Reading archives in Aix-en-Provence

Aix-en-Provence: Think impressionist Paul Cézanne, Southern California weather, fountains and spouts at each corner.

Archives Nationales d’Outre Mer: Imagine perforated ceilings, spontaneous connections with other researchers, laughs and gasps out loud.

Archival research itself is a tedious process that requires an impressive amount of self-discipline and patience – my saying this is not an indicator of any experience or mastery, on the contrary, I think it actually demonstrates how green I am in this method of learning. Only when you know exactly what you’re looking for, or have figured out a certain kind of momentum that gets you going, does the research sail less on your conscious effort but on a rhythm of its own. But, as one should be, I am very excited that my interests have brought me to this part of the world and to this kind of library.

I came to Aix looking for two things, one specific and one less so: a François Piétri discourse given at a Congrès de la Fédération des Anciens Coloniaux for a paper I wrote on Pham Quynh, and information on Vietnamese expatriates in France in the early 20th century. But the things you look for are never easily found, and when you’re only passively looking, there are too many things to be looked at. I’m not sure the Piétri discourse actually exists, and the closest thing to verifying that it does is a bulletin of the Fédération that is unfortunately infested with a bacterial fungi that makes it inaccessible indefinitely. I also realized, clearly very tardily, that the SLOTFOM, the fonds that holds materials on some of these expatriates are a multi-numbered series, with lots of miscellaneous information. In any case, it’s only been my third day at the archives; my feet are definitely wet.

My little quest looking for Pham Quynh, filed under Q and not Ph!

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