Of rice and folly in Cambodia: from Angkor to Democratic Kampuchea


From the Angkor Empire to Democratic Kampuchea, Cambodia has been in turn a land of plenty and of poverty, a prosperous and then battered country. Connecting these two stories, historian Ben Kiernan (Yale University) draws a line: Cambodia has always been a master in the art of rice-growing. Since the glacial era, climatic conditions have shaped a fertile land, home to both the Khmer civilisation and modern Democratic Kampuchea.

Ben Kiernan is the A.Whitney Griswold Professor of History and Professor of International and Area Studies at Yale University. He taught at the University of New South Wales for three years and at the University of Wollongong for four. Appointed to the Yale History Department in 1990, he founded the Cambodian Genocide Program, which under his direction, established the Documentation Center of Cambodia, uncovered the archives of the Khmer Rouge secret police, detailed the case for an international tribunal, and won multiple awards. He was founding Director of the Genocide Studies Program (gsp.yale.edu) from 1994 to 2015, while serving concurrently for five years as Chair of the Yale Council on Southeast Asia Studies. He is the author of five books, and editor or co-author of fifteen books. Kiernan’s work has appeared in eleven languages and received many prizes. He was fellow at AMSE-IMéRA in residence in Marseille between December 2018 and July 2019.

Ben Kiernan was invited by AMSE and the Centre Norbert Elias in their common Economics and History seminar, in March 2019. This paper was written from an interview of the invited speaker.


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