HistoriaSG Lecture

HistoriaSG

A series of talks by academics and researchers on topics relating to Singapore's history and culture.

2019 Lecture 1

22 February 2019, 7.30pm – 8.30pm

THE COMFORT WOMEN OF SINGAPORE DURING THE JAPANESE OCCUPATION: A DARK HERITAGE TRAIL

Kevin Blackburn
Associate Professor, National Institute of Education, NTU

During the Japanese Occupation of Singapore from 1942 to 1945, the Japanese military sexuallyenslaved hundreds of mainly Korean – but also Chinese, Indonesian and Malay – women in what werecalled “comfort stations” dotted across Singapore. Japanese women were also brought to Singaporeas “hostesses” or prostitutes for high-ranking officers. The last-known living survivor of this masssexual enslavement in Singapore is Kim Bok Dong, aged 93, who lives in Seoul. She most likelyworked at a comfort station on Sentosa. Other sites of comfort stations include buildings still standingat Cairnhill Road, Jalan Jurong Kechil, Tanjong Katong Road and Teo Hong Road in Chinatown.

Memories of the experiences of comfort women in Singapore during the Japanese Occupationillustrate the contradictions in remembering women’s experiences during war as transnational history.In this lecture, Prof Kevin Blackburn discusses the comfort women of Singapore in both history andmemory, and offers insight into what has come to be called “dark heritage” sites of human suffering.

VideoHistoriaSG Lecture 1

THE COMFORT WOMEN OF SINGAPORE DURING THE JAPANESE OCCUPATION: A DARK HERITAGE TRAIL

Kevin Blackburn
Associate Professor, National Institute of Education, NTU

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2019 Lecture 2

18 May 2019, 2pm – 3pm

A TALE OF THOMASES AND TAPIRS: EARLY NATURAL HISTORY IN SINGAPORE AND NEARBY LANDS

Martyn E. Y. Low
Research Associate, Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

Three Thomases – Hardwicke, Horsfield and Raffles – have arguably made the earliest contributionsto natural history in Singapore. Directly or indirectly, they have been responsible for introducing thefirst mammals, birds, plants, reptiles and fishes from Singapore to the West. But beyond just“collecting” species and specimens, how did these three men, and others like them, contribute to thelarger understanding of nature and natural history in Singapore and beyond?

The story of the Malayan Tapir offers a “cheat sheet” to the development of this rich natural historythat began long before any of the Thomases stepped ashore in Singapore. This riveting tale involvesan emperor, eunuchs, a fleet of treasure ships, four Frenchmen, a Dutchman with a Chinese name,an English civil servant, and of course, several tapirs.

VideoHistoriaSG Lecture 2

A TALE OF THOMASES AND TAPIRS: EARLY NATURAL HISTORY IN SINGAPORE AND NEARBY LANDS

Martyn E. Y. Low
Research Associate, Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

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2019 Lecture 3

27 July 2019, 2pm – 3pm

MAKING OF SINGAPORE CHRONICLES: GETTING HISTORY DONE

Arun Mahizhnan
Special Research Adviser, Institute of Policy Studies (IPS), Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore

Published in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Singapore’s independence, Singapore Chronicles is a 50-volume series that records, explains and offers insights into what makes Singapore, Singapore. Written by subject experts from the public sector, academia and journalism, the books trace the nation’s evolution on a wide variety of fronts, from governance to the economy, from food and sports to the CPF and our flora and fauna. In this lecture, Singapore Chronicles series editor Arun Mahizhnan shares more about the project – why it was conceived, for whom is it intended and what will it lead to.

VideoHistoriaSG Lecture 3

MAKING OF SINGAPORE CHRONICLES: GETTING HISTORY DONE

Arun Mahizhnan
Special Research Adviser, Institute of Policy Studies (IPS), Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore

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2019 Lecture 4

28 July 2019, 4pm – 5pm

ENTERPRISE: THE ARMENIANS OF SINGAPORE

Dr Nadia Wright
Historian and author of The Armenians of Singapore: A Short History

Singapore is largely a nation of immigrants. This bicentennial year seems an apt time to acknowledge the significant contributions made to its development by one of its smallest minorities: the Armenians. Conspicuous in Singapore from 1820, individual Armenians have made their mark in the civic, social and economic life of Singapore. Two of Singapore’s national treasures – St Gregory’s Church and Raffles Hotel – as well as Singapore’s national flower, Vanda Miss Joaquim, and its national newspaper, The Straits Times, owe their origin to this tiny but enterprising community. In this illustrated talk, Australian-based author and historian Dr Nadia Wright will discuss the dynamics of the Armenian community, its origin and achievements.

