Benedict F. Kiernan (born 1953) is an American academic and historian who is the Whitney Griswold Professor of History, Professor of International and Area Studies and Director of the Genocide Studies Program at Yale University.
In his early twenties, Kiernan visited Cambodia but left before the Khmer Rouge expelled all foreigners in 1975. Though he initially doubted the scale of genocide then being perpetrated in Democratic Kampuchea, he changed his mind in 1978 after beginning a series of interviews with several hundred refugees from Cambodia. He learnt the Khmer language, carried out research in Cambodia and among refugees abroad, and has since written many books on the topic.
From 1980 onwards, Kiernan worked with Gregory Stanton to bring the Khmer Rouge to international justice. He obtained his PhD from Monash University, Australia in 1983 under the supervision of David P. Chandler. He joined the Yale History Department in 1990, and founded the award-winning Cambodian Genocide Program at the Yale Center for International and Area Studies in 1994, and the comparative Genocide Studies Program in 1998. Kiernan currently teaches history courses on Southeast Asia, the Vietnam War and genocides through the ages.
In 1995 a Khmer Rouge court indicted, tried and sentenced Kiernan in-absentia for "prosecuting and terrorizing the Cambodian resistance patriots".
His 2007 book, Blood and Soil: A World History of Genocide and Extermination from Sparta to Darfur (Yale University Press), received the 2008 gold medal from the US Independent Publishers Association for the best work of History published in 2007, and the German Studies Association's biennial Sybil Halpern Milton Memorial Book Prize for the best book published in 2007 or 2008 dealing with Nazi Germany and the Holocaust in its broadest context, covering the fields of history, political science, and other social sciences, literature, art, and photography.
In June 2009, the book's German translation, Erde und Blut: Völkermord und Vernichtung von der Antike bis heute, won first place in Germany's Nonfiction Book of the Month Prize (Die Sachbücher des Monats).
While Kiernan has become a critic of Khmer Rouge behaviour, Peter Rodman states that "When Hanoi turned publicly against Phnom Penh, it suddenly became respectable for many on the Left to "discover" the murderous qualities of the Khmer Rouge-qualities that had been obvious to unbiased observers for years. Kiernan fits this pattern nicely. His book even displays an eagerness to absolve of genocidal responsibility those members of the Khmer Rouge who defected to Hanoi and were later reinstalled in power in Phnom Penh by the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia in 1978."
In 1994, Kiernan was awarded a $499,000 grant by Congress to help the Cambodian government document the Khmer Rouge's abuses. Stephen J. Morris, at the time a research associate in the department of government at Harvard University cited statements Kiernan had made regarding the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s. In an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal Morris claimed that Kiernan's earlier opinions made him a poor choice to study Khmer Rouge abuses. Gerard Henderson, executive director of Australia's Sydney Institute stated that Kiernan had "barracked for the Khmer Rouge when the Cambodian killing fields were choked with corpses". The Morris article was challenged by 29 Cambodia specialists who praised Kiernan as "a first-rate historian and an excellent choice for the State Department grant".
His undergraduate courses include Southeast Asia from Earliest Times to 1900, Southeast Asia since 1900, Vietnamese History from Earliest Times, The Vietnam War, Environmental History of Southeast Asia, and graduate seminars on the Vietnam War and on various aspects of the history of genocide.