Dr. Jacob R. Hickman

Asst. Professor of Anthropology
Department of Anthropology
Brigham Young University
office: 860 SWKT
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Course Description

What is the Hmong Diaspora, and why should I care?

The Southeast Asian Massif is one of the most culturally and linguistically variegated regions in the world. The sheer complexity of different groups living in close proximity to one another--not to mention the geopolitics of the latter half of the 20th century that have both engulfed this region and embroiled it in core geopolitical dynamics that dominated American foreign policy for a good part of the century--make this a unique region to consider when it comes to a variety of issues that are core to anthropologists and social scientists more broadly. These include understanding the rise of nationalism and transnationalism, dynamics of group identity, intercultural politics, social change, and development.

Hmong are one of the more populous upland ethnic minority groups in Southeast Asia and China and comprise a variety of ethnolinguistic subgroups. The Hmong diaspora provides an interesting social context to address many key social scientific questions. Although there are now significant populations of Hmong on five continents, the epicenter of the Hmong diaspora is southwestern China. From here Hmong began to emigrate in large numbers to the Southeast Asian peninsula during the nineteenth century. This diaspora was further globalized after the Second Indochinese war, which (beginning in 1975) displaced hundreds of thousands of Hmong refugees from Laos to camps in Thailand. Most of these Hmong refugees would eventually resettle in third-party countries such as the United States or France. Some of them, however, would resettle permanently in the Thai countryside in preexisting Hmong communities. As a result of these divergent migration patterns, some families became transnational families almost overnight, as some members of the family stayed in Southeast Asia, while other relatives were resettled in places like Minnesota and California. These disparate resettlement circumstances provide a unique context for examining theoretical understandings of how people deal with dramatic social change, and the innovative strategies they develop to deal with some of the most dramatically changing circumstances that humans have faced.

Thus, while this course will focus on the Hmong diaspora in particular, its reach will extend to fundamental questions about what it means to be human. We will thus engage with a variety of social science theories that seek to provide understanding to these questions. By diving deeply into one group's culture, history, and language, we will be able to parse out some of the nuance of scholarly attempts to answer these difficult questions. We will ask how these theoretical frameworks help us understand the vast and complex cultural landscape of Southeast Asia, but reach far beyond the confines of the region to ask what the Hmong story can teach us about ourselves. How do ethnographic data from Southeast Asia challenge predominant notions in social science understandings of the human condition or force us to reformulate the way we understand our own life experience? Thus, this course will be as much theoretically driven and focused as it will geographically, but the point is to create a direct dialogue between a set of theoretical ideas and ethnographic perspectives on groups that lend particular insight into understanding the social processes at hand. In sum, this course is not just for those who care deeply about Hmong issues or the Asia-Pacific region more broadly, but rather it is designed to use this case study to ask fundamental anthropological questions about what it means to be human.

To this end, the language element of this course (constituting about 25% of the course) is designed to offer enough exposure to students who have no long-term interest in Hmong or Southeast Asia to begin to help them grasp how linguistic relativity actually plays itself out in this diasporic language community. These fundamentals will also provide a baseline for students who plan to advance in Hmong studies or conduct research in the Hmong Diaspora Field School in the future.

This course will be a seminar style. I may wax in and out of lecture mode as I share ethnographic examples from my own research or try to situate or explicate particular theoretical points, but student participation and rich discussion is critical. As a result, your participation in the seminar will constitute an important part of the final grade. The syllabus will include an array of reading and multi-media materials, and it is critical that you come prepared each session to discuss your take on the materials for each seminar discussion.

