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Grand Theft Buffalo – “Animals” and Property in Imperial Vietnam
November 26, 2018 @ 4:00 pm - 6:00 pm
Presented by: Prof. Bradley C. Davis, Eastern Connecticut
Based largely on nineteenth century archives but informed by a broad environmental humanities perspective, this presentation considers the category of animals in imperial Vietnam. As an element of a sedentary agricultural empire, buffalo (bubalus bubalis) received legal protections that befitted their collective status as biotic farm machines, including an important role in imperial discourses of property that informed French colonial law in the late nineteenth century. Elephants, however, enjoyed a very different status in imperial Vietnam, one elucidated through imperial law and one that reflected their role as biotic war machines. How do the practices and conventions surrounding buffalo and elephants contribute to discourses of development and governmentality in imperial Vietnam? Does “animal” (động vật – “mobile thing”), itself a neologism, capture the historical experiences of buffalo and elephants?
A historian of Southeast Asia, East Asia, and Vietnam, Bradley Camp Davis (PhD University of Washington, 2008) is an associate professor of history at Eastern Connecticut State University. As an author and translator, he has written articles on imperial geographies, banditry, ethnographic knowledge, the creation of the French consular system in northern Vietnam, Tai polities in the Black River Basin, and the cultural politics of language in Vietnam. Davis’s first book Imperial Bandits: Outlaws and Rebels in the China-Vietnam Borderlands (Washington, 2017), examines nineteenth century bandit armies whose violent acts echo into the present. This talk comes from his current project examining discourses on nature and ethnic difference in Vietnam from the Nguyễn (1802-1880s) to the early French colonial period.