New book!

Fresh off the press!

Squatters into Citizens: The 1961 Bukit Ho Swee Fire and the Making of Modern Singapore. NUS Press and Asian Studies of Australia Association Southeast Asia Series, 2013. By LOH Kah Seng

The crowded, bustling, ‘squatter’ kampongs so familiar across Southeast Asia have long since disappeared from Singapore, leaving few visible traces of their historical influence on the life in the city-state. In one such settlement, located in an area known as Bukit Ho Swee, a great fire in 1961 destroyed the kampong and left 16,000 people homeless, creating a national emergency that led to the first big public housing project of the new Housing and Development Board (HDB). HDB flats now house more than four-fifths of the Singapore population, making the aftermath of the Bukit Ho Swee fire a seminal event in modern Singapore.

Loh Kah Seng grew up in one-room rental flats in the HDB estate built after the fire. Drawing on oral history interviews, official records and media reports, he describes daily life in squatter communities and how people coped with the hazard posed by fires. His examination of the catastrophic events of 25 May 1961 and the steps taken by the new government of the People’s Action Party in response to the disaster show the immediate consequences of the fire and how relocation to public housing changed the people’s lives. Through a narrative that is both vivid and subtle, the book explores the nature of memory and probes beneath the hard surfaces of modern Singapore to understand the everyday life of the people who live in the city.

«This excellent book – located at the intersection of history, ethnography and sociology – make a major contribution to our understanding of the social history of post-war/post-colonial Singapore, and more generally to the interdisciplinary field of disaster studies.»
– James Francis Warren, Murdoch University

LOH Kah Seng is Assistant Professor at the Institute of East Asian Studies, Sogang University.

publication year: 2013
330 pages
ISBN: 978-9971-69-645-0  Paperback  US$32.00  S$38.00

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Leftists and the Blurring of History

By Loh Kah Seng

A change is occurring in public history in Singapore. When Dr Lim Hock Siew passed away on 4 June this year, the Straits Times (ST) published a fairly balanced obituary on the socialist activist, tracing his life and politics through the memories of his family members and associates.

Two weeks later, a senior ST writer, Clarissa Oon, called attention to the ‘leftist hole’ in history books. Socialists, long demonised as part of a ‘communist united front’ seeking to subvert the constitutional process, are becoming acceptable to the mainstream.

Another historical gap, not yet officially acceptable, is being filled: the ‘Marxist conspiracy’ of 1987 when a small number of church workers and social activists were detained without trial on allegations of communist subversion. In April last year, an opposition politician said on national television that the charges against them were ‘trumped up’.

There is much to be optimistic about when walls of silence crumble and more inclusive narratives emerge. But this has also led to a blurring of history, in two ways.

The first is in the mainstream discourse. In her article, Oon underlined the ‘passion, determination, self-sacrifice and intellectual verve shown by the People’s Action Party [PAP] Old Guard and their opponents’. Leftist and PAP activists differed only in ideology and method.

This idea has some basis in history. My recently published co-authored book, The University Socialist Club and the Contest for Malaya, viewed political activists in postwar Singapore and Malaya as modernists; despite their ideological differences, they were all idealists seeking to craft a new society within the vessel of the nation-state.

What is problematic in the mainstream discourse is its exceptionalism. It continues to reserve a high place for the ‘founding fathers’ of Singapore. The elitism is not new: when left-wing leader Lim Chin Siong passed away in 1996, Lee Kuan Yew also praised his political dedication and personal integrity. In framing leftists as exceptional leaders, we reinforce the heroism of ‘The Singapore Story’ narrative.

The second blurring occurs in the discourse against the Internal Security Act (ISA), which provides for the detention of persons deemed to be security threats. Former leftists and ‘Marxists’ are contributing to this discourse, which exists in marginal spaces and in the new media. In September 2011, both groups jointly called for the abolition of the ISA.

