This paper examines the study of history and literature at Hà Nội National University and its forebears in the decades after the First Indochina War. Scholars such as Trần Đức Thảo, Đào Duy Anh, Trần Văn Giàu, Đặng Thai Mai, Cao Xuân Huy and Hoài Thanh had studied and taught Vietnamese history and literature in Hà Nội since the founding of Hà Nội General University and Hà Nội Normal University in 1956. In an influential essay, K.W. Taylor has argued that in order to avoid “univocal national narratives,” and “multivocal regional narratives contextualized by the nation,” that historians need to speak of Vietnamese as “oriented toward the surfaces of their times and places, rather than as oriented toward an imagined unifying depth.” But after 1956, humanistic scholars in Hà Nội were principally concerned with establishing a national past and a literary canon. Ironically, events on the surface of their time and place oriented Vietnamese scholars toward the deep past. This paper explores some of the intellectual antinomies confronting Vietnamese scholars in the decades after independence and argues that the “unifying depth” of the Vietnamese past is no less real for having been imagined.