Theara Thun's picture
Affiliated Fellow
Theara Thun

My research explores the 'interplay' between the bangsāvatār (chronicle) writing and the colonial historiography during the 1900s and 1960s. It looks at different local individuals who took a predominant role in shaping and circulating knowledge concerning Cambodia’s national past during these decades. It shows how these intellectuals, most of whom were well established in the bangsāvatār tradition, 'reacted' to the emergence of colonial scholarship.

This is the first critical study that focuses on the relationship between local texts and figures and the construction of collective identity and religions from the pre-colonial years to the post-independence period of Cambodia.

The study uncovers thirteen rare Khmer bangsāvatār manuscripts drawn from archival collections in Cambodia, Thailand, France, and Japan. It suggests that bangsāvatār texts, as part of South and Southeast Asian literary heritage, were closely associated with a broader effort of rulers and religious leaders to promote their kingship and religious teachings.

Considering as an object encompassing both spiritual and political powers, these texts were used by the palace to display peace and harmony under a reigning monarch and by temples to exhibit religious restorations under a Buddhist leader. The findings also suggest that the coming of Western notions of history did not simply replace the perceptions of the past and of historical writing found in the pre-colonial texts. Instead, colonial historiography caused to the emergence of different schools of thought among local intellectuals, including those who actively engaged in translating French and Thai scholarship into Khmer, and conservative scholars who still used the pre-colonial conventions of historical writing to represent Cambodia’s collective past during the colonial and post-independence periods.

During my ten-month fellowship at the International Institute for Asian Studies in Leiden, I will work on the last chapter entitled 'Post-independence Cambodia: Sangha and their perceptions of national past through Buddhism', and the book proposal for this project.

Theara Thun received his MA in Southeast Asian Studies at Chulalongkorn University and a PhD in History at the National University of Singapore under a joint doctoral scholarship programme between the National University of Singapore and Harvard-Yenching Institute (Cambridge, MA, USA).



  • Textual Traditions
  • Intellectual history
  • Cultural Studies
  • Southeast Asian history
  • Cambodian/Khmer Studies

Country of origin


Period of stay at IIAS

01/02/2019 to 30/11/2019

Research topic

Bangsāvatār: The Evolution of Historiographical Genres in Colonial Cambodia

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