Cambodge: The Cultivation of a Nation, 1860–1945, by Penny Edwards, was awarded the Harry J. Benda Prize at the Association for Asian Studies Annual Meeting in March 2009.
“In Cambodge: The Cultivation of a Nation, Penny Edwards examines brilliantly the metamorphosis of the kingdom of Cambodia into the French-Khmer colonial entity of Cambodge—the chrysalis from which today’s Cambodia has emerged. Demonstrating a masterful command of scholarship and of archival, literary, and popular sources, Edwards reveals not a simple dance of colonial domination and resistance but an array of complex collaborations through which Khmer subjects adapted, and embraced as their own, processes set in train by the French: to iconize and secularize Angkor Vat; to promote a Khmer Buddhism separate from Thai influence and free of hoary superstitions; and to root ‘Khmerness’ both in a romanticized antiquity and France-led modernity.
In a narrative that is elegantly crafted and ultimately gripping, Edwards links the colonial world of schools, research institutes, and print culture and of museums, monuments, and tourism to the post-colonial nation-building projects of Sihanouk, Lon Nol, and Pol Pot. In doing so, she brings legibility to highly theorized subjects such as hybridity, authenticity, and nationalism and both complicates and enriches our understanding of the colonial era and its legacies in modern Southeast Asia—demonstrating, as Harry J. Benda did, how rigorous historical scholarship can expose surprising ways in which the past is complicit in the present.”