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Experiments in Skin: "Resting" History, Intimate Labor, and the Chemical Afterlife of Vietnam

Public Humanities, Explorations in the Medical Humanities

dateFebruary 3, 2022 timeThursday, 5:00pm–6:30pm EST location Fayerweather Hall, Room 411, Columbia UniversityEvent open to CUID holders only
  • Society of Fellows and Heyman Center for the Humanties
  • Columbia Research Initiative on the Global History of Sexualities
Cover of Experiments in Skin: Race and Beauty in the Shadows of Vietnam by Thuy Linh Nguyen Tu

Environmental historians have characterized the Vietnam War as a “chemical war,” fought with chemically-saturated explosives and incendiaries, tear gas and firebombs, herbicides and insecticides. Despite decades of scientific research, legal challenges, and political organizing, the consequences of this broad chemical exposure remain shrouded in a politics of uncertainty. This talk offers an account of how Vietnam's chemical war was recorded on the body’s surface, and how Vietnamese women living with fears of on-going contamination come to labor with war's toxic “afterlife.” Drawn from research at a spa in Saigon, Thuy Linh Tu considers how women speculate about historical conditions that “rest” (nằm nghĩ) in their bodies, and seek remediation for ailments that appear on their skin, in the absence of medical certainty about what ails them, and without expectations for a “clean" environmental future.

Thuy Linh Tu is Professor of American Studies in the Department of Social and Cultural Analysis at New York University and the author, most recently, of Experiments in Skin: Race and Beauty in the Shadows of Vietnam (Duke UP, 2021). Her current research projects include “The Chinese in Indian Land,” an examination of the “insourcing” of textile manufacturing from China to the U.S. South and the resulting contests over race and region, and a collaborative study of debt and incarceration as a member of the NYU Prison Education Program's Research Collective.

For inquiries about this event, please contact the Columbia Research Initiative on the Global History of Sexualities.

This event will be held in person and there is no registration required. Please note that per Columbia University COVID-19 policy, only persons with CU IDs may attend the talk. For the latest on Columbia COVID-19 policy and building access, please visit