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Cambodian Museum Project Garners Internationalization Award for Pair

May 4, 2015
two women looking at a book in front of bookshelves
Nicole Crawford, left, and Isadora Helfgott are developing a human rights museum that will have a worldwide impact. (UW Photo)

Two researchers who are developing a Museum of Memory to remind the world of the horrific genocide that took place in Cambodia are being recognized with the University of Wyoming’s Award for Faculty Achievement in Internationalization.

The award was established in 2001 by the UW International Board of Advisors to recognize excellence in promoting international activities at UW.

Nicole Crawford, curator of collections at the UW Art Museum, and Isadora Helfgott, an assistant professor in the Department of History who works with the programs in museum studies and gender and women’s studies, are engaged in pioneering work. They are connecting the Sleuk Rith Institute in Cambodia with UW and the Wyoming Institute for Humanities Research (WIHR) to create a human rights museum that will have worldwide impact. Sleuk Rith is the leading organization for commemoration and remembrance of atrocities committed under the Khmer Rouge.

“The Cambodian genocide is one of the 20th century’s most atrocious episodes and must not be forgotten,” says Eric Sandeen, UW American studies professor and founding director of the WIHR. “Unfortunately, troublesome sites are spread throughout human history and dot the globe. How to remember and to learn from such episodes becomes an essential responsibility of museum curators, historians, humanists and, indeed, all people of conscience.”

Crawford and Helfgott have built on their curricular collaboration to initiate a long-term project in Cambodia that has research, teaching and service components. They have combined their skills in the areas of museum history, theory and practice to assist in developing a Museum of Memory -- modeled on the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum -- that will reckon with the complex political history of Cambodia and its enduring cultural legacy.

“Although their collaboration in Cambodia on genocide is a horrific reminder of what the human race can do to each other, these two women are brightening the world with their ability to bring together so many people in the name of education,” says Anne Alexander, director of International Programs at UW. “Not only do they bring about collaboration from all over the world, but they are creating wonderful new opportunities for UW students.”

UW students will be introduced to the Museum of Memory’s work by visiting scholar Pechet Men, participate in study abroad courses in Cambodia, and gain the ability to conduct research on looted artifacts from Cambodia’s world heritage sites.

“They continue to enrich the museum studies program by building dedicated international study and internship opportunities for students, expanding academic engagement initiatives at the UW Art Museum and conducting pioneering work for the Wyoming Humanities Institute,” Alexander says. “Through this project, Helfgott and Crawford are exploring new pedagogies that will link the UW Art Museum with the Wyoming Institute for Humanities Research toward a goal of establishing an academic curator’s position at the university.”

Their work to connect the museum with the university’s teaching mission is gaining international attention. In June, they will present their work to an international audience at an invitation-only conference at Oxford University’s Ashmolean Museum, sponsored by the Mellon Foundation.

Crawford joined the UW Art Museum in 2009, where she develops the museum’s collections, curates exhibitions and chairs the museum’s Collections Advisory Committee. She has juried several exhibitions, both regionally and nationally, and has curated more than 60 exhibitions.

Before coming to UW, Helfgott taught at Georgetown University and the University of Toronto. Her research focuses on the politics of cultural production and display, with an emphasis on fine art, art publics and museums.

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