VideoHistoriaSG Lecture 4

ENTERPRISE: THE ARMENIANS OF SINGAPORE

Dr Nadia Wright
Historian and author of The Armenians of Singapore: A Short History

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2019 Lecture 5

17 Aug 2019, 2.30pm – 3.30pm

WILL PRAGMATISIM UNDERMINE SINGAPORE’S NATIONAL IDENTITY?

Prof Kenneth Paul Tan
Associate Professor, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore

The Singapore model of development and governance has often been described and celebrated as pragmatic. In this talk, Professor Kenneth Paul Tan will discuss the ways in which the Singaporean nation-building project has been served by pragmatism, how it can be undermined by a debased form of pragmatism, and what dystopian futures we might expect if that happens.

VideoHistoriaSG Lecture 5

WILL PRAGMATISIM UNDERMINE SINGAPORE’S NATIONAL IDENTITY?

Prof Kenneth Paul Tan
Associate Professor, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore

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2019 Lecture 6

14 September 2019, 2.30pm – 3.30pm

FAR FROM EXTINCT? A HISTORY OF THE “MILO DINOSAUR” IN SINGAPORE

Dr Geoffrey Pakiam
Fellow, ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, Singapore

What can a malted milk beverage tell us about a nation’s history? We can learn a surprising amount about popular notions of belonging, childhood, well-being and pleasure from the rise of Singapore’s most iconic malted drink, Milo, and the now-commonplace “Milo Dinosaur” beverage.
Today’s heritage food offerings are often portrayed as having charted a path from humble domestic beginnings to large outward-looking enterprises. In contrast, the Milo Dinosaur has its origins in the localisation of a multinational beverage brand, involving consumers and cooks from all walks of life.
Join historian Geoffrey Pakiam as he recounts the earth-shaking drink’s unusual popularity, and asks whether it should be considered part of Singapore’s heritage landscape.

VideoHistoriaSG Lecture 6

FAR FROM EXTINCT? A HISTORY OF THE “MILO DINOSAUR” IN SINGAPORE

Dr Geoffrey Pakiam
Fellow, ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, Singapore

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2019 Lecture 7

25 October 2019, 7.30pm – 8.30pm

SINGAPORE’S ROLE IN THE SILK ROAD OF THE SEA

Professor John Miksic
Department of Southeast Asian Studies, National University of Singapore

Singapore is a small country, but it plays a big role in Malay history. It was significant and sophisticated enough that China sent a mission here in 1320. Singapore reciprocated by sending a mission to China in 1325. The Malay Annals chose to depict Singapore as the first great Malay trading port. This is not true, but ancient Singapore made a strong impression on later Malay writers. This talk will discuss Singapore’s position as a small node in a great network of ports in the 14th century, and highlight aspects of Singapore’s modern identity which were already established during that period.

About the speaker

John N. Miksic received his PhD from Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. He spent four years in Malaysia and nine years in Indonesia. In 1987 he moved to the National University of Singapore. He founded the Archaeology Unit at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. He has received a Special Recognition Award and the Pingat Bakti Setia long service award from the government of Singapore, and the title of Kanjeng Raden Harya Temenggung from the Susuhunan (hereditary ruler) of Surakarta, Indonesia. His book Singapore and the Silk Road of the Sea won the inaugural Singapore History Prize for best book in 2018.

 

VideoHistoriaSG Lecture 7

SINGAPORE’S ROLE IN THE SILK ROAD OF THE SEA

Professor John Miksic
Department of Southeast Asian Studies, National University of Singapore



2020 Lecture 1

9 January 2020, 7.30pm – 8.30pm

BANTEN, THE FORGOTTEN KINGDOM

Lim Chen Sian
Associate Fellow at the Archaeology Unit, ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, Singapore

On 23 June 1596, four battered ships of the first Dutch trading fleet under Cornelis de Houtman anchored off the sprawling capital of Bantam (Banten). Avoiding Portuguese strongholds and patrols and having lost more than half of the crew to disease and privations, they had journeyed 14 months before the vessels arrived at the legendary kingdom of pepper and rice. 17th-century Banten was the master of West Java, Sunda Strait and Lampung, southern Sumatra. It was an emporium to the archipelago and beyond, supplying rice to Portuguese-occupied Melaka and its famed pepper to the courts of India and China. The wealthy sultanate was also a nexus of religious learning, attracting Islamic scholars from the boundaries of the Indian Ocean.

