History: It matters

In two panel discussions - Why local history matters, and War and Peace, arguments flew on the need for preserving and passing on the historical narrative to the next generation of Singaporeans 

The National Museum of Singapore

The National Museum of Singapore

Singapore has seen a plethora of history books, exhibitions, trails, talks and placards placed by the National Heritage Board in recent times. Two more books were released during the SWF. Tan Kok Yang, who grew up in Queenstown, Singapore in the 1960s, wrote his memoir - From the blue windows, and Josephine Chia, a true-blue Peranakan, published her memories of growing up in Potong Pasir, Singapore in a book – Kampong Spirit : Gotong Royong.

When asked why Singapore has seen such a surge in history-related educational materials, Kevin Tan, adjunct professor of law at the National University of Singapore and former president of Singapore Heritage Society explained, “During our early years as a nation, somehow the prevalent notion was that preserving heritage hampers progress. But now, we have realised the importance of an emotional-connect in citizen-bonding and nation-building. Thus, we see lots of initiatives being launched in recent times to educate Singaporeans about their shared history.”

Kevin Blackburn, associate professor of History at the National Institute of Education and author of the book – War memory and the making of modern Malaysia and Singapore, also noted that its ironical that “the same Singapore whose government sought to dampen and control Second World War memories in the 1960s, would enter the 21st century with a proliferation of museums, plaques, memoirs, and media productions about the War”.

Josephine also noted the important role historical fiction plays in preserving national narratives. “Academics such as Balckburn note factual details about the past in their works, while we – the historical fiction writers, try to capture the colours of a particular era in our books. I would say that fiction and non-fiction are both equally important to paint a true historical picture.”

Romen Bose, head of social media and intelligence for Asia at IHS Country Risk and author of the book – The end of the War, threw light on why knowledge of its history is important for every society to move forward.

While Singapore has come a long way from the racial riots of the 1960s, we still have some way to go in achieving total racial harmony. And a closer look at history will reveal that the seeds of racial tension in Singapore were sown not in 1960s but post-1945 with the beginning of communist insurgency in Malaya. That's why after-independence the government took a strong view against the communists in Singapore. It was an important step in building a racially-harmonious Singapore,” Bose concluded.


[Newzzit has published detailed stories on Singapore's War history and racial relations in our previous issues 1, 2, 3]