Books and Reading Materials

The following books are required for this course and need to be acquired by every student. The remainder of the required and suggested readings are individual articles or book sections and will be available electronically by clicking on the links in the reading schedule. These required books can be found on or purchased online:

Yang, Kao Kalia. 2016. The Song Poet: A memoir of my father. New York: Metropolitan Books.
Tapp, Nicholas. 2005. Sovereignty and Rebellion: The White Hmong of northern Thailand, Second Edition. Bangkok: White Lotus Press.
Ngô, Tâm T. T. 2016. The New Way: Protestantism and the Hmong in Vietnam. Edited by Charles F Keyes, Vicente L. Rafael and Laurie J. Sears, Critical Dialogues in Southeast Asian Studies. Seatlle: University of Washington Press.

Language Resources

The vocabulary list is organized as a Google Doc, and can be viewed by students in the class here. The list will grow and we will adapt it to the course as needed, so please go back to this link regularly rather than downloading it once and never consulting it again.

Reading Schedule

Week 1TJan 10No Class
ThJan 12Intro and Orthography
Start reading
Yang, Kao Kalia. 2016. The Song Poet: A memoir of my father. New York: Metropolitan Books.
Week 2TJan 17Orthography, ContinuedYang, Album Notes & Tracks 1-4
ThJan 19Yang, Tracks 5-6
Week 3TJan 24TonesYang Tracks 7-8
ThJan 26GreetingsYang, Tracks 9-10, Album Notes
Week 4TJan 31Hickman, Jacob R. Under Review. "Legitimate Pasts, Utopian Futures: New Religious Dynamics in the Hmong Diaspora." Asia Pacific Journal of Anthropology.
ThFeb 2ClassifiersWatch Vietnam, A Television History, Part 1: Roots of a War

Use this timeline to think about the details of how Southeast Asian history evolved to lead to the geopolitical situation that forced so many Hmong to flee Laos.
Week 5TFeb 7Noun Phrase StructureWatch Vietnam, A Television History, Part 2: America''s Mandarin 1954-1963
Vietnam, A Television History, Part 8: Cambodia and Laos and come ready to discuss the major turning points of how the "Vietnam War" happened
ThFeb 9Hickman, Jacob R. In Press. "Acculturation, Assimilation, and the 'View from Manywheres' in the Hmong Diaspora." In Universalism without Uniformity, edited by Julia L. Cassaniti and Usha Menon. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Week 6TFeb 14Noun Phrase Structure, Cont'd.Watch The Split Horn: Life of a Hmong Shaman in America
and read
Hickman, Jacob R. (2014). Ancestral personhood and moral justification. Anthropological Theory 14(3): 317-335.
ThFeb 16Ngô, Tâm T. T. 2016. The New Way: Protestantism and the Hmong in Vietnam. Seattle: University of Washington Press. (Read Introduction and Chapters One and Two)
FFeb 17Paper 1 Due by 11:59 pm
Week 7TFeb 21Monday Instructions (NO CLASS)Monday Instructions (NO CLASS)
ThFeb 23DemonstrativesNgô, Tâm T. T. 2016. The New Way: Protestantism and the Hmong in Vietnam. Seattle: University of Washington Press. (Read Chapters Three, Four, Five)
Week 8TFeb 28Demonstratives (cont'd) and Questions/AnswersNgô, Tâm T. T. 2016. The New Way: Protestantism and the Hmong in Vietnam. Seattle: University of Washington Press. (Read Chapters Six, Seven, Conclusion)