Teo Soh Lung of the 1987 group writes regularly on Facebook on the human rights abuses suffered by both groups. Martyn See, an anti-ISA activist who made a film (still banned) on socialist Said Zahari’s 17-year-long detention, is typical in calling leftists ‘detainees’.

While the first blurring merges leftist and PAP leaders, the second combines leftists and ‘Marxists’ into ‘detainees’, though they represent two different types of activists operating in distinct periods of Singapore history. Of course leftists and ‘Marxists’ are ex-detainees but not solely or primarily that.

The emergence of contentious discourses among leftists and ‘Marxists’ is long overdue in an authoritarian state like Singapore. It is vital for a society’s maturity that it can look earnestly at suppressed pasts. It is also necessary for the rehabilitation of former detainees, to whom Singaporeans must at least say ‘sorry’ and ‘thank you’ for their past experiences and endeavours.

But a history that engages Singaporeans and is relevant to the future should not begin and end with understanding leftists solely as exceptional leaders or victims of repression. Such an account still speak an older language used in the 1950s by nationalist leaders, both socialists and their opponents alike. This discourse was invigorating at the time, in the belief that the postcolonial state will deliver us from injustice, poverty and disease.

Farish Noor recently discussed this idealism among baby-boomers in Southeast Asia born after the destruction of the Second World War, and he contrasts this with the scepticism of ideology-shy young people today.

The modernisms sanctioned by the political elites are crumbling. It is partly new expressions of modernity – globalisation, pop culture and new media technology – that have sapped the authority of the state in Southeast Asia. In the other countries, the belief in the state was never very strong after the initial period of independence: governments have often been too weak, corrupt or repressive to deliver their programs of socio-economic emancipation.

In Singapore, the belief in the PAP was real, sustained for two generations when most Singaporeans enjoyed the benefits of rapid economic growth and public provision of social services like housing and education.

But even in Singapore, the old truths are being questioned today. Dissatisfaction with official policies on immigration, jobs, housing, the corporatisation of public services, and the cost of living are undermining people’s faith that the government knows best. In the 2011 elections, the Workers’ Party was able to tap onto such sentiments to win a Group Representation Constituency with 5 seats. This may be read as a sign that Singaporeans are searching for able leaders outside of the ruling clique.

More likely, though, Singaporeans will increasingly look beyond the government, and even the nation-state. What is remarkable about young Southeast Asians today, as Benedict Anderson noted, is their boredom – they are utterly uninterested in history, which they encounter in the form of founding myths propagated of old people by old people. In 2007, a Singaporean teenager said he preferred Harry Potter to a biography of Goh Keng Swee.

Filling the gaps of Singapore history with leftists and detainees will not speak to adults who find a chasm between their current struggles and the glory of national history, or young people who have no enthusiasm for the past. Older Singaporeans may long for the rough and tough leadership of the Lee Kuan Yew generation; social activists and NGOs may want to return to the days of the welfare state. But the best history curriculum will explain present pains not as an absence of good governance but as a likely trend.

The writing is on the wall for both pragmatists and socialists who see state intervention as the remedy for our social and economic ills. The future is likely to see the consequences of the working out of globalisation traversing a neo-liberal course. There will probably be rising costs of living; stiff competition for jobs with foreign professionals and workers (and younger Singaporeans); less secure employment and under-employment, especially for women and older people; greater demands placed on young adults to support an ageing population; and the slow but sure effects of climate and environmental change.

If modernity is the idea that the future is better than the present, then it only describes part of the history of Singapore. The circumstances that brought about the city-state’s development in the 1970s – a mixture of luck, economic opportunism and social engineering – were rather unique. Continuing economic volatility since the Asian financial crisis of 1997-8 may shatter many Singaporeans’ dreams about the ideal life.

On the plus side, the economic uncertainty may nurture a more thriving civil society, more independent politics, research and art, and a citizenry that is more detached from the social programming of the state.

History has a role to play in dystopian Singapore. What sort of non-heroic, emotionally appropriate histories should we write? This may be history of the everyday, of the ‘little people’, of marginal groups, of culture and pop culture, of the environment, of technology, science and medicine, of the commodification of the past as heritage.

