We cannot verify your location
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE

Archiving the Unspeakable

Silence, Memory, and the Photographic Record in Cambodia

Michelle Caswell

Publication Year: 2014

Roughly 1.7 million people died in Cambodia from untreated disease, starvation, and execution during the Khmer Rouge reign of less than four years in the late 1970s. The regime’s brutality has come to be symbolized by the multitude of black-and-white mug shots of prisoners taken at the notorious Tuol Sleng prison, where thousands of “enemies of the state” were tortured before being sent to the Killing Fields. In Archiving the Unspeakable, Michelle Caswell traces the social life of these photographic records through the lens of archival studies and elucidates how, paradoxically, they have become agents of silence and witnessing, human rights and injustice as they are deployed at various moments in time and space. From their creation as Khmer Rouge administrative records to their transformation beginning in 1979 into museum displays, archival collections, and databases, the mug shots are key components in an ongoing drama of unimaginable human suffering.

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press

Series: Critical Human Rights


pdf iconDownload PDF

Title Page, Copyright Page

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. i-vi


pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. vii-viii

List of Illustrations

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. ix-x


pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. xi-2

read more

Introduction: Silence, Agency, and the Social Life of Records

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 3-25

The story of the Tuol Sleng mug shots is perhaps best intro- duced with the story of one woman and one record. On October 12, 1976, a young Cambodian woman, Hout Bophana, was arrested by the Khmer Rouge secret police and sent to Tuol Sleng prison (known also...

read more

1. The Making of Records

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 26-60

The first stage in the social life of the Tuol Sleng mug shots is their creation as bureaucratic records within the Khmer Rouge prison system. Tuol Sleng prison was situated at the pinnacle of the Khmer Rouge regime, and photography was situated at the center of the Tuol...

read more

2. The Making of Archives

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 61-96

We now turn to the archivization of the records, or the process by which the mug shots were collected, preserved, and presented as archives. For Trouillot, archives are institutions of immense social power in that they both “organize facts and sources” and...

read more

3. The Making of Narratives

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 97-135

Until very recently, it was taboo in Cambodia to discuss the Khmer Rouge. The regime was conspicuously absent from classrooms, and parents rarely discussed their experiences with their children. In the past decade, foreign tourists have been the primary visitors to the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. Until 2009, when DC- Cam commissioned...

read more

4. The Making of Commodities

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 136-156

During visits to the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in December 2011 and January 2012, I was stunned to see both Bou Meng and Chum Mey—the two known surviving adult Tuol Sleng prisoners— in the courtyard of the museum selling DC- Cam publications that...

read more

Conclusion: The Archival Performance of Human Rights and the Ethics of Looking

pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 157-166

Tracing the social life of Khmer Rouge mug shots uncovers moments of silence and acts of silencing as the photographs were created, transformed into archives, and activated by survivors and by victims’ family members as they craft narratives about the regime. Through these various activations, the mug shots enable Cambodians and the international...


pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 167-200


pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 201-214


pdf iconDownload PDF

pp. 215-232

Further Reading

pdf iconDownload PDF

p. 233

E-ISBN-13: 9780299297534
E-ISBN-10: 0299297535
Print-ISBN-13: 9780299297541
Print-ISBN-10: 0299297543

Page Count: 245
Illustrations: 27 b/w illus.
Publication Year: 2014

Series Title: Critical Human Rights
Series Editor Byline: Steve J. Stern and Scott Straus, Series Editors See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 871258137
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Archiving the Unspeakable

Research Areas


UPCC logo

Subject Headings

  • Archives -- Cambodia.
  • Cambodia -- History -- 1975-1979 -- Archives.
  • Political prisoners -- Cambodia -- Archives.
  • Genocide -- Cambodia -- Archives.
  • Political atrocities -- Cambodia -- Archives.
  • Prisons -- Cambodia -- Archives.
  • Tuol Sleng (Prison : Phnom Penh, Cambodia).
  • Parti communiste du Kampuchea.
  • You have access to this content
  • Free sample
  • Open Access
  • Restricted Access