University of Washington anthropologist connects communities to archive of Khmer Rouge-era Cambodia

This is one of dozens of photographs of Cambodian citizens, taken by journalist and UW alum Elizabeth Becker on her tour of the country in 1978.Elizabeth Becker

Jenna Grant first learned about the complexities of modern-day Cambodia while working on a World Health Organization project along the country’s northwest border with Thailand.

There, she lived and worked with people who had been separated from their villages during the Khmer Rouge regime decades before — a time of violence and authoritarianism under Pol Pot that left up to one-quarter of the country’s population dead and a devastating legacy affecting generations. After the defeat of the Khmer Rouge in 1979, many fled starvation, uncertainty and war, some living up to a decade of their lives in refugee camps on the Thai side of the border. The majority were repatriated in Cambodia in the early 1990s, and some settled in other countries, including the United States. Trauma, poverty and language barriers have left young and old unclear, unable or unwilling to communicate about the past.

Since Grant arrived as an assistant professor in the University of Washington’s Department of Anthropology, she has worked to create sites for stories of and about Cambodians to be told, through teaching, guest speakers, a multimedia installation and work with the local Cambodian community.
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