The current paper is part of an interdisciplinary project focusing on the intellectual dimensions of the French colonial experience in colonial Viêt Nam, particularly in relation to the archaeology of Southeast Asia. As such, the work presented here is intended as a follow-up to the recently published exploration of intellectual movements under colonialism in French-ruled Viêt Nam produced by Susan Bayly. Its wider aim is to contextualise the work of the École Française d'Extrême Orient in order to better understand why its product, the cultural history of Viêt Nam, is now so far out of step with the rest of mainland Southeast Asia that despite more than thirty years of post-colonial fieldwork by Vietnamese scholars, and more than fifteen years of collaboration with Western institutions, our understanding of Vietnamese protohistory has advanced little since, in a now famous review of the then current state of Vietnamese archaeology, Jeremy Davidson opined that our knowledge of Champa remains so fragmentary, vague and inaccurate that the whole subject must be reworked. The current work has many points of concordance with Bayly's interdisciplinary study. Here too it is argued that the distinctive understandings of race, culture and polity brought to the colony by French scientists, profoundly affected the thought and actions of Vietnamese as well as Europeans, and that the effects of their work were felt both within and beyond the French empire.