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Colonial Company/Enterprise Archives

Date: Tue, 4 Nov 2003 13:04:25 -0800 (PST)
From: D. Biggs <dbiggs@u.washington.edu>
Reply-To: vsg@u.washington.edu
To: Vietnam Studies Group <vsg@u.washington.edu>
Subject: colonial company/enterprise archives?

Dear Group-

I'm looking for private archives of former colonial enterprises and landholders, particularly in the Mekong Delta. I'm interested in more
detail than the Saigon Archives and other national archives provide on these persons and companies.

For one example, the Gressier company controlled about 7,000 hectares of rice paddy along Xa No Canal, had a major rice mill, constructed an airstrip in the late 1930's, supported an agricultural school for a while in the 1910's, and after 1945 contributed several of its large rice barges to become outfit with machine guns for use by the French brownwater navy known as Dinassaut to escort rice convoys to Cho Lon.

Yet I have found little trace of this landlord/company or virtually any other in any government archives. I think that if these private collections exist, they might be very useful in trying to understand economic conditions in Cochinchina and Indochina, and also to understand social unrest albeit through the eyes of these landowners.

Any leads out there? Especially for those more familiar with collections in France?

David Biggs-UW Seattle


From deltesta@clunet.edu Mon Nov 10 16:37:05 2003
Date: Tue, 4 Nov 2003 20:59:40 -0500
From: David W. Del Testa <deltesta@clunet.edu>
Reply-To: vsg@u.washington.edu
To: Vietnam Studies Group <vsg@u.washington.edu>
Subject: Re: colonial company/enterprise archives?

Dear David,

Please accept the suggestions below in response to your question about finding information on plantations specifically and enterprises
in general. You may know some of these sources already.

I think that there are several potentially frustrating routes to follow. I base this on my as-yet fruitless search for the archives
of the Société indochinoise des forestières et allumettes (that is, SIFA, the nasty match factory in Vinh) and the records of Mr. Maurice
Leconte's (the Marquis de Carabas of Tonkin?) concession.

Besides searching in Aix-en-Provence, there are several paths to follow for France. First, you might refer yourself to the Archives du Monde du Travail in Lille, a National Archives center which retains an impressive collection of references to businesses in Indochina (on-line to some degree). You might also refer yourself to the National Archives itself, which as the holdings of, for example and among others, the Suzanne rubber plantation. And, you might try an on-line search on the records at the Bibliothèque nationale via their useful on-line search engine BN-Opale. If no direct references appear, then I would either look for filial material contained within the periodicals of larger trade associations (the Société des Planeturs de _______) or in the records of the Cochinchine administration. Maybe recent authors who have dealt with Cochinchina (David Elliott?) can address this. I know some these periodical sexist in the United States on microfilm.

A resource on archive and library hunting in France that badly needs upating but is still quite useful is Welsch, Erwin K. Archives and
Libraries in France, with 1991 supplement. New York: Council for European Studies, 1979/1991.

After exhausting official resources, I would suggest turning your eye to two publications. First, I would find a copy of the following:
Sources de l'histoire de l'Asie et de l'Oceanie dans les archives et bibliotheques françaises. 2 vols. New York/Detroit: K.G. Saur;
Distributed by Gale Research Co., 1981. In the back of volume two, I think, are references to a variety of private companies that may
release information about the activities in Indochine coloniale. Not always, though. For example, SIFA retains an address, I suppose with a lawyer, but I can get no response. Likewise the Messageries maritimes. In addition, you might track down the 1978 membership
catalog of the Association nationale des Amis de l'Indochine (ANAI), available at the library of the Academie des Science d'Outre-mer in
Paris. Therein you will find the names of most of the key figures of colonial Indochina we all wish we had had the chance to interview had we started thirty years ago (Graffeuil, Grandjean, Pagès, etc.). However, I have found a letter to the addresses listed therein will
produce responses from either extremely old repatriés or most likely their children. If you are honestly kind and open with your
intentions, they are often quite gracious and open in return.

Further in France, you might contact Gilles de Gantès who works on the French community in Indochina. In Vietnam, you might speak with the Vietnamese historian Ta Thi Thuy, who has published two books on French plantations in Vietnamese,

Let me know if you see anything about Maurice Leconte or SIFA, by the way!

Best wishes, David Del Testa

Assistant Professor
Department of History #3900
California Lutheran University
60 West Olsen Road
Thousand Oaks, CA 91360-2700
United States
tel. (805) 493-3318 work
(805) 493-3013 fax
(805) 427-6429 mobile

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