Suggested Further Reading (Watching):
Ruby Ridge, an episode of the PBS Series, American Experience. You may have to create a free PBS account and sign in to watch the full episode.
ThMar 2Questions and AnswersTapp, Nicholas. 2005. Sovereignty and Rebellion: The White Hmong of northern Thailand, Second Edition. Bangkok: White Lotus Press. (Read Ch.3: Religious Dilemma)
Week 9TMar 7Questions and AnswersTapp, Nicholas. 2015. "Of Grasshoppers, Caterpillars, and Beans: A Historical Perspective on Hmong Messianism." TRaNS: Trans-Regional and-National Studies of Southeast Asia:1-30.
ThMar 9Possessive Noun and Phrase Structure; NegationTapp, Nicholas. 2005. Sovereignty and Rebellion: The White Hmong of northern Thailand, Second Edition. Bangkok: White Lotus Press. (Preface to the New Edition 2004, Introduction, Ch 1)
Week 10TMar 14NegationTapp, Nicholas. 2005. Sovereignty and Rebellion: The White Hmong of northern Thailand, Second Edition. Bangkok: White Lotus Press. (Ch 2, Ch 4, Ch 5, Ch 6, Ch 7)
ThMar 16Non-numerical quantifiers and pronounsTapp, Nicholas. 2005. Sovereignty and Rebellion: The White Hmong of northern Thailand, Second Edition. Bangkok: White Lotus Press. (Ch 8, Ch 9, Epilogue)
Week 11TMar 21Forsyth, Tim, and Andrew Walker. 2008. Forest guardians, forest destroyers : the politics of environmental knowledge in northern Thailand. Seattle: University of Washington Press. (selections)
WMar 22Paper 2 Due by 11:59pm
ThMar 23Tense and Aspect Markers, Modality MarkersDelcore, Henry D. 2007. "The racial distribution of privilege in a Thai national park." Journal of Southeast Asian Studies 38 (01):83-105.
Week 12TMar 28CompoundsNo Reading
ThMar 30Verb SerializationClastres, Pierre. (1987). Society against the state: essays in political anthropology (R. Hurley & A. Stein, Trans.). New York: Zone Books. (Read Concluding Chapter)

Anderson, Benedict R. 1991. Imagined communities : reflections on the origin and spread of nationalism. Rev. and extended ed. London ; New York: Verso. (Read this concise summary of the argument)
Week 13TApr 4Reciprocal MarkerScott, James C. (2009) The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia. New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press. (Selections: the required reading for today is the Preface and Chapter 1, pp.ix-xviii & 1-39)
ThApr 6Tone ChangesTurner, S., Bonnin, C., & Michaud, J. (2015). Frontier livelihoods : Hmong in the Sino-Vietnamese borderlands. (Read Chapters 1, 2, 7, and 8)
Week 14TApr 11same reading as last session (Turner, Bonnin, Michaud)
ThApr 13Tapp, N. (2001). The Hmong of China: Context, Agency, and the Imaginary. Boston: Brill. Read the Foreword and Part One: Contextualizing the Hmong
FApr 14Paper 3 Due by 11:59pm. If you prefer to be graded on only your first two papers and forgo paper #3, please upload a document indicating your decision.
Week 15TApr 18Ritual Terms, Kinship TermsTapp, N. (2001). The Hmong of China: Context, Agency, and the Imaginary. Boston: Brill. Read Chapters Four, Five, Six
WApr 19FINAL PAPER Due by 11:59pm
ThApr 20Reading DayReading Day

Grade Distribution

Final grades will consist of (1) reading self-reports scores, (2) three short papers, (3) a final paper, (4) the language portion, consisting of quizzes and exams and minor assignments

Assignment Pct of Final Grade
1. Reading Self-Report Scores 25
2. Three Short Papers 25
3. Final Paper 25
4. Language 25

A full description of the assignments and grading procedures for this course along with directions for submission for each assignment can be found on the Assignments Page of this syllabus (click here or on the "Assign" link at the top of this page).

University Policies

Please familiarize yourself with these policies, which will be enforced in this course.

Honor Code

In keeping with the principles of the BYU Honor Code, students are expected to be honest in all of their academic work. Academic honesty means, most fundamentally, that any work you present as your own must in fact be your own work and not that of another. Violations of this principle may result in a failing grade in the course and additional disciplinary action by the university. Students are also expected to adhere to the Dress and Grooming Standards. Adherence demonstrates respect for yourself and others and ensures an effective learning and working environment. It is the university's expectation, and my own expectation in class, that each student will abide by all Honor Code standards. Please call the Honor Code Office at 422-2847 if you have questions about those standards.

