Images of Angkor Wat

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This collection of 120 photos was taken by Miss Margaret Parx Hays during her Christmas vacation to Siem Reap in 1954 while she was stationed in Manila as a Consul of the American State Department. Taken ninety years after Henri Mouhot’s first visit to Angkor sparked French orientalist fever, more than a decade before the American bombing campaign during the Vietnam war, twenty years before the horrors of the Khmer Rouge were in full swing, and over half a century before The New York Times travel section would report on posh Cambodian vacations in its 2008 article “36 hours in Siem Reap”, these photos offer an opportunity to view Angkor at an unassuming moment in its existence.

Miss Hays toured Angkor on the eve of a new Cambodian nation, one which was in many ways defined by Angkor. The country had just gained full independence from French occupation in late 1953 after ninety years as part of French Indochina. The French were enamored with Angkor, and at the time of Miss Hays’s trip, the majority of scholarship concerning Angkor and Khmer history was a result of the Ecole Francaise d’Extreme Orient (EFEO) of the latter part of the 19th and into the 20th century. Penny Edwards suggests that at the time of independence many notions concerning Khmer nationhood were largely shaped by the cultural synthesis that occurred during French colonial rule, and that the role of the Angkor Wat as an homogenizing symbols became central to the idea of Khmer identity and the imagining of Cambodia as a nation state. Likewise, Tim Winter suggests that this Angkorean identity has been used in every modern chapter of Cambodia’s history, from the horrors of genocide, to the reconstruction of the nation. Winters suggests that since the 1992 listing of Angkor as an UNESCO World Heritage Site, Angkor as both a national symbol and national commodity, has served to rebuild Cambodia from overwhelming tragedy, while its place among the world’s most visited tourism sites presents both enormous possibility and problems for Cambodia in the 21st century.

Being one of the thousands of daily visitors to Angkor today it would be hard to imagine that on their first day there, Miss Hays and her two French Diplomat friends drove freely from one temple to another as the only tourists at the complex. While over a million people a year leave Angkor with their own collection of photos, the Angkor captured by their cameras has changed drastically from the one in this collection. At the time of Miss Hays’s trip, many of the structures she photographed had not yet undergone the reconstruction and preservation that was started by the French in the late 19th century. Since the late 20th century, reconstruction and preservation efforts have been powerfully re-realized by combined forces of APSARA, UNESCO, and the international community.

Born in 1912 in Gainesville Texas, Miss Hays spent much her adult life in the service of the US State department, traveling the world from post to post as she climbed her way up the State Department ranks. Her foreign service began in 1942 when she was stationed in Buenos Aires as an entry level Foreign Service Clerk performing basic clerical duties. Her service ended in 1964 with her retirement from the service in Hong Kong due to her desire to return home to The United States. Her rank at the time of her retirement was Foreign Service Officer, Class 4, Consul Serving as Chief, Passport and Citizenship Section, Hong Kong, an impressive position in a field which was predominantly occupied by men at the time. Over her twenty-two years of service, Miss Hays tromped the globe with a variety of posts throughout Asia and Latin America, where she not only performed her duties as an officer but also exercised her various passions to the fullest, such as acting, fashion design, and photography. She made a hobby of documenting many of the places she visited during her foreign service, of which this collection is a direct result. Her meticulous labeling of each image, as well as her collection of numerous clippings from The Dallas Morning News reporting on the turbulent state of Cambodia over the last quarter of the 20th century show how closely Miss Hays holds Angkor to her heart. In viewing her photos, we can imagine her in 1954 taking shots of the temples and then later annotating them with her copy of Henri Parmentier’s Angkor Guide, poring over the details of a place that most girls from Gainesville had never even heard of.

The collection has been donated to the UW-Madison Digital Library by Miss Hays’s neice, Raine Lee. Details from the life of Miss Hays come from Margaret Parx Hays, compiled by Montgomery Wolf. Architectural, cosmological, historical, and anecdotal information accompanies many of the photos in the collection and is derived from the works found in the bibliography.

Bibliography For The Margaret Parx Hays Angkor Slide Collection

Click to read Bibliography For The Margaret Parx Hays Angkor Slide Collection

Choulean, Ang, Eric Prenowitz, and Ashley Thompson. Angkor: Past, Present, Future. 2nd ed. Cambodia: APSARA, 1998.

Coe, Michael D. Angkor and the Khmer Civilization. London: Thames & Hudson, 2003.

Edwards, Penny. Cambodge: The cultivation of a Nation, 1860-1945. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2007.

Glaize, Mazurice. A Guide to the Angkor Monuments. Translated by Jean Boisselier. Online edition:

Jessup, Helen Ibbitson. Art & Architecture of Cambodia. London: Thames & Hudson, 2004.

—, and Thierry Zephir, eds. Sculpture of Angkor and Ancient Cambodia: Millennium of Glory. Washington: National Gallery of Art, 1997.

Krasa, M., and V. Kubenko. The Temples of Angkor. Translated by Joy Turner. Prague: Artia, 1963.

Lindt, Naomi. “36 Hours in Siem Reap, Cambodia.” New York Times, 28 December, 2008.

Mabbet, Ian., Eleanor Mannikka, Jon Ortner, John Sanday, and James Goodman. Angkor: Celestial Temples of the Khmer Empire. New York: Abbeville Press, 2002.

Mannikka, Eleanor. Angkor Wat: Time, Space, and Kingship. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1996.

Snellgrove, David. Angkor- Before and After: A Cultural History of the Khmers. Thailand: Orchid Press, 2004.

Winter, Tim. Post-Conflict Heritage, Postcolonial Tourism: Culture, politics and development at Angkor. London: Routledge, 2007.

Wolf, Montgomery. “Margaret Parx Hays.” Not Published, 2008.