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Beauty and Darkness: Cambodia
http://mekong.net/cambodia
/index.htm

Bruce Sharp
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Reviewed by:
Robert DeCaroli
George Mason University
August 2003






This is a personal website that concentrates on collecting and maintaining information on modern Cambodia. Sharp, a network administrator, runs the site out of personal interest and the quality of the material varies. In particular, essays submitted over the Internet are usually not worth reading. The primary source materials, however, rather than the secondary analysis, are valuable. A navigation bar at the bottom of each page allows for easy access to the materials.

Within the focus on modern Cambodia, a major concern of the site involves preserving information about the atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge. Between 1975 and 1979, the Khmer Rouge, under the direction of Pol Pot, murdered 21 percent of the population (1.3 million people). The scale and brutality of these events make them both difficult and vital to confront. The site is divided into five categories: “Facts and Figures,” “Essays and Documents,” “Cambodia: Contents,” “Photo Gallery,” and “Travel Info.” Within these sections and the various sub-categories, primary sources include hundreds of photographs, nine oral histories, and five travel accounts.

In order to comprehend these overwhelming atrocities on a personal level, I strongly recommend the chilling oral histories in the “Documents” section, which vary between 1,000 and 4,000 words in length. These individual records of the actions of the Khmer Rouge convey the horrific circumstances and lingering consequences of those terrible years. The accounts would make excellent supplementary reading for a class discussion on the Khmer Rogue and provide a hauntingly human face to the statistics.

The “Photo Gallery” contains several hundred images of modern Cambodia, the temples at Angkor, and Cambodian communities in America. The images are of good quality, but the section is of limited use because there are no thumbnails, databases, or search engines. The only way to view the collection is to look through each image one at a time.

The final noteworthy selection of primary sources is a bit unusual. These are five travel essays written by various authors about their time in Cambodia, which vary between letter length of approximately 700 words and essay length of 35,000 words. An interesting exercise would be to read early Chinese and Arabic travel accounts of Cambodia, followed by a selection of colonial era travel records in order to contrast them with these modern accounts. In each case we have the views of outsiders seeking to sum up their experience of Cambodian culture. It might be interesting to see what qualities are consistently identified, what factors lead to changes, and to what degree the travelers reflect the opinions of their own cultures rather than those of the Cambodians.

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