National Lecture Program

AIA Lecturer: Nam C. Kim

Affiliation: University of Wisconsin

Nam C. Kim is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the current Director of the Center for Southeast Asian Studies on its campus. He holds degrees in anthropology (PhD, University of Illinois at Chicago), political science (MA, New York University) and international relations (BA, University of Pennsylvania).

As an anthropological archaeologist, his research deals with early complex societies and the significance of the material past for modern-day stakeholders. He is especially interested in humanity’s global history of organized violence and warfare. Since 2005 he has been conducting archaeological fieldwork in Vietnam at the Co Loa settlement in the Red River Delta. A heavily fortified site located near modern-day Hanoi, Co Loa is connected to Vietnamese legendary accounts and is viewed as an important foundation for Vietnamese culture.

His work has been featured in various podcast interviews and a documentary (on the History Hit website). He has also authored several articles and books. The Origins of Ancient Vietnam (2015) provides a glimpse into the foundations of Vietnamese civilization, as seen through the archaeological record. Emergent Warfare in Our Evolutionary Past (2018, co-authored with Marc Kissel) provides a comprehensive view on the origins of war within the history of humanity. It seeks to answer the questions about how far back in time we can see warfare, and whether or not organized violence is somehow innate within our species.


The past, whether real, tangible, embellished, or imagined, can be a particularly powerful and alluring source of symbols, narratives, and ideas. Echoes from the distant past can reverberate and affect the lives of contemporary communities, and issues related to politics, cultural heritage management, tourism, and ethnogenesis can all be tied to our reconstructions of the past. This kind of dynamic is evident across many countries, particularly those that have experienced recent histories of conflict, regime change, or newly gained independence. This lecture explores the social contexts and political dimensions of practicing archaeology, and it features research on ancient Vietnam as a specific backdrop. Here, archaeological investigations increasingly complement traditional sources of information, such as ancient texts, legendary accounts, and heroic folk tales. As such, artifacts, remnant architecture, and sacred landscapes have become significant for the national story of Vietnam, its deeper past, and the cultural identities of its past and present populations.

Short bibliography and/or website on lecture topic:

Kim, Nam. 2015. The Origins of Ancient Vietnam. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Kim, Nam. 2016. Matters of the past mattering today. Oxford University Press Blog post, July 22. (

2020. Legendary Cổ Loa: Vietnam’s Ancient Capital. Interview with Tristan Hughes, part of History Hit TV’s podcast series The Ancients (

Two thousand years ago, China’s Han Empire stretched its imperial grasp beyond the mountains far to the south of the Central Plains, reaching into the domains of “barbarians”. Along its southernmost periphery lay the Red River Valley (RRV) of present-day Vietnam. In their chronicles, the Han claimed that they “civilized” the RRV’s “barbarians”. In contrast, many Vietnamese believe this time and location represents the birthplace of an indigenous, Vietnamese civilization that predates Han arrival. This view has been traditionally based on colorful tales and legends. One of the most enduring accounts tells of the Au Lac Kingdom and its capital city, known as Co Loa. Thus, at the heart of ongoing, intense, and sometimes nationalistic debates are two contrasting views. One sees “civilization” as a byproduct of Han arrival, while the other sees it as the outcome of local, indigenous cultural traditions. This lecture presents new and ongoing archaeological research that addresses these themes and questions. Specifically, it highlights recent investigations at the Co Loa site, considered to be the first capital and earliest city of ancient Vietnam.


Short bibliography and/or website on lecture topic (for lay reader):

Kim, Nam. 2015. The Origins of Ancient Vietnam. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

“Vietnam’s First City”, by Lauren Hilgers, Archaeology Magazine (July/August 2016), pp. 48-53.

2020. Legendary Cổ Loa: Vietnam’s Ancient Capital. Interview with Tristan Hughes, part of History Hit TV’s podcast series The Ancients (

Is warfare as old as humanity? Are we an inherently violent species? How would we know? Signs of warfare appear as soon as we began crafting our earliest written records several thousand years ago. But what can we see beyond that literary horizon? This lecture highlights anthropological research to contemplate warfare’s antiquity and origins, providing a glimpse into past contexts of organized violence in the deeper recesses of humanity’s past. We will take a tour around the world, considering select cases across space and time, from the Ice Ages to the present day. The lecture explores the evidence for varied manifestations of war and what those data can reveal about our shared past, our evolution as a species, and our prospects for peace.


Short bibliography and/or website on lecture topic (for lay reader):

2021. The Origins of Warfare. Documentary film produced by History Hit (

2021. The Origins of Warfare. Interview with Tristan Hughes, part of History Hit TV’s podcast series The Ancients (

Kim, Nam and Marc Kissel. 2018. Emergent Warfare in Our Evolutionary Past. Routledge, New York.

Kissel, Marc and Nam Kim. 2017. How Culture Allows for War and Peace. Sapiens, November 16. (

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