Friday, August 14, 2015

Fourth Blog Posting From Cambodia

Hi Everyone,

This is my fourth blog posting from Phnom Penh, Cambodia. I thought in this last blog posting I would talk a little about how the Khmer language courses I have been taking relate to the archival work in Cambodia that I will be doing for my dissertation research. The National Archives of Cambodia (NAC) is located near the United States Embassy and Wat Phnom in Phnom Penh (“phnom” mean hill or mountain in Khmer). The Archives does not have any air-conditioning and there is only one computer (a computer from the early 1990s) available to look-up documents from a few of the collections. There is archival material from the French colonial period, Norodom Sihanouk’s government in the 1950s and 1960s, documents from the 1979 Pol Pot-Ieng Sary Trial, and several personal collections that have been donated to the Archives.

Khmer has 33 consonants, 24 dependent vowels, and 12 independent vowels, so learning to read Khmer does take some practice. As I talked about in my last blog post, there are many Khmer words that are taken directly from Pali and Sanskrit, so there are many times when you will come across words that fall outside of the normal rules.

I focus mainly on Cambodia’s post-colonial history, interactions between different ethnic and political groups within Cambodia, and Cambodia’s foreign policy during the Cold War. The Sihanouk government printed this pamphlet in the early 1950s to help explain the benefits of contemporary agricultural practices to rural populations. Cambodian economists also provide advice in the pamphlet regarding how to increase crop yields and help Cambodia build a viable base of exportable goods.

Although Cambodia often took technical and economic assistance from the United States, the Soviet Union, and the People’s Republic of China, there were also many Cambodian economists and politicians with their own ideas of how best to transform or “modernize” Cambodia. Pamphlets and other documents from the 1950s and 1960s, written primarily in Khmer, help to illustrate how the post-colonial Cambodian government was attempting to solidify a strong and independent state. These documents are also very useful in understanding core-periphery relations within Cambodia, as the urban populations and rural populations often had very different ideas and goals for Cambodia’s future.

I think that's all for this blog posting. Thanks for tuning in!

Ron Leonhardt, 2nd Year PhD History Student
Sigur Center 2015 Khmer Language Fellow,
Royal University of Phnom Penh, Cambodia

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