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Project Vietnam

Project Vietnam Partner(s): WGBH

Access: Private
Released: March 2009


Project Vietnam provides Columbia University students unique access to heretofore inaccessible material from the landmark 1983 documentary Vietnam: A Television History, co-produced by Boston's public television station, WGBH. Funded by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, Project Vietnam is a partnership between CCNMTL, WGBH, and the University of Massachusetts-Boston to digitize, preserve, and disseminate primary source materials created for the 13-part series, which examines in depth the causes and consequences of the Vietnam War. Project Vietnam enables students to discover and watch full-length interviews and a range of stock footage; annotate, edit, and create sub-collections of these videos; and incorporate clips into multimedia projects. Faculty from Columbia University's Teachers College, Graduate School of Journalism, Department of History, and Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures are integrating Project Vietnam into their curricula.

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Project Details

In 2008, the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) awarded a National Leadership Grant to the WGBH Educational Foundation Media Library and Archives (WGBH) along with the University of Massachusetts-Boston Healey Library (UMB) and the Columbia Center for New Media Teaching and Learning (CCNMTL). The IMLS grant award was $709,000; WGBH has raised an additional $451,000 in matching funds.

The grant supports the digitization of filmed interviews and stock footage gathered for the 1983 WGBH miniseries, Vietnam: A Television History, much of which has not been seen by more than a handful of filmmakers. This material has been largely inaccessible to researchers and, thanks to this project, is being rescued from disintegration and made available at Columbia University through an online library called Vietnam: A Television Archive. The grant also supports Project Vietnam, an initiative between CCNMTL, WGBH, and the University of Massachusetts-Boston to introduce Vietnam: A Television Archive and accompanying custom analysis tools into classrooms at Columbia University. Curricula created at Columbia will then be shared with the larger academic community and analysis tools created by CCNMTL may be added to WGBH's public Open Vault site.

The digitized source materials housed in Vietnam: A Television Archive include extensive interviews from important witnesses of the war, such as General Vo Nguyen Giap, Commander-in-Chief of the Vietminh, Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister; Tuu Ky, Ho Chi Minh's secretary; William Westmoreland, Superintendent of West Point, Commander of U.S. Military Assistance Command in Vietnam, Chief of Staff of U.S. Army; and a range of US and Vietnamese soldiers and civilians. Stock footage in the archive derives from sources as varied as U.S. network news sources, international agencies such as the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Co.), HDS (Hanoi Documentary Studios), and STH (Studio Hamburg), footage of fighting from government agencies such as the CIA, Dept. of Defense, Library of Congress, and the National Archives.

Project Vietnam offers an online workspace in which Columbia students may analyze, annotate, and tag footage from Vietnam: A Television Archive and create multimedia projects. Faculty partners at Columbia are engaging Project Vietnam in a variety of ways:

  • Drs. Margaret Crocco and Bill Gaudelli, Teachers College professors of social studies and social studies and education, respectively, have created a week-long intensive summer course entitled "Vietnam Now," which will make available a range of speakers and multimedia tools to current teachers of social studies in grades 7-12. In addition to building a 'lesson-builder' application, CCNMTL will be capturing talks by guest faculty, including noted 1960s cultural historian Todd Gitlin. This course is launching in summer 2009.
  • Dr. Charles Armstrong, Korea Foundation Associate Professor of Korean Studies in the Social Sciences at Columbia University, is introducing a new course in fall 2009 called "The Vietnam War: History, Media, Memory"; an online notebook developed by CCNMTL will allow his students to incorporate videos into their presentations and term papers. Detailed citation of video content is particularly important in this course, which asks students to treat video source material with the rigor that historians bring to textual analysis.
  • Filmmaker June Cross, associate professor in the School of Journalism, is spearheading a new concentration on documentary filmmaking, and a new course that uses the Vietnam Digital Library will be part of this effort. Cross is using material from the WGBH archive to train her students on methods for conducting and editing interviews; in her words, "teaching students to edit has always been the trickiest part of working in an educational environment, because they need good material of journalistic quality (not shot for movies, but reportage) in order to cull the emotional and nuanced moments and pull them into a narrative.... Having access [to] raw yet professionally shot material [is] invaluable."
  • East Asian Languages and Cultures lecturer James Lap is taking advantage of the significant amount of Vietnamese interviews to train advanced students to recognize regional dialects, cultural nuances (such as clothing and gesticulation), and historical Vietnamese figures. Using a translation environment designed by CCNMTL, Lap's students will connect their translations to transcripts of interviews in the Vietnam Digital Library. Vetted translations may then be fed back to WGBH, who will then add them to their public site.

In 2011, after these faculty partners have implemented the Vietnam Digital Library twice in their respective classes, they will share their insights at a CCNMTL-sponsored conference set up for colleagues interested in innovative incorporation of this unique footage into courses about the Vietnam War at peer institutions. The public will have access to the miniseries materials through the WGBH Open Vault website and on-site at UMB Healey Library.

As CCNMTL executive director Frank Moretti explained, "This project represents an important partnership between public television, academic institutions, and a digital media and education center where the collaboration produces a profound and lasting impact on the teaching and study of the Vietnam War." By redefining the life cycle and educational capacities of an important documentary — opening up pathways to unique and important materials that have been heretofore left on the cutting room floor — it is also an important instantiation of the Digital Bridges model.

Related news:
Jul-2011: Project Vietnam Site Launched
Jun-2011: Special Event: Recapping Project Vietnam
Aug-2010: The Chronicle of Higher Education Highlights Vietnam Collection
May-2010: The Vietnam Collection Featured in New York Times
Apr-2010: WGBH Launches the Vietnam Collection
Mar-2010: Project Vietnam Presented at WebWise Conference
Aug-2009: CCNMTL Faculty Partners Call for Media Literacy in Education
Jun-2009: Project Vietnam Launches at Teachers College
May-2009: CCNMTL Project Analyzing Vietnam War Documentary Footage Highlighted in Teachers College Article
Jun-2008: CCNMTL Collaborates with WGBH and UMASS Boston to Activate Vietnam Digital Archive