Date Awarded


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


American Studies


Leisa Meyer


Saigon has occupied an important place in the American imagination. Captivated by its French colonial past, a diverse array of American writers romanticized the city's "tree-lined streets" as the "Paris of the East" and the "Pearl of the Orient." as the United States extended its influence in Vietnam over the course of the twentieth Century, culminating during the 1960s, Saigon experienced America's growing presence. Americans composed photographs and writings, both personal and published, to make sense of the changing city and the changing public opinion of the war. The juxtaposition of American-occupied French colonial architecture with the visual manifestations of a city at war (such as overcrowding, military personal, and bombed buildings) runs throughout American representations of Saigon. These representations transformed the romantically remembered boulevards into a dystopian vision of the South Vietnamese capital brimming with corruption, street vendors, sex workers, and bars. In order to convey different ideas about Saigon, many media producers and government officials relied on the bodies of the people in Saigon to convey different meanings. This project argues that American understandings of Saigon often relied on a reciprocal relationship between human bodies and the environment around them. Bodies lent meaning to aspects of the city while the city helped construct meanings around people's bodies. In some cases, the bodies in question were those of Western men, but more often, the bodies of Vietnamese women did the work of creating American meanings for the city.



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