Prior to writing the book, Davis conducted extensive archival and ethnographic research for more than a decade, traveling throughout China and southeast Asia. Drawing on Vietnamese, French and Chinese written sources and interviews with hundreds of villagers, Davis tells the story of migrants and communities in the southeast Asian borderlands. The book also describes banditry and the culture of violence in the mountainous borderlands between China and Vietnam.
The event, sponsored by the Department of History and the Office of Equity and Diversity, served as an opportunity for readers to ask questions and gain a further understanding of Davis’ research process. One of the themes in the conversation between Davis and readers included the establishment of personal relationships with the individuals he was studying. Davis noted that although archival research has become easier over time due to the expansion of access to documents, establishing personal relationships with the individuals you are studying is the key to comprehensive research. “You have to hang out,” says Davis. “As simple as that sounds, it is not easy. You have to share a meal with them. You have to prove that you are not yet another researcher they will never see again. You have to become known and trusted in the community. Personal relationships are the heart of this type of research.”