Giebel, Christoph

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Giebel, Christoph


Education: Attended Eberhard Karls-University, 1981-83; Fu Jen-University, 1983-84; University of Hamburg, 1984-88; and National University Hanoi, 1986-87; Cornell University, M.A. (Asian studies, S.E. Asia), 1989, M.A. (S.E. Asian history), 1991, Ph.D., 1996.


Office—University of Washington, Department of History, 315 Smith, Box 353560, Seattle, WA 98195-3560. E-mail—[email protected].


Mississippi State University, Starville, department of history, assistant professor, 1996-98; University of Washington, Seattle, department of history and Jackson School of International Studies, from assistant to associate professor, 1998—. Political Asylum Research and Documentation Service (PARDS), Princeton, NJ, consultant, 1999—. Vietnamese Advanced Summer Institute (VASI), Hanoi, Vietnam, for the Group of Universities for the Advancement of Vietnamese Abroad (GUAVA), 1998—.


Association of Asian Studies (Vietnam Studies Group, executive committee, 1998—).


(With Bernd Kuster and Hellmut von Werkverzeichnis) Heinrich Giebel, 1865-1951, Donat (Bremen, Germany), 2001.

Imagined Ancestries of Vietnamese Communism: Ton Duc Thang and the Politics of History and Memory, University of Washington Press (Seattle, WA), 2004.

Contributor to various books, including Essays into Vietnamese Pasts, edited by Keith W. Taylor and John K. Whitmore, Cornell Southeast Asia Program Publications (Ithaca, NY), 1995.


Christoph Giebel received a diverse education, studying at Eberhard Karls-University, Fu Jen-University, the University of Hamburg, and the National University Hanoi, before ultimately earning both his master's degree in Asian studies and his doctorate in Southeast Asian history from Cornell University. He spent two years as an assistant professor of history at Mississippi State University in Starville, then moved on to the University of Washington in Seattle, first as an assistant professor of history and then associate professor for both the department of history and the Jackson School of International Studies. His academic and research interests focus on Southeast Asia and Vietnam, including labor and politics in Vietnam during the 1920s; the Vietnam wars; the rise of Asia; memory, memoir, and biography or autobiography and their roles in Vietnam and Southeast Asia; and the general history of Southeast Asia. He has been the recipient of a number of grants to help support his research. Giebel is a frequent presenter at academic conferences, and has contributed to a number of books, including Essays into Vietnamese Pasts, which was edited by Keith W. Taylor and John K. Whitmore. He is also the author of Imagined Ancestries of Vietnamese Communism: Ton Duc Thang and the Politics of History and Memory. Beyond his academic duties, Giebel has been a member of the Vietnam Studies Group, Association of Asian Studies, for which he has served on the executive committee since 1998.

Imagined Ancestries of Vietnamese Communism takes a look at Ton Duc Thang, considered by many historians to be an extremely influential figure in the modern history of Vietnam, despite the fact that his name is for the most part unknown and that most people know nothing of his politics or actions. In 1960, Ton Duc Thang became the first vice president of North Vietnam—the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. He eventually went on to become president in 1969, following the death of the far-more-famous Ho Chi Minh, and remained in that leadership position until his own death in 1980. Ton Duc Thang began his career as a revolutionary, rising through the Communist Party thanks to his participation in several events, including a mutiny on a French ship that had been sent to fight against the Bolsheviks during the Russian Revolution. However, despite his auspicious start, and the high positions that he ultimately achieved, Ton Duc Thang remains an obscure figure in Vietnamese history. Although he spent more than a decade ostensibly as the leader of North Vietnam, he appeared to wield very little actual power, particularly if compared to his predecessor. Over the course of his book, Giebel analyzes Ton Duc Thang's role, and attempts to determine why he appears so weak historically, while still managing to make significant contributions to Vietnam's history.

Giebel has divided his work into three sections, with the first one, "Constructions," addressing Ton Duc Thang's early role as a revolutionary and looking into his supposed participation in the mutiny and battle on the Black Sea. Giebel proposes, based on logs from the ship in question, that Ton Duc Thang did not actually participate in the mutiny, and that he was actually back in a French shipyard at the time it took place, a location that gave him access to the details of the event at a later time and allowed him to claim some credit for participating when he eventually wished to begin working with organized labor and was in need of some credentials to make him seem more impressive. Giebel looks at how this story and the later versions of it affected Ton Duc Thang's reputation.

The second section of Giebel's book, "Contestations," looks at two other incidents revolving around labor issues—a labor union in Saigon in the 1920s, and a strike at a naval yard in Saigon in 1925—which Ton Duc Thang also used to gained credibility. Widely varying versions of these stories exist, depending on the historian providing the account, but Giebel uses them to illustrate how the tensions were growing at this point between North and South Vietnam. He concludes with "Commemorations," which continues Giebel's investigation of the tensions between the two parts of the country, and how they led them to split. Liam Kelley, in a review for the Canadian Journal of History, remarked of Giebel's effort that "while it covers much that is familiar to specialists, it also offers refreshing insights into the intellectual world of Vietnamese Communist historians and officials." Haydon Cherry, writing for the Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, noted that "while this book does not intend to be ‘a biography in the narrow sense’ … its subordination of Ton's life to an analysis of representations of the past means that little is said about Ton the man and the father, about his hopes and dreams, his wants and desires, his fears and motivations."



Canadian Journal of History, September 22, 2006, Liam Kelley, review of Imagined Ancestries of Vietnamese Communism: Ton Duc Thang and the Politics of History and Memory, p. 428.

Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries, December 1, 2005, E.J. Peters, review of Imagined Ancestries of Vietnamese Communism, p. 717.

International Review of Social History, August 1, 2006, review of Imagined Ancestries of Vietnamese Communism, p. 333.

Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, February 1, 2003, "Imagining Vietnam and America: The Making of Postcolonial Vietnam, 1919-1950," p. 190; February 1, 2006, Haydon Cherry, review of Imagined Ancestries of Vietnamese Communism, p. 172.

Reference & Research Book News, February 1, 2006, review of Imagined Ancestries of Vietnamese Communism.


University of Washington Web site, (May 22, 2008), faculty profile.