Symposium highlights study of perspectives on Vietnam War

Patrick Shih
Patrick Shih

School of Informatics, Computing, and Engineering Assistant Professor of Informatics Patrick Shih, in collaboration with IU Media School Professor Emeritus Ron Osgood, Co-Director for the Institute for Digital Arts & Humanities, Associate Librarian, and Head of Digital Collections Services Michelle Dalmau, and Assistant Director of the Center for Documentary Research and Practice Dr. Barbara Truesdell, recently hosted “Vietnam War/American War Stories,” a symposium on conflict and civic engagement at the Herman B Wells library.

The event, which was held in partnership with the Office of the Vice Provost for Research, the Institute for Digital Arts & Humanities, and Center for Documentary Research and Practice, and the IU Libraries brought together a roster of speakers that included some of the leading voices in historical research—including David Ferriero, the Archivist of the United States at the National Archives and Records Administration—to discuss compelling ways to present the war’s social and cultural complexities. It also focused on strategies on engaging both scholars and the general public with primary source materials to tell stories from multiple perspectives.

Osgood and Shih have worked together for years to bring personal stories from both sides of the Vietnam/American War to life through the website Vietnam War Stories: Stories from All Sides, and the documentary “Just Like Me: The Vietnam War — Stories From All Sides.”

“The point of this symposium was to generate ideas for how we can better engage the audience, but the audience can mean a lot of different things,” Shih said. “It can be the general public or the experts or the volunteers. It’s about both gathering more sources of history and opening them to interpretation and analysis. We are discovering lot of different ways information is being documented and archived.”

Speakers addressed such subjects as the narratives presented by combatants with the passage of time, how historical narratives have informed and shaped conflicts throughout U.S. history, how crowdsourcing and computation is helping war experiences move back into the spotlight, gender roles in telling the story of the Vietnam War, and more.

“Conversations and perspectives evolve over time,” Shih said. “There are differences in terms of personal vs. political perspectives, how people view narratives. The most important part to me is that we are all humans, whichever side you’re on. We have to understand that it’s important to take lessons from history. Our long-term goal is to generate an educational and a public-awareness platform for people to build a better conversation across the community.”

Another aim of the symposium was to show the value of the combination of oral histories and technology to connect with people, especially young people, when it comes to history.

“There is a certain romance built up around Vietnam and that time in U.S. history,” Osgood said. “People talk about it being a time of turbulence or they talk about the music being produced, but it seems like very little knowledge about the war or the stories that went into it has made it into the public consciousness. Through this research and our oral histories, those stories come to light. The veterans of that war on both sides are starting to fade away, and providing these stories is powerful for the veterans and critical for preserving our understanding of the war.”

Osgood and Shih hope to secure more funding to continue their work while building their knowledge base.

For more information on the collaboration, visit the Vietnam War Stories: Stories from All Sides website.

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