Nhung Tuyet Tran honoured with Rome Prize

May 11, 2023 by Sean McNeely - A&S News

Tran, an associate professor in the Faculty of Arts & Science’s Department of History, won the Anthony M. Clark Rome Prize in the Renaissance and Early Modern Studies category.

Supporting advanced independent work and research in the arts and humanities, Tran will join 35 artists and scholars who will each receive a stipend, workspace, and room and board at the academy’s eleven-acre campus on the Janiculum Hill in Rome, starting in September 2023.

This year’s prizes give each of the winners the gift of “time and space to think and work,” says Mark Robbins, president and CEO of the AAR. “Living and working in a multidisciplinary community in Rome has an enduring impact individually and on the wider intellectual and cultural sphere.”

“I’m thrilled to be able to spend the year in the middle of the archives in Rome, and in a setting ideal for writing and for the exchange of ideas,” says Tran, whose research interests lie at the intersection of gender, law, and religious practice in early modern Southeast Asia.

She intends to use her Rome Prize to write a monograph exploring how a crisis of confession in the early modern Vietnamese Catholic community changed the priorities of the global church for centuries.

For her research Tran will continue to research documents written in Vietnamese vernacular characters, classical Chinese, romanized Vietnamese, French, Latin, and Spanish.

“I'll be able to work in the archives and complete a draft of my book in a beautiful space in a beautiful city,” says Tran.

These documents include a letter from Mighe Van Phung, a 30-year-old catechist from a Jesuit community in northern Vietnam, who wrote to the Council of Cardinals in 1687.  He described how a quarrel among Vietnamese caused confusion about whom believers should confess their sins to and created an existential crisis. Vietnamese Catholic communities near Hanoi sent Mighe and three other catechists to Ayuthaya, Paris, and Rome to demand the pastoral care they deserved.

“The letter is written in a vernacular script called chữ nôm, which combined Sinitic characters to reflect the spoken Vietnamese at the time,” says Tran who also draws on many letters written by local believers. “I found it at the Archives of the Propaganda Fide in Rome, tucked between thousands of papers related to the Church in Vietnam.”

This year’s Rome Prize and Italian Fellowships competition received 988 submissions from applicants in 44 states, Washington, DC, Puerto Rico and four different countries outside of the U.S. 

The eleven disciplines supported by the AAR are ancient studies; architecture; design; historic preservation and conservation; landscape architecture; literature; medieval studies; modern Italian studies; music composition; Renaissance and early modern studies; and visual arts.

“This award is a reminder that the lives and experiences of Vietnamese Catholics were just as central to understanding global history as that of any other in the world,” says Tran.