Cambodian Genocide Museums And Memorials: A Medium For Transmitting Intergenerational Cultural Memory

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This paper, based on field research and oral interviews with museum attendees in the United States and Cambodia, examines the role of four memorial museums in promoting shared intergenerational cultural memory from the Cambodian genocide. I focus on four sites: the Cambodian American Heritage Museum and Killing Fields Memorial in Chicago, Illinois; Cambodian Cultural Museum and Killing Fields Memorial in Seattle, Washington; the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh, Cambodia; and the Killing Fields at Choeung Ek in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. From 1975 and 1979, the Khmer Rouge Regime used Tuol Sleng, formerly Tuol Svay Prey High School, as an interrogation, torture, and execution site. Today, the prison has been transformed into a museum but preserved just as the Democratic Kampuchea left the facilities in 1979. In many ways, this original museum in Cambodia serves as a model for other "museumifications" of the Cambodian genocide. It also shares a great deal with other such sites of torture and execution, which have become "tourist destinations" and museums globally. Technically, Tuol Sleng (and other museums like it) has an ambiguous status as a museum per se: it is not only an open grave for national mourning, but also a site of atrocity; not only a site of atrocity, but also an archive; not only a holding place for history, but also a memorial; not only a memorial, but also a museum. What is the significance and implications of changing this slaughterhouse into a historical preservation site? What kinds of cultural memory is this museum transmitting? How can a study of this site and its use in educating subsequent generations help us reflect on the role of other such museums? This paper explores the ways in which such ambiguous museums participate in the complex process of cultural memory creation.

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