completed request forms for the dossiers and photocopies out of the archives and photocopying them at a nearby photocopy shop during your lunch break before you submit them, for your own records. Sometimes the President of the Room doesn't like it when you take these forms out of the archives (for reasons I still don't understand), so don't mention it. 

Sometimes, they will be nice and photocopy it for you--that is very rare! 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.  


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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