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Meet Naomi Frost, Concordia Library’s new researcher-in-residence

The PhD candidate will explore memory, oral history and family legacies in the Montreal Cambodian diaspora and beyond
December 6, 2023

Young smiling woman with purple blonde hair, wearing glasses, a white top and a dark blazer Naomi Frost: “The life stories of my narrators have been, and continue to be, my greatest source of inspiration.”

Concordia Library’s latest researcher-in-residence, Naomi Frost, joined the university for one year beginning in the fall.

Frost earned a MA in history at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, and is currently a PhD candidate in Concordia’s Department of History.

She also works as a research assistant for the university project Cemetery as Metaphor and is a student affiliate of the Centre for Oral History and Digital Storytelling.

Frost’s master’s thesis focused on the oral histories of Cambodian Australians who grew up in Melbourne. Her research showed how life stories from this community illustrate that histories, experiences and stories transcend survivors themselves.

She also investigated how the next generations are negotiating the legacies of loss, violence and displacement in the present.

Frost’s doctoral research expands on her graduate research to explore intergenerational memory in three Cambodian diasporic communities: Montreal; Long Beach, California; and Melbourne.

Her research is the focus of her researcher-in-residence project. It centres on the oral histories of 1.5-generation — first-generation immigrants who came to their new country between ages 6 and 12 — and second-generation Cambodians.

Frost investigates how these individuals have learned about and navigated the legacies of their family histories growing up in the diaspora, and how they have become active storytellers shaping their family and community histories.

As researcher-in-residence for the 2023–24 academic year, Frost will make use of the Library’s collections and archives. She says she plans to draw extensively from the Azrieli Holocaust Collection, Jonassohn Genocide Collection and Paul Monty collection.

Part of her research will also connect the Library to the oral histories of 1.5- and second-generation Cambodians through an exhibition that will showcase some of the memory work being produced by Cambodian Montrealers.

‘I have been invigorated by the constructive and inspiring conversations’

What inspired your research and interests?

Naomi Frost: My journey toward this research began with my undergraduate honours thesis, which focused on present-day, post-genocide reconciliatory efforts in Cambodia. I also completed an internship in Phnom Penh in 2015. These experiences inspired my deep interest in the transnational and multigenerational manifestations of Cambodia’s past in the present.

It was conversations with Cambodian Australians who grew up in Melbourne, however, that shifted my focus from Cambodia to its diaspora, and from survivors to their children. This topic then became the focus of my master’s thesis.

The life stories of my narrators have been, and continue to be, my greatest source of inspiration in pursuing my current project.

What are a few misconceptions about your research?

NF: My research challenges some serious misconceptions about the migrant and refugee communities I am working with. One of the most problematic misconceptions stems from how the Cambodian diaspora is represented in popular culture and academic discourse. Typical narratives paint a picture of a “damaged” community struggling to adapt to their new lives in the United States, Canada and Australia.

Over 40 years after the collapse of the Khmer Rouge regime, this perspective does not adequately reflect the lived realities of the 1.5 and second generation in the diaspora today. Nor does it capture the realities of their communities, or their young third-generation children.

We can see this in the next generations’ emerging positions as community leaders, activists, artists and creatives. These individuals are producing memory work that reshapes the public image of their families and communities.

How does your work on the Concordia project Cemetery as Metaphor contribute to your residency research?

NF: Although my work on Cemetery as Metaphor is not directly related, it does intersect with my research in subtle ways.

Led by Anna Sheftel, principal of the School of Community and Public Affairs, the Cemetery as Metaphor project explores the history of Montreal’s Jewish community through the Back River Memorial Gardens Cemetery. It’s a 19th-century Jewish cemetery in the Montreal neighbourhood of Ahuntsic. The project is funded by a SSHRC (Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council) Insight grant.

By combining archival research and oral history, the project explores the cemetery and its place in the city. It also considers the cemetery’s meanings for both those with connections to it and those who live, work and commute around it.

Both this project and my doctoral research bring oral histories into conversation with archival documents. The goal is to explore the migration, resettlement and experiences of migrant and refugee communities in Montreal, and the meanings these histories evoke in the present.

How will your research project connect the Library to the memory work being produced by 1.5- and second-generation Cambodian artists in the diaspora?

NF: The memory work of the next generation in the Cambodian diaspora — in the form of research, community engagement, art, literature, film or the performing arts — can be interpreted as creative and experimental expressions of family and community histories.

Their memory work challenges many long-held misconceptions about the Cambodian communities in Montreal, Long Beach and Melbourne. This work illustrates the communities’ efforts to explore, negotiate and articulate conceptions of home, identity and belonging.

It also demonstrates the complexities of untangling multigenerational experiences of displacement.

My hope is that my residency will conclude with an exhibition, codeveloped with local community organizations. The exhibition will showcase some of the memory work being produced by Cambodian Montrealers.

What attracted you to Concordia Library’s researcher-in-residence program?

NF: The program stood out to me as an opportunity to look beyond conventional research methods. It’s an opportunity to help bridge university-community divides through public-facing research outcomes.

The researcher-in-residence program also allows me to engage more closely with Library staff, the university community and the public in my research process. Even at this early stage, I have been invigorated by the constructive and inspiring conversations that I have been able to have with Library staff.

I am excited to learn more about the Concordia Library’s work, and university libraries in general. It’s work that has supported my research and inspired my thinking for many years.

Now in its seventh year, Concordia’s researcher-in-residence program supports the Library’s efforts to foster a strong research culture and promote evidence-based librarianship.

Connect with Naomi Frost at


Find out more about the Concordia Library’s researcher-in-residence program.


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