CSEAS Lecture: Theara Thun

Theara Thun

Research Fellow - Hong Kong’s Research Grants Council Postdoctoral Fellowship, University of Hong Kong

“Precolonial Literary Tradition in Postcolonial Society: Uncovering Khmer Chronicle Epistemology and Authority in the Transition to Independence”

Friday, February 2, noon

Peters Campus Life Building 100 and online

By the mid-twentieth century, modern historical consciousness based on Western historiography was well established across Southeast Asian societies. Western-model historical writing was adopted in both content and approaches by local intellectuals and political leaders who turned them into various forms of historical thought that closely corresponded to their contemporary concerns. In Cambodia, the colonial model of historiography, known in Khmer as pravattisātr writing, was also established among local scholars since the 1940s. This type of historical consciousness was used by each subsequent political regime to promote individual leaders, institutions, and state ideology. Yet, the colonial model of history writing was neither the only source for such actions nor the single dominant stream of collective imagination. As far as the precolonial chronicle, or baṅsāvtār, scholarship was concerned, this long-held literary tradition continued to play a crucial role throughout the colonial and postcolonial years in serving as a platform for collective imagination, shared values and beliefs, state propaganda, and nationalist thought. This presentation, which is based on my forthcoming monograph, demonstrates that the chronicle scholarship remained a dominant stream of collective historical imagination throughout the 1950s and early 1970s. While its accounts emerged as a series of chronicle-created myths that encompassed very little sense of historical truth, the chronicle’s hegemonic role can be examined through its involvement in the composition of official textbooks, its significance to and influence on people’s collective values and beliefs, and finally its existence as an attractive source material for the production of popular and royal court cultural elements.

Theara Thun is a research fellow under the Hong Kong’s Research Grants Council Postdoctoral Fellowship Scheme, The University of Hong Kong. He obtained his PhD in history from the National University of Singapore (NUS) under a joint scholarship program between NUS and the Harvard-Yenching Institute. Dr Thun’s research interests include Khmer and Southeast Asian studies, intellectual history, ethnic studies, and post-war education. Apart from his book which will be published by the University of Hawai’i Press in the summer of 2024, he has published peer-reviewed articles in platforms such as Critical Asian Studies, Studies in Higher Education, Asian Studies Review, TRaNS: Trans-Regional and -National Studies of Southeast Asia, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, and Journal of Southeast Asian Studies.

The movie poster for The Preah Thong Neang Neak, which tells the story the Cambodia’s first King Preah Thong and first Queen Neang Neak based on precolonial and colonial Khmer court chronicles. The movie was directed by Lay Ngoun Heng and released in cinemas in Phnom Penh in 1968. The image credit goes to the Facebook page of Bhi Sophoan (ប៊ី សោភ័ណ).


Hybrid meeting, registration required for zoom participation: https://niu-edu.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZErdeCrqDsoHNdS9fFcOUZx8x06fE9TLvZq


Free and open to the public.

Dial-In Information


Friday, February 2 at 12:00 PM to 1:00 PM

Peters Campus Life Building, 100
545 Lucinda Ave, DeKalb, IL 60115

Event Type

Lectures, Presentations and Workshops


Arts and Culture, Research, Academics, Diversity

Target Audience

Students, Faculty and Staff, Alumni, General Public, Prospective Students





Center for Southeast Asian Studies
Contact Name

Rachael Skog

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