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This senior project examines the colonial conquest of Indochina on the part of the French during the last half of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century not purely as a geographical and historical phenomenon, but also a conceptual and imaginary one. By analyzing and juxtaposing two distinctive cultural artifacts – the reconstructed Angkor Wat in the 1931 Colonial Exposition in Paris and the Vietnamese bánh mì – this project contends that French Indochina constitutes an imaginary and performative construct on the part of both the French and the indigenous Indochinese populations, who approach and (re)imagine their colonial situation in disparate ways. As evidenced in the case of the Angkor Wat in the 1931 Colonial Exposition in Paris, which could be read as a work of propagandist fiction, the colonial imaginary of Indochina as constructed by French colonists is a phantasmatic and performative one that comes into considerable conflict with the violent realities of (de)colonization. On the other hand, in the case of the Vietnamese bánh mì – a sandwich which has its roots in the expensive wheat bread, which was regarded as the quintessential French staple – the Vietnamese population appear not as passive participants confined to the French colonial imaginary, but as active agents in (re)imagining their own colonial foodways.
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