Sexual Harassment

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 prohibits sex discrimination against any participant in an educational program or activity that receives federal funds. The act is intended to eliminate sex discrimination in education and pertains to admissions, academic and athletic programs, and university-sponsored activities. Title IX also prohibits sexual harassment of students by university employees, other students, and visitors to campus. If you encounter sexual harassment or gender-based discrimination, please talk to your professor or contact one of the following: the Title IX Coordinator at 801-422-2130; the Honor Code Office at 801-422-2847; the Equal Employment Office at 801-422-5895; or Ethics Point at, or 1-888-238-1062 (24-hours).

Student Disability

Brigham Young University is committed to providing a working and learning atmosphere that reasonably accommodates qualified persons with disabilities. If you have any disability which may impair your ability to complete this course successfully, please contact the University Accessibility Center (UAC), 2170 WSC or 422-2767. Reasonable academic accommodations are reviewed for all students who have qualified, documented disabilities. The UAC can also assess students for learning, attention, and emotional concerns. Services are coordinated with the student and instructor by the UAC. If you need assistance or if you feel you have been unlawfully discriminated against on the basis of disability, you may seek resolution through established grievance policy and procedures by contacting the Equal Employment Office at 422-5895, D-285 ASB.

Academic Honesty

The first injunction of the Honor Code is the call to "be honest." Students come to the university not only to improve their minds, gain knowledge, and develop skills that will assist them in their life's work, but also to build character. "President David O. McKay taught that character is the highest aim of education" (The Aims of a BYU Education, p.6). It is the purpose of the BYU Academic Honesty Policy to assist in fulfilling that aim. BYU students should seek to be totally honest in their dealings with others. They should complete their own work and be evaluated based upon that work. They should avoid academic dishonesty and misconduct in all its forms, including but not limited to plagiarism, fabrication or falsification, cheating, and other academic misconduct.


Intentional plagiarism is a form of intellectual theft that violates widely recognized principles of academic integrity as well as the Honor Code. Such plagiarism may subject the student to appropriate disciplinary action administered through the university Honor Code Office, in addition to academic sanctions that may be applied by an instructor. Inadvertent plagiarism, which may not be a violation of the Honor Code, is nevertheless a form of intellectual carelessness that is unacceptable in the academic community. Plagiarism of any kind is completely contrary to the established practices of higher education where all members of the university are expected to acknowledge the original intellectual work of others that is included in their own work. In some cases, plagiarism may also involve violations of copyright law. Intentional Plagiarism-Intentional plagiarism is the deliberate act of representing the words, ideas, or data of another as one's own without providing proper attribution to the author through quotation, reference, or footnote. Inadvertent Plagiarism-Inadvertent plagiarism involves the inappropriate, but non-deliberate, use of another's words, ideas, or data without proper attribution. Inadvertent plagiarism usually results from an ignorant failure to follow established rules for documenting sources or from simply not being sufficiently careful in research and writing. Although not a violation of the Honor Code, inadvertent plagiarism is a form of academic misconduct for which an instructor can impose appropriate academic sanctions. Students who are in doubt as to whether they are providing proper attribution have the responsibility to consult with their instructor and obtain guidance. Examples of plagiarism include: Direct Plagiarism-The verbatim copying of an original source without acknowledging the source. Paraphrased Plagiarism-The paraphrasing, without acknowledgement, of ideas from another that the reader might mistake for the author's own. Plagiarism Mosaic-The borrowing of words, ideas, or data from an original source and blending this original material with one's own without acknowledging the source. Insufficient Acknowledgement-The partial or incomplete attribution of words, ideas, or data from an original source. Plagiarism may occur with respect to unpublished as well as published material. Copying another student's work and submitting it as one's own individual work without proper attribution is a serious form of plagiarism.

Hla dej yuav hle khau;
Tsiv teb tsaws chaw yuav hle hau.

When you cross a stream take off your shoes;
When you move to a new place you ought to change headman.

Hmong Proverb (Heimbach 1996:461)