We will still have a ‘national’ history with remarkable Singaporeans, but this narrative must accommodate difference. We desperately need a ‘People’s History’ of the sort that Howard Zinn wrote of the United States, which inverts The Singapore Story and scrutinises its dominant themes of elite-led planning, management and success. We should explore the historical limits and failings of scientific-rationalist approaches to nation-building, as encapsulated in Singapore’s Plans.

Our histories must make us more reflexive about the relationship between state and society, about globalisation and neo-liberal economic engineering, and especially about our own assumptions, expectations and values. We may find such histories in our state archives, which we must declassify to a greater extent, in old newspapers, and in conversations with elderly members of our families and communities. The history of the left is one of many unheralded histories of Singapore.

Existing examples: Jim Warren’s grim accounts of the working class crushed by the penetration of capitalism in colonial Singapore; Brenda Yeoh’s ‘subaltern’ geo-history of ungovernable Chinese who frustrated British municipal control; Stephen Dobbs’ social history of the lightermen who worked and lived along the Singapore River, eventually phased out during the industrialisation of the city-state; Ernest Koh’s mapping of the income divide between English- and Chinese-educated Singaporeans during the ‘economic miracle’ of the 1980s; and Derek Heng and Syed Khairudin Aljunied’s edited volume on Singapore’s place in world history.

My own work has investigated the histories of people suffering from leprosy but striving to rebuild their lives; kampong dwellers facing the establishment of a planned city in the 1960s; and Asian workers employed in the British military bases in a time of imperial retreat.

Taking off from the leftist and ‘Marxist’ histories, I can suggest two possible areas for research: one, the masses (workers, Chinese students and peasants) who were supposedly passive followers of the political leaders in the 1950s. In fact, we know inexcusably little about their social and mental worlds, and their ambivalence in supporting the anti-colonial movement. There are signs that the left wing at its peak did not have the full, unconditional support of the people.

Second, who were the unnamed people whom Teo and other social activists were helping before their incarceration in 1987? Were they a product of the political economy of industrialisation at the time? Singapore history also needs to begin moving beyond the 1950s and 1960s.

If, as Indian scholars have observed, subalterns cannot speak, then it is timely to turn to the study of those who have no voice and name in The Singapore Story.

Histories of great men affirm our nationhood and special place in the world. But other histories will ultimately teach us to be more humble: they will tame our base instincts towards the environment and peoples of other classes, nationalities and cultures, both in Singapore and beyond. This is why we must think of histories in the plural.

Loh Kah Seng is a postdoctoral fellow at the Centre for Southeast Asian Studies, Kyoto University.

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Call for Papers: Workshop on Natural Disaster and the City

Call for Papers

Workshop on Natural Disaster and the City: Historical Perspectives from Southeast Asia and Japan, 1945-2011

16-17 January 2013

Centre for Southeast Asian Studies, Kyoto University, Kyoto, Japan

The workshop invites papers that undertake inter-disciplinary and transnational approaches to the study of natural disasters. It aims to historically contextualise the causes and consequences of disasters and to compare them across societies. The focus is on cities in Southeast Asia and Japan after World War Two, as expressed along three general lines of inquiry.

First, the workshop will explore how the vulnerability of urban populations was influenced by new or accelerated human processes that were most manifest in cities in the postwar period, such as population growth, urbanisation, migration, national integration, economic development, and environmental degradation. Below the macro, the workshop considers how urban communities have coped with hazardous living, how far responses have been fractured by various forms of social stratification and whether local perspectives and agency have diverged from state and international approaches to disaster prevention and rehabilitation. Finally, the workshop examines why some disasters have not merely been events occurring at the tail end of long-term processes, but have themselves become catalysts for historic change in the postwar period.

Relevant themes include:

• Historical factors affecting the risk faced by urban populations.

• Cities as sites of risk, response and rehabilitation.

• Cultures of disaster and coping mechanisms of urban communities.

