The Foundation works in five areas critical to its mission of preserving and encouraging the study of Hán-Nôm literature.
1. Standardization of the Nôm character set and font.
One key to the preservation of the Hán-Nôm script is the standardization of the character set for digital telecommunication. This enables students, scholars and the public around the world to access and share texts online, and to apply modern technology to the the study of Hán-Nom. Standardization was what brought the founders for the VNPF together and continues to be an important part of our work. While over 18,000 Hán-Nôm characters have already been encoded in Unicode 8.0, based on the content of of our current digital library, we estimate that there may be another 5,000 characters that require standardization. The Ideographic Rapporteurs' Group (IRG) is the ISO group that develops proposals to Unicode and ISO 10646 for the standardization of the ideographic Han characters used in East Asia. The VNPF has been active in the IRG since its inception, including hosting several meetings in Vietnam. We continue to participate in the important work of extending the coverage of encoded characters within the Hán-Nôm digital corpus.
Related to standardization of the character set is development of a standardized font. The VNPF provides the Nom Na Tong Light Font in TrueType format, a reference font that includes more than 30,000 Hán-Nôm characters. This font was used in the publication of Spring Essence: The Poetry of Hồ Xuân Hương. Previously Nôm books had only been published in wood-block print. Spring Essence is the first Nôm book to be printed in a digital font. This landmark publication and printing of Nôm via computer technology opened up the possibility of unlocking centuries of ancient Nôm writing by accessing it and displaying it with computers. The font is available for free download from the Foundation's website.
2. Digital and physical preservation of Hán-Nôm texts.
Decades of war and the ensuing economic cost to Vietnam have left public and private collections of Nôm texts in a perilous state. One focus of the Foundation, therefore, has been the physical and digital preservation of the Hán-Nôm corpus. This includes direct technical support with our own team of experts as well as support for other efforts, including those of the Viên Hán Nôm and of the General Sciences Library in Ho Chi Minh City.
In co-operation with the National Library of Vietnam, the Foundation digitized and catalogued some 4,000 Hán-Nôm texts. This is the first such digital library in Vietnam. At the same time, with a grant from the North Carolina State University Libraries, and under the guidance of Dr. John F. Dean of Cornell University, the VNPF carried out physical preservation of much of the Hán-Nôm collection at the National Library. The NLV and other collections are available at NLV Collection.
The VNPF recently completed a global digitization of all Hán-Nôm texts, Siddham (Sanskrit) inscriptions, gate carvings, and sanctuary placards at one of the oldest and most important Buddhist temples in Vietnam, the Chùa Thắng Nghiêm 勝嚴寺. The temple was founded under the Lý dynasty 1000 years ago just after Vietnamese won independence from China. Thắng Nghiêm traditionally was where Vietnamese kings and generals first came to pray after their investitures. It was nearly completely destroyed by bombardment in 1946 and is being rebuilt, without government financial support, by the current Temple Master. In 2011, the foundation was encouraged by the Cultural Heritage Center of the Ministry of Culture to create a comprehensive web archive for the Temple which could serve as a model for cultural preservation other religious sites. The digitized texts are now available for viewing on our website.
In the future, we hope to extend our efforts to other collections, including private libraries. A great deal has been kept in the collections of individual scholars and families proud of their heritage and concerned to protect it. We believe that digitization provides a new means of preservation without loss of ownership and plan seek out opportunites to continue to make these valuable opportunities available to the world. While we hope that someday an original manuscript of the Truyện Kiều or Hồ Xuân Hương's poetry may turn up in a private collection, even if nothing so dramatic is revealed through digitization, these all these materials are part of a defining heritage.
We also hope to develop a Bibliographic Service. This would include site visits and surveys of holdings at collections that we know have Nôm texts. Nôm texts are often mis-identified as Chinese (because, most commonly, no Nôm readers are available but also because many Nôm texts have Chinese title pages). These texts sit on shelves without catalogue identification. We hope to carry out long-term survey that would completely identify the holdings of Nôm texts scattered throughout the world. Our survey team would be comprised of Nôm experts from our Foundation but also from the main research institutes in Vietnam, such as the Viện Nghiên Cứu Hán-Nôm (Institute of Han-Nôm Studies) and the Trung Tâm Nghiên Cứu Quốc Học (Center for Vietnamese National Studies).
3. The Nôm Heritage Archive, a digital library of Hán-Nôm texts.
In addition to making scanned images of the NLV and Thắng Nghiêm collections available, the Foundation has also developed and made available searchable text versions of culturally important Hán-Nôm documents. Ultimately we hope to make available a wide variety of genres, including Buddhist poetry and other writings of the Ly and Tran dynasties, histories, classical and folk poetry, proverbs and theater. As of early 2016, the following texts are available for study in Hán-Nôm and Quốc Ngữ on our website.
4. Print and online publication of Hán-Nôm reference works.
The foundation has supported print and online publication of a number of important reference works related to Nôm.
5. Support for Hán-Nôm scholarship.
The Foundation seeks to encourage scholars working in the field of Hán-Nôm studies. This support has taken a number of different forms. We offer the Balaban Awards to recognize senior and junior scholars within Vietnam who have made important contributions to the field. The most recent award was in March 2017. We also award Nôm Study scholarships to students at various levels in the USA and Vietnam who want to study Nôm under the tutelage of reconized authorities.
The Foundation also sponsors international conferences related to the study of Nôm and Vietnamese language and literature (Hanoi, 2004; Hue, 2006) and has arranged the publications of the papers presented at these conferences. In September 2016, the foundation and Rutgers University jointly sponsored a symposium at held at Rutgers on the recently completed digitization of the Thắng Nghiêm temple collection, "Literacy and Buddhism in Premodern Vietnam: A Multidisciplinary Analysis of the Thắng Nghiêm-Phổ Nhân Temple Complex and its Newly Digitized Library."
In early March of 2017 we organized a Workshop on Digital Humanities at the Institute of Information Technology in Hanoi. The two day workshop was led by four international experts and attended by Vietnamese humanists and IT specialists from a number of institutions. The workshop provided an overview of the field, examined several in-depth case studies and instructed participants in hands-on techniques with applications relevant to Hán-Nôm studies. We hope that this and follow on workshops will stimulate Hán-Nôm studies through long term collaboration between researchers in the humanities and technology.