The old kingdoms in the area now known as Cambodia were some of the first in Southeast Asia. They also left behind some of the grandest structures in the region, such as the massive complex known as Angkor Wat. Geographically, the area was an ideal place for the formation of a powerful kingdom with the Mekong River and Tonle Sap providing ample supplies of fish and water for agriculture. The current population, numbering around fourteen million, considers the old kingdoms a great national heritage. Most of the people in Cambodia speak Khmer, though there are also dozens of other languages spoken by the various ethnic groups that make up the remainder of the population. Owing to its rural, farm centered population base, Cambodia has only a few cities, with the capital city of Phnom Penh being the largest, yet still small when compared to the large cities of most other Southeast Asian nations. Over time the Khmer people developed writing systems similar to many of their neighbors, such as Thailand, Laos, and Burma. These alphabets were borrowed from earlier writing systems brought out of India hundreds of years earlier. Many other groups in the country lived without any writing until modern times.
Written literature in Cambodia began as engravings on stone many hundreds of years ago. These stone engravings were generally used to mark the extent of various ancient kingdoms' power over the area. Over time the use of palm leaves as writing material became popular as well. Palm leaf manuscripts were used to record such things as religious teachings, royal chronologies, medicinal knowledge, and early literature in poetic verse. The methods of recording information on handwritten manuscripts have been passed down through the generations until today. In more recent times European explorers, traders and missionaries introduced printing to the people of Cambodia, especially when France took control of the area in the late 1800's. Printing in Cambodia during the French period was limited early on and began to increase towards the end of French control after World War Two. When Cambodia became an independent country in 1954, and following the devastating Khmer Rouge period in the late 1970's, the people of Cambodia were able to continue printing on a limited scale. The number of books produced in Cambodia has slowly increased over time yet still lags behind the output of most other Southeast Asian nations. Along with information in printed formats, electronic information is also available, though Cambodia has been touched by the electronic revolution much less than many of its Southeast Asian neighbors. Even so, electronic documents are now being produced in the country at an increasing rate each year.