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First Khmer Studies Forum Held in the US

The first annual Khmer Studies Forum, on Saturday May 30, 2009, was organized by the Southeast Asian Studies Program of Ohio University. This forum was held as the result of a discussion between Deth Sok Udom, a Cambodian graduate student of the program, and Anthony Medrano, its assistant director.

The aim was to give an opportunity to students and scholars to present and discuss research findings. Eleven speakers presented papers on 11 topics, such as “Problems and Prospects for Cambodia's Endangered Cultural Heritage” and “Exploring Trade and Exchange Networks in Iron Age Cambodia.”

Attendants were exposed to international perspectives on Cambodia. They discussed the neglect of Indochina by the US following the Vietnam War, including Cambodia, for example.

Jared Cahners, a doctoral student at the anthropology department of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, one of the speakers at the forum, said the meeting was a “wonderful” opportunity for people who study Cambodia to get together.

“People are studying so many different aspects of Cambodian, Khmer culture, people came from many disciplines to do it,” he said.

Alison Carter, a doctoral candidate in anthropology department, said she was excited to participate.

“I learned a lot,” she said. “There are a lot of things I didn’t really know very much about, because Cambodia is so rich and diverse. There’re so many things, so many opportunities to study. So, I am really excited to learn about those things. For me, I’m really excited to talk about my research with people who are interested in Cambodia, because usually I talk about my research with people who are just interested in archeology. So, they might not know much about the history of Cambodia, or even where Cambodia is.”

Deth Sok Udom, graduate student of Ohio University’s Southeast Asian Studies Program and one of the forum organizers, said there are many Cambodian graduate students and scholars in the United States, but they do not have a chance to get together officially.

This forum created an opportunity for Cambodian and foreign scholars on Cambodia to meet.

“This first year, we had 11 topics,” he said. “Some people talked about history, some talked about archeology, some talked about women’s rights, some talked about anthropology, politics and media studies. Therefore, it gave us more understanding besides what we studied.”

Anthony Medrano, assistant director of Southeast Asian Studies, Ohio University and one of the forum organizers, said the university’s role as a “national resource center” made it the perfect place to have the forum.

“The target audience is going to be students and other scholars, regardless of the level that they are at, scholars who work on Cambodia, or Cambodians, or Cambodian society, so that could mean people who look at Cambodians in America, people who look at colonial history in Cambodia, people who look at Angkor history, people who look at contemporary politics, who look at administrative reform,” he said. “So the target audience is anybody who has an interest in Cambodia that we want to sort of bring together. So, it can be kind of venue that is open and free and available for them to share their research and findings.”

Lay Putheara, a graduate student at the Institute of International Training, in Vermont, and one of the participants in this forum, said this type of forum should be held every year.

“It is useful because Cambodians have an opportunity to tell international scholars about what they know, what they studied, or know through experience in Cambodia,” he said. “At the same time, international scholars who have studied Cambodia have an opportunity to present to us their perspectives, their knowledge, their experiences about Cambodia.”

In the United States, only nine universities are considered national resource centers on Southeast Asia: Cornell, Ohio, Wisconsin-Madison, Berkley, UCLA, Washington, Michigan, Northern Illinois, and Hawaii.

The second-annual Cambodian Studies Forum will be held on Saturday, April 24, 2010, at Ohio University. Information about the Cambodian Studies Forum is available at