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.