The digitization of historical materials is making research ever more easy, however I still find that I make my greatest “discoveries” by looking around in actual libraries.
Today, for instance, I was in a library and came across a few reels of microfilm of “Khmer Rouge top secret Santebal (S-21) archives.”
I had never heard of these materials, but upon looking at them, I was fascinated to see the kind of documents that they contain.
The first thing that I noticed was the prevalence of tables (information that today we would put in Excel charts).
Some scholars have characterized the Khmer Rouge effort to transform Cambodian society as a “high-modernist” project, and the intense effort to document information in tabular form (and thereby making it more easily visible by the state authorities) struck me as a good example of this phenomenon.
My knowledge of Khmer is pretty bad at the moment, but it looks to me like some of these tables are recording inventories of things like bullets and guns. That may not sound very interesting, but examining documents like this could provide interesting insights into the strength of the Khmer Rouge, as well as the way that they sought to control their own forces.
From a Google search about this archive, I see that hundreds of reels of microfilm of Khmer Rouge documents were made in the late 1990s and early 2000s by the Southeast Asia Collection of Yale University Library and the Documentation Center of Cambodia (good job!!!).
In addition to Khmer Rouge documents, some of these reels of microfilm also contain documents from the Lon Nol regime about the Khmer Rouge before they came to power in 1975.
The Khmer Rouge period is a topic that has been written about extensively, but these thousands upon thousands of pages of documents offer the opportunity to say something new about that period of history.
It would be great if someone with strong Khmer language skills would make the effort to do so.