The Benson Collection consists of 732 images taken by Frederic (Fritz) Benson during his time in Laos between August 1968 and January 1974 while serving with International Voluntary Services, Inc. (IVS) (1968-1970) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) (1970-1974). This introduction provides the viewer with an overview of the scope and contents of the collection.
Although the collection is not arranged chronologically, each image is labeled with descriptive metadata that includes when and where it was taken, as well as the location's known Universal Transverse Mercator (UTM) coordinates (see Joint Operations Graphic 1:250,000 scale maps of Laos printed in the 1960s by the Army Map Service, Corps of Engineers, compiled and presented in their current format by Jim Henthorn). Many of the places had crude airstrips carved out of mountainsides that were also known by their respective airfield Lima Site (LS) or Lima (L) numbers (e.g. LS-272, Ban Xon, UTM coordinates TF 5994) that are included in the metadata.
During Mr. Benson's time in Laos, he spent extended periods (1968-1969) with IVS in Vang Vieng (in Vientiane Province), Muang Phieng (in Sayaboury Province), and Ban Thalat (at the juncture of the Nam Ngum and Nam Lik Rivers in Vientiane Province, where the country's first major dam was built). Between 1969 and 1972 he was based in Vientiane, the administrative capital, with USAID's Office of Refugee Affairs (his IVS service officially ended in 1970) and travelled extensively throughout Laos, with temporary duty assignments in Houa Khong and Xieng Khouang Provinces. He was subsequently (1972-1974) posted in Luang Prabang, the royal capital, where he served as USAID's Refugee Operations Officer.
A general overview of the refugee relief program in Laos entitled "Indochina War Refugees in Laos, 1954-1975—Documents and Reports" was compiled by Mr. Benson and can also be found in SEAiT. The collection contains many of his reports along with those by others which may complement images that can be found in this collection.
The images of the people of Laos, one of the highlights of the collection, includes views of the Lao, Hmong, Khmu, Akha, Iu Mien (Yao), Kalom, Tai Phuan, Mlabri, and Lahu, illustrating, for example, their ethnic diversity as well as their distinctive traditional dress and clothing. Various sub-collections of other interesting subjects, such as elephants, festivals, aerial views of Luang Prabang, rice airdrops, refugee movements, etc., have been formed by adding relevant image numbers to a particular image's metadata, thereby facilitating cross-referencing.
Acknowledgements: Larry Ashmun, Southeast Asian and Hmong Studies Bibliographer at UW-Madison, and UW's Digital Collections' staff were key to creating this collection as a digital resource. Important assistance was also provided by former USAID colleagues in Laos—including Ernest Kuhn, Wayne Johnson, William Sage, and MacAlan Thompson—who contributed in various ways to help make this presentation possible.