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Bakong Temple, which stood out to public history student Beth Guertin as an “example of how modern pagodas are built into the existing landscape, merged with the Angkorian temples and lush tropical foliage. The temples of Angkor are not 'lost' in the jungle- they remain an integral piece of Cambodian life.”

Public History Graduate Student Conducts Thesis Research in Cambodia

Beth Guertin, a second-year masters student in the UNCW Public History Program, recently completed a research trip to Angkor, Siem Reap Province, Cambodia to study the relationship between historic preservation and tourism at Angkor Wat, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

“My research includes historic preservation and the effects of mass tourism on living cultural heritage,” notes Guertin, “My trip to Angkor allowed me to observe the relationship between visitors and locals, and the complex dichotomy arisen between those who are the ‘consumers’ and those who are ‘consumed,’ or commodified.”

Guertin, who also has a background in art history, studied tourist interaction with sites most popular with travelers: Angkor Wat; Angkor Thom; Ta Prohm (made famous by the filming of Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, and the giant tree roots growing through the stone structures), Banteay Kdei, Sras Srang, Preah Khan, Neak Pean, Ta Som, East Mebon, Banteay Srei, Pre Rup and the Roluos Group: Bakong, Lolei, Preah Ko.

“My thesis argues that all future decisions concerning Angkor and tourism management must guarantee physical, spiritual and emotional accessibility not only to visitors, but also to the Khmers for whom Angkor is and has ever been, in the words of historian George Cœdès ‘never just inert buildings without souls.’”

The trip was funded in part by the UNCW Public History Graduate Student Travel Award, a fund established by a public history alum to support graduate student research. Guertin won the award based on the strength of her thesis proposal and her accomplishments as the first public history graduate student to specialize in global history.


UNCW Public History graduate student Beth Guertin in a tuk tuk in Cambodia .


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