Alright. The new episode is coming together nicely, just thought I would start updating the blog with this kind of content to assure people the show is progressing. I’d say, just in regards to my own circumstances, I am going to perhaps start a teaching role in a high school toward the end of this year and I am already worrying about the impact that doing a masters/being a full-time teacher might have on the podcast… but we will come to that when we come to that!
Anyway, for now I think I have sketched out the next episode pretty well. We are going to start just with the general low-down on what happened right after the French protectorate was established. What did this period look like? What happened? What were the French hoping to get out of this arrangement? Etc.
Then we are finally going to move into the 20th century proper. The flaws in some elements of French control, as well as the tightening of this control – from ‘protectorate’ to ‘colony’. Most texts speak about the period from 1916-1925 as one of basic peace and conformity to the colonial presence in Cambodia (although other events in Southeast Asia will differ) but I will take that opportunity in this historical ‘lull’ to settle down for a moment and just talk about Cambodian culture, particularly life in the rural areas. I will use May Ebihara’s fantastic study ‘Svay: a Khmer village in Cambodia’ to base this information on (yes I know she wrote it in the 60s but there was not much change between the 20’s and 60’s). This will give us a much needed look at the actual ‘people’ of Cambodia again as they have been left out of most texts from antiquity onward and the show has mostly detailed the role of kings and ‘big history’. Another important aspect of talking about this element of Cambodia is the eventual role of the ‘peasantry’ or at least an idealised view of this ‘rural’ lifestyle that will become a hugely important facet of Khmer Rouge ideology. The distinction between ‘old people’ and ‘new people’ after 1975 is fundamental to a study of the Khmer Rouge revolution, and being able to distinguish between the basics of these two groups beyond just ‘those who lived in the city and those who lived in the country’ is something I really want people to be able to get out of the show. The ‘agrarian’ aspect of the Khmer Rouge revolution is often referenced, but I feel that an actual understanding of what ‘agrarian’ life in Cambodia looked like is less understood and not often explained.
Once the sojourn in the village is over we will return to the city and the big themes once again. Nationalism is back and the metaphor for burning coal will be back too. The first flames of nationalism in Cambodia will be discussed as the 1930s approach the second world war – which is where this episode will end. Communism will be mentioned ever so briefly as the Vietnamese workers party extends to the ‘Indochinese’ one, but a full discussion of communism, and the long beginnings of the Cold War will be explained in the next episode when we talk about WWII, independence movements across Southeast Asia and how the post-second world war period will be the framework for the rest of the series.
I will make use of the other metaphor I’ve brought up a couple of times ‘the hurricane’. This episode will very much be about the ‘warm, moist air systems’ coming from Cambodia rather than the ‘cold, dry air’ coming from foreign lands and big historical themes. The next episode, about the cold war – that will be (pardon the pun) much more focused on these ‘cold winds’.
Look out for this one probably in November.
And if you are here reading this, first of all thank you for being interested enough to come all the way here and have a read – second, if you’ve come this far why not leave a review on itunes or castbox or stitcher? They really make my day. Also if you’ve got twitter why don’t you pop a follow there as well – I don’t post often but you’ll stay in the loop and sometimes I drop some fun examples of sources I’ve collected over the years.
Thanks for getting involved and listening to the show,
all the best
The news that broke after the publication of an article found here https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/antiquity/article/mahendraparvata-an-early-angkorperiod-capital-defined-through-airborne-laser-scanning-at-phnom-kulen/CAC3E93D6046CC27D862C1E333FD0713/core-reader detailed the pre-Angkorean city of Mahendraparvata. This wasn’t exactly ‘new news’, and the city had been known about and studied for decades – but the sheer extent of the city has now been uncovered by teams on the ground and in the air utilising LIDAR, the technique I explained in the episodes about Angkor.
What I wanted to bring up in regards to the podcast and this discovery is just to reiterate that my study of Cambodia had always been – basically up until the point that I decided to produce the podcast – study of modern history and the Khmer Rouge. My inclusion of pre-modern history into the show is done at an extremely basic level, as I state a few times through out ‘we are skipping ahead hundreds of years here’. Naturally I am giving this part of the picture because it does eventually relate to Cambodia’s position in the 20th century – but not to the extent that the upmost detail was required when telling this part of the story.
As I have begun to realise, the show is transforming into a ‘jumping off point’. It is the content that I wish that I had had before I began studying Cambodia. A ‘101’, a basis for reading more complex texts. Upon finishing the series I expect someone to have quite a detailed knowledge of the history, particularly more than just the basic ideas of ‘Pol Pot = Hitler’ or ‘the Khmer Rouge killed everyone with glasses’ that a very basic glance at this topic might produce. The early episodes have relied heavily on sources like ‘A History of Cambodia’, but to my mind would more or less give someone with little-to-no experience studying Cambodia a ‘briefing’ before reading that text. I’m not sure how everyone else feels about their attention spans these days but I certainly feel that constant exposure to social media, mobile content or just the internet in general has produced a serious inability to really be able to just sit down and read a long, complex non-fiction text without having to stop every few minutes and say ‘wait… what did I just read??’
The podcast, particularly the early episodes (1-7 will probably make up the first third of the series) are intended to set the stage for the events of modern history, not so much to provide the most up to date, precise and detailed historical study of these periods. The story I am telling is akin to a tragedy, as I said in episode two ‘the path from Angkor Wat to Choeung Ek’. So basic elements like Angkor’s transition to Phnom Penh or the dominance of Cambodia by Siam and Vietnam need to be explained – but perhaps not so much the finer details of the archaeology involved. Bringing me to the recent discoveries at Mahendraparvata.
I recently saw a thread on twitter, a historian outlining problems she had found within an article about the decline of Angkor. I agreed with the points she made and the podcast itself was aligned with those points – but I worried that other general statements I made might not stand up the highest historical scrutiny. As I said I am simply not that familiar with the study of medieval/ancient Cambodia – the only piece of writing I’ve produced that I would say was vaguely up to an ‘upper’ academic standard was my thesis about Buddhist influence on Khmer Rouge policies compared to those in Myanmar in the recent attacks on the Rohingya population. I am aware of the historical debates about the Khmer Rouge – not the ones about Angkorean archaeology, at least not the finer details. Something like the discovery of Mahendraparvata, a city I think I mentioned just once in the show, was not in my focus when I was researching those episodes. The importance of this city is huge if I am reading this article correctly and I just wanted to address some of the reasons that it did not figure into my content about this era.
If I was to quote one of the biggest influences on the show, Dan Carlin, I would also claim that I am not a historian. Just a fan of history. And I apologise for any lack of academic rigour that those more familiar with Cambodia’s older periods might find within my own, perhaps ‘shallow’ reading for the content about these eras in the show.
I was 20 when I visited Angkor for the first time. I knew nothing about Cambodia pre-1960. I just hope that I can provide someone who is in a similar circumstance a more detailed knowledge than I possessed at the same time.