The "Tales from the Archives" column was born in December last year with
one main aim: to publicize the National Archives of Cambodia (NAC) whose very existence
seems not to be well known among scholars of Cambodian history.
A lot of scholarly work is being produced and published every year solely based on
material available in France or elsewhere, while a trip to Phnom Penh is deemed unnecessary,
a deplorable fact given the NAC's large collection of unique sources on Cambodian
history. This is partly due to the myth that most of its holdings had been destroyed
during the Pol Pot period, which in the case of the NAC repository is entirely untrue.
For those who have ventured to Phnom Penh, research may have not seemed attractive
because decades of neglect and the loss of the catalogue have made access to its
holdings difficult. A project to redevelop the NAC has in the last two years improved
The main purpose of the Post column and its footnote detailing location and opening
hours is therefore to promote awareness of these collections among researchers in
Cambodia and abroad, and not to present a piece of scholarly work.
The column tries to achieve this goal by focusing on entertaining anecdotes from
Cambodia's past, as we explained in the initial article.
Anecdotes by definition leave out a lot of context.
Furthermore each column is based on a very limited set of documents, usually a few
files only, which are indicated at the end of each article.
The column is meant to be a narrative account of what can be read in these very files,
a slice of history as Edwards writes, and does not pretend to be more than this.
I agree, however, that skipping the issue of forced labour and the many casualties
that made Bokor possible was a mistake.
Working with the written legacy of French rule in Cambodia at the NAC for the last
eight months, I would need more than one blind eye not to see the hardship and suffering
that it caused for a large proportion of the population.
The bloody crushing of rebellions in the 19th century; the protests in 1915-16 that
were a lot less peaceful than many accounts want us to believe; reports of the cruel
repression of the Phnongs in Kratie in the 1910s and 1920s, when military campaigns
burned down village after village of helpless peasants presumed to be opposed against
French rule; the accounts from the plantations in Kompong Cham in the 1930s, the
long lists of coolies wanted for running away from the labour camps; documents detailing
all these events are to be found in the NAC by researchers who decide to use this
They are stories however, that, given the concept of the column, will not be told
in "Tales from the Archives".
By presenting examples of files of the NAC that concentrate on humourous episodes,
we do not intend to create the impression that the past has been all glorious and
glamorous, a sanitized alternative to today's never-ending bloodshed.
The column will never be able to present a balanced analysis of its subjects in the
limited space it provides and based on the limited evidence it takes into account.
We therefore welcome the addition of further information from our readers whenever
its anecdotal style leaves important parts of the story untold.