David Marr

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David Marr is an American historian of modern Viet Nam who has made his academic career in Australia. The footnotes to his three political histories of Vietnamese anti-colonialism amount to a diary of reading, from 1965 to 1995, Vietnamese print culture from 1885 to 1945.

Marr learned Vietnamese and served as an analyst with the United States Marine Corps in Viet Nam and Washington, DC, leaving the service in 1964. As a graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley he was the engine of the Indochina Resource Center, the Southeast Asianist think tank for the anti-war movement. After antagonizing George Kahin, a senior academic and leading dissident to the war, over a trivial matter, he left a position at Cornell to make his career at the Research School of Pacific Studies at the Australian National University since 1975. His scholarship established research depth, international profile, academic community and abiding moral sensibility internationally for Vietnamese studies, a field largely abandoned by the United States for fifteen years after the Paris agreements in 1973.

Marr insisted, at a time when university presses in the United States routinely published histories of slavery without any citation to slave sources, and the leading American political scientists of Southeast Asia did not speak or read any local language, that Vietnamese history is best understood by reading Vietnamese actors. His histories are peppered with translated excerpts, which in turn are widely cited by other English-language scholars.

Like many social scientists, Marr is an avid reader of belles-lettres who does not see a clear procedure for introducing evidence from fiction and poetry, drama and criticism into a scholarly argument about society. His reading surges underneath the narrative of his books in the footnotes as a legible unconscious, as his personal trajectory through Vietnamese national struggle peeps out from the forewords. There is no other widely available document of a life reading Vietnamese literature with anything like the range and specificity of David Marr's footnotes. The histories themselves present an intellectually honest, searchingly analytic and steadily narrative version of a consensus view of the anti-colonial struggle common among Ha Noi intellectuals.

Dan Duffy started this entry.

Books By David Marr

  • Vietnamese Anticolonialism, 1885-1925, (University of California, 1971)
  • Vietnamese Tradition on Trial, 1920-1945, (University of California, 1981)
  • Vietnam. World Bibliographical Series, vol.147 (Clio, 1992)
  • Vietnam 1945: The Quest for Power, (University of California, 1995)

David Marr Online