Cambodia in Splendor and Ruin

Lessons:

  • Angkor Wat and the Khmer Empire: Splendor and Ruin: What factors account for the rise and fall of ancient societies?  What can we learn about such a society from the ruins of its monumental architecture?
  • The Khmer Rouge: Genocide in the Name of Utopia: How is history used to support ideology?  Is violence by a government against its own civilian population ever justified?  Why are certain events given priority over others in history books?

Scenes from Cambodia, 2014 – supplementary photos to enhance a sense of place.

This unit is broken into two media rich texts, each of which should take approximately one to two class periods for students to process.  These are completely modular – they can be taught consecutively in cooperation with each other or as standalone lessons.  Texts are based on original writing by the author and open sourced texts from the internet at large.  They are full of hyperlinks, encouraging curious students to click and surf in a natural and fluid digression that enriches the central concepts.  The texts are accompanied by three to four prompts which are designed to function according to an educator’s need.  Most can serve alternatively as discussion or short answer questions, essay prompts, or departure points for further research into Cambodian history, or the basis of full on student projects.  If a teacher were to assign every prompt, this unit could serve as the basis of an intensive, Common Core aligned two-three week investigation of Cambodia appropriate for either middle or high school grades, but at its core, it is designed to serve as a basic primer on the key events, notable cultural contributions, and major figures of Cambodian history.

Grade Level: adaptable between grades 6-12 with modifications and extensions

Length of Time: Each lesson takes one to two 50 minute class periods

Objectives: Students will be able to discuss and evaluate the significance of the key events, notable cultural contributions, and major figures of Cambodian history. Students will be able to discuss and evaluate the significance of the key events, notable cultural contributions, and major figures of Cambodian history.  Students will be able to examine and evaluate related concepts from the history of Cambodia and from their own nation through extended research prompts included within the lessons.

Standards Reference:

  • Middle School: CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.6-8.1, CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.6-8.7, CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.6-8.10.
  • High School: CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.9-10.2, CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.9-10.4, CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.8

Teacher Background Information: Cambodia, officially known as the Kingdom of Cambodia (Khmer: ព្រះរាជាណាចក្រកម្ពុជា, Preăh Réachéanachâk Kâmpŭchéa) and once known as the Khmer Empire, is a country located in the southern portion of the Indochina Peninsula in Southeast Asia. Its total landmass is 181,035 square kilometres (1 sq mm), bordered by Thailand to the northwest, Laos to the northeast, Vietnam to the east, and the Gulf of Thailand to the southwest.

With a population of over 15 million, Cambodia is the 70th most populous country in the world. The official religion is Theravada Buddhism, practised by approximately 95 percent of the population. The country’s minority groups include Vietnamese, Chinese, Chams, and 30 hill tribes. The capital and largest city is Phnom Penh, the political, economic, and cultural centre of Cambodia. The kingdom is a constitutional monarchy with Norodom Sihamoni, a monarch chosen by the Royal Throne Council, as head of state. The head of government is Hun Sen, who is currently the longest serving non-royal leader in South East Asia and has ruled Cambodia for over 25 years.

Cambodia’s ancient name is “Kambuja” (Sanskrit: कंबुज). In 802 AD, Jayavarman II declared himself “King” and marked the beginning of the Khmer Empire which flourished for over 600 years, allowing successive kings to dominate much of Southeast Asia and accumulate immense power and wealth. The Indianized kingdom built monumental temples including Angkor Wat, now a World Heritage Site, and facilitated the spread of first Hinduism, then Buddhism to much of Southeast Asia. After the fall of Angkor to Ayutthaya in the 15th century, Cambodia was then ruled as a vassal between its neighbours.

Cambodia became a protectorate of France in 1863, and gained independence in 1953. The Vietnam War extended into Cambodia with the US bombing of Cambodia from 1969 until 1973. Following the Cambodian coup of 1970, the deposed king gave his support to his former enemies, the Khmer Rouge. The Khmer Rouge emerged as a major power, taking Phnom Penh in 1975 and later carrying out the Cambodian Genocide from 1975 until 1979, when they were ousted by Vietnam and the Vietnamese backed People’s Republic of Kampuchea in the Cambodian–Vietnamese War (1979–91). Following the 1991 Paris Peace Accords Cambodia was governed briefly by a United Nations mission (1992–93). The UN withdrew after holding elections in which around 90 percent of the registered voters cast ballots. The 1997 coup placed power solely in the hands of Prime Minister Hun Sen and the Cambodian People’s Party, who remains in power as of 2015.

Procedures: Assign text before or during class.  Preview the numbered prompts at the end of each text.  Select the prompt or prompts that is most appropriate to your time, grade level, or objective, allowing appropriate time for students to complete prompt to your expectations.

Enduring Understandings: Students who complete this unit will develop a basic understanding and appreciation of the key events, notable cultural contributions, and major figures of Cambodian history.  They will be provided with opportunities to reflect on points of view foreign and alternative to their own, and to consider the world and their place in it.

Modifications and Extensions: This unit is broken into four media rich texts, each of which should take approximately one class period for students to process.  These are completely modular – they can be taught consecutively in cooperation with each other or as standalone units.  The texts are accompanied by three to four prompts which are designed to function according to a teacher’s need.  Most can serve alternatively as discussion or short answer questions, essay prompts, or departure points for further research into Cambodian history, or the basis of full on student projects.

Sources: In accordance with the philosophy that every student deserves a free, high quality education – and therefore educational materials should be free, every effort has been made to use open-sourced text and media as the basis of these lessons.  Sources are typically hyperlinked with each text, allowing students the opportunity to extend their own reading beyond the specifically assigned text.  A large portion of the research for this unit was completed on a personally funded excursion to Cambodia in 2014.

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