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'Women's work' in Vietnam

In this week's seminar we consider both historical evidence and a particular methodology for gathering it: the oral history interview. Our focus is on gendered forms of work in, and on behalf of, the US military in Vietnam. More specifically, we'll examine how both American military women and Vietnamese 'bar girls' remember and tell stories about their war work. We'll also discuss why oral history is especially valuable for gleaning 'subaltern' insights into war experience, but also what the potential pitfalls of this approach to doing history might be.

Indicative seminar questions:

  • both Vuic (an historian) and Gustafsson (an anthropologist) make extensive use of oral history in their work. Why? What particular insights does this methodology yield for scholars? Why do oral history interviews also require caution?
  • for the 'consumer' of oral history interviews, how different an experience is it to listen to the conversation rather than reading the transcript?
  • what insights did you glean from the nurses' testimony into the gendered dimensions of their wartime service in Vietnam? Does nursing fit easily or awkwardly into your sense of what soldiering is?
  • were you surprised by how positively the women in Gustafsson's study recount their wartime experiences? If so, why/how?
  • 'bar-girls' who provided companionship (and sometimes sold sexual services) to US military personnel are almost invariably not considered 'veterans,' although other civilians who served in Vietnam alongside the military (like Red Cross workers or United Services Organizations entertainers) sometimes claim that mantle. Should we think of former bar-girls as veterans?

Required reading/listening:

Listen to one of these two oral history interviews (both referenced by Vuic in the assigned chapter of her book ), and read a transcript of the other:

Rhona Marie Knox Prescott, oral history interview with Judith Kent, Library of Congress, Veterans History Project

Jennifer Lundberg, oral history interview with Kara Vuic, Texas Tech University, Virtual Vietnam Archive

Kara Dixon Vuic, Officer, Nurse, Woman: The Army Nurse Corps in Vietnam (2011), e-book, ch.6

Mai Lan Gustafsson, ‘“Freedom. Money. Fun. Love.”: The Warlore of Vietnamese Bar Girls,’ Oral History Review, 38, ii (2011): 308-30

Supplementary reading:

Mark Baker, Nam: The Vietnam War in the Words of the Men and Women Who Fought There (1982)

Amanda Boczar, ‘“Uneasy Allies: The Americanization of Sexual Politics in South Vietnam,’ Kentucky Association of History Teachers (2014)

Andrew Huebner, The Warrior Image: Soldiers in American Culture from the Second World War to the Vietnam Era (2008)

Elizabeth M. Norman, Women at War: The Story of Fifty Military Nurses Who Served in Vietnam (1990) e-book

Heather Marie Stur, ‘Gentle Warriors, Gunslingers and Girls Next Door,’ in Kara D. Vuic (ed), The Routledge History of Gender, War, and the US Military (2018) e-book, pp.116-130

Heather M. Stur, Beyond Combat: Women and Gender in the Vietnam War Era (2011) e-book

Sue Sun, ‘Where the Girls Are: The Management of Venereal Disease by United States Military Forces in Vietnam,’ Literature and Medicine, 23, I (Spring 2004): 66-87