At its height, the kingdom was one of the largest settlements within insular Southeast Asia. Its cosmopolitan population included Japanese mercenaries, Portuguese man-of-arms, and Gujarati trader-sailors. Merchandise from Europe, China, Japan, Indian Ocean and the archipelago were found throughout Banten’s many markets. It was at Banten where the English established their first East India Company factory in the Far East. However, within a century of the arrival of the Dutch, the sultanate devolved into a client state of the Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie (Dutch East India Company), eventually dissolving and becoming extinct in 1830. Today, only ruins such as Fort Speelwijk and Surosowan Palace remain, attesting to the city’s once noble and neglected past.

Join archaeologist Lim Chen Sian as he explores the rise and fall of the forgotten kingdom of Banten in this fascinating talk.

VideoHistoriaSG Lecture 1 2020

BANTEN, THE FORGOTTEN KINGDOM

Lim Chen Sian
Associate Fellow at the Archaeology Unit, ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, Singapore



2020 Lecture 2

16 January 2020, 7.30pm – 8.30pm

IMAGINING THE EAST INDIES

Daniel Tham
Curatorial Lead, National Museum of Singapore

The idea of the “East Indies” was a largely European construct, shaped by the European exploration of and commercial interest in Southeast Asia. This gave rise to the charting and imaging of the region and its peoples, with the resulting images of the East Indies disseminated and popularised through print. This talk explores some of the artwork currently on display in the special exhibition An Old New World: From the East Indies to the Founding of Singapore, 1600s−1819, and demonstrates how these images reveal, more than anything, the European imagination of the East Indies.

VideoHistoriaSG Lecture 2 2020

IMAGINING THE EAST INDIES

Daniel Tham
Curatorial Lead, National Museum of Singapore



2020 Lecture 3

13 February 2020, 7.30pm – 8.30pm

IN SERVICE OF JOHN COMPANY: LIFE IN THE ENGLISH EAST INDIA COMPANY IN ASIA (c1800s)

Dr Donna Brunero
Senior Lecturer, Department of History, National University of Singapore

By 1800, the English East India Company (EIC) was already a formidable presence in India, with factories stretching throughout Southeast Asia. Trade routes were relatively well known, and so too, the profits that some private trade could yield. What then, was it like to work for the EIC? What could one expect on a voyage out to Asia? How did factory life operate and why were some postings more desired than others? How were factory gossip and reports on the lives of EIC servants important in shaping careers and fortunes?

By asking such questions and examining sources from the EIC, including artefacts from the National Museum of Singapore’s An Old New World Bicentennial exhibition, Dr Donna Brunero explores a deeper understanding of the EIC and the lure (and sometimes trials and tribulations) of a career in Asia.

VideoHistoriaSG Lecture 3 2020

IN SERVICE OF JOHN COMPANY: LIFE IN THE ENGLISH EAST INDIA COMPANY IN ASIA (c1800s)

Dr Donna Brunero
Senior Lecturer, Department of History, National University of Singapore



2020 Lecture 4

5 March 2020, 7.30pm – 8.30pm

SHAKESPEARE & SINGAPORE, 1900−1975

Dr Emily Soon
Research Fellow, National Museum of Singapore

What role did Shakespeare play in 20th-century Singapore? How did individuals from Singapore’s diverse ethnic communities respond to, and rework, the plays of this English Renaissance playwright? Beyond the classroom, how did students and teachers creatively adapt Shakespeare’s texts to better resonate with life in this tropical city? This talk explores the Shakespearean threads within Singapore’s multicultural history, tracing how people in Singapore engaged with Shakespeare as the island transitioned from being a British colony to an independent Southeast Asian state.

VideoHistoriaSG Lecture 4 2020

SHAKESPEARE & SINGAPORE, 1900−1975

Dr Emily Soon
Research Fellow, National Museum of Singapore