• Micro-histories, ethnographies and memories of urban disasters.

• Disasters as catalysts for historical change.

The session welcomes contributions from historians, geographers, sociologists, and anthropologists, among others, and from both established scholars and PhD students at an advanced stage of their research. Papers can examine individual cities or compare different cities.

Pls submit a 500-word abstract and a copy of your CV to Loh Kah Seng by 30 June 2012.


Professor Yoko Hayami

Dr Loh Kah Seng

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The Caretakers of Bukit Brown and the Cracks of Singapore History

By Loh Kah Seng

At first glance, they are a group apart from contemporary Singapore society. While the mainstream appears socialised and reserved, the caretakers of Bukit Brown and nearby cemeteries look and sound the opposite – they are tough men, loud in speech and rough in their manners. Or so it seems. In fact, the caretakers are a link between the mainstream and the margin of culture and work in Singapore. But they have fallen through the cracks of history and are hard put to find a place in any account of our past. This report attempts to reach into that past.


Bukit Brown today: the tomb keeper of Hill 4 helping Catherine with a query. (photo: Claire Leow)


The lives and work of the caretakers are to a large extent shaped by the immediate human environment. They lived in kampongs built close to the five cemetery hills along and near Kheam Hock Road. (The kampongs have long since disappeared.)


Kheam Hock Village – kampung life (Mdm Tomirah’s house in Kampong Kubor)


Before they were cleared in the 1980s, these settlements provided essential funeral services for families and relatives of the dead, such as making tombstones, engraving inscriptions on the stone and selling joss. The kampongs also provided secondary services such as provisions and refreshments for visitors to the cemetery.


Life in the1950s – a push cart selling noodles (photo from Hercules Lim)


From these villages, the caretakers tended to Chinese graves, trimming overgrown grass and weeds, cleaning and repositioning dirty and displaced tombstones, filling the earth around the graves, and repainting faded inscriptions. They are male, at least middle age but often older, with little formal education and professional skills.


Tomb keepers are very knowledgeable and helpful. (photo: Suki Singh)


Ah Chew the tomb keeper (photo: Khoo Ee Hoon)


But besides their personal profiles, it is work that renders the caretakers out of sync with the mainstream. Their work is seasonal; it revolves around Qing Ming, the Chinese festival where much joss is burnt to remember and worship one’s parents and ancestors.


Tomb keeper Ah Tiong helps to burn “paper money” as offerings (photo: Claire Leow)


Their work usually takes place in the short period after the Chinese New Year till Qing Ming in early April. For the rest of the year, they might partake in some of the casual, part-time work that was characteristic of the kampong economy: they might tend to home-based vegetable gardens, poultry and a few pigs. Or they might hawk fruits harvested in the locality, such as durian and rambutan, or work as caddies for golf players in the Singapore Island Country Club on the other side of Lornie Road. Or they might simply wait for the next Qing Ming.


Caddy license dated 1976 (photo courtesy of Mdm Koh and her mother Mrs Ong)


This state of under-employment among the caretakers was prevalent in Singapore for the entire period of British colonial rule. It recalls an economy and a social world which have mostly vanished due to the rapid industrialisation of the city-state in the late-colonial period and particularly after independence. As full-time paid work, in the form of white- and blue-collar employment in factories and the civil service, became the accepted norm among working-age Singaporeans, the caretakers have been displaced to the margins of Singapore’s economy.

Such under-employment created an ambivalent attitude towards the caretakers, even among fellow villagers who undertook similar casual work. One female former resident of Kheam Hock Road Village surmised the caretakers to be ‘very lazy’, content to await the coming of Qing Ming; only then would they rouse themselves from their economic stupor to compete with one another for customers. She would not have been unaware of the importance of Qing Ming in the socio-economic life of the kampong, for she also peddled drinks to visitors on that day.[1] Another lady, who used to live in nearby Lorong Halwa Village, concurred that the caretakers would simply ‘wait for Qing Ming’ for their livelihood.[2]


Life at Kheam Hock Village, now just a memory (courtesy of Mdm Koh and her mother Mrs Ong)


Such comments by the women assume that the caretakers do not actively work – work came to them. They reflect in part the expectation, common in modern industrial economies, that men are the chief breadwinners of the household. There are similar stories of men of the kampongs in the cemetery area who spent their time – and fortune – gambling, drinking and in idle chatter, while their wives and children endured poverty and hardship.


The “tomb house” at Lau Sua – a tomb keeper still uses a tomb as his house today. (photo: Claire Leow)


But the comments about ‘waiting for Qing Ming’ also say something about the culture of work in contemporary Singapore. The women’s remarks are not just about irresponsible men, but also about the nature of casual employment, which they themselves partook. An interesting article written in 1968 by two Geography students at Nanyang University unearthed useful facets of life in Kheam Hock Road Village, such as stone-engraving and caddying. But, revealingly, the authors also urged younger residents to acquire higher levels of education, so that they could find work outside of the kampong and would not have to depend on the cemetery or golf course for their livelihood.[3]


Education was key in the early post-independence years (National Archives)


The context in which the article was written is important: a newly independent Singapore striving to reduce its dependence on the entrepot trade and the prevalence of casual employment. The move of course succeeded tremendously. Under-employment today is often viewed as unemployment (which is also frowned upon as a sign of sloth and of a lack of individual effort). Full-time work, by contrast, is regarded as a virtue and a necessity which pays the bills, particularly for building up pension fund savings which take care of one’s housing, medical and retirement needs. The comments about ‘waiting for Qing Ming’ are not just statements about the past, but also about how the authors have been engineered into the model citizen-workers of Singapore.

In fact, speaking to the caretakers today makes us realise that they are not very different from the full-time workers of the formal economy of Singapore. Many of them also possess an active and strong work ethic. Chua Tiam Koon, 80, still tends to a small number of the graves in Bukit Brown, earning $30-40 per tomb. This is from the 200-odd tombs he was responsible for at the high point of an occupation which he took up at the age of 16. When I first came upon him at a tomb in the morning, wielding his small, fuel-powered grass-cutter, he was covered with sweat, bits of grass, crawling ants, and buzzing mosquitoes. As we sat down on the perches of the tomb to chat, he explained why he continues to work at his age – he could not stand to sit still at home.[4] Like other caretakers, he does his work mostly in the morning, then leaves. It may be part-time work, but it is not easy.


Peaceful surrounds as the outdoor “office” of tomb keepers (photo: Claire Leow)


That the caretakers share a similar culture of work with full-time workers is hardly surprising. Like other villages located within the city limits of Singapore, the cemetery kampongs were urbanised settlements. They were communities with a certain degree of social cohesion underpinned by mutual self-help, but they were not insular. The roads – Kheam Hock, Lornie and Adam – linked the kampongs to the nearby golf course, the Polo Club and the bungalow houses, all of which were sources of part-time work for the residents. When the kampongs were cleared and the residents resettled, usually in public housing, their connection with the city, the state and the international economy only became stronger.

To labour up on the cemetery hills, braving sun, rain and insects, is backbreaking. To work with the dead is, from the caretakers’ perspective, also risky. The men I spoke to situated their work within a specific moral universe which governed what was right and wrong. Ah Tiong, one of the youngest caretakers in the area at 42, explained that one had to pay respects to the deities (particularly the Earth Deity) before clearing the vegetation; cutting down a tree without performing such rituals was an open invitation to a personal calamity.[5] The caretakers were not municipal road sweepers or grass-cutters. They also observe unwritten rules against pilfering when exhumation is carried out and human bones are dug up – one must, they tell me, return any jewellery and other valuables found with the body to the family.[6] As Ah Tiong told me, in a religious sense, he did not believe in spirits or ghosts, which he claims to have seen, but the rituals were an integral part of his work. It is, he added, ‘not easy to earn money at the hill’.[7]


Tomb keeper Ah Tiong burns offerings for the grounds around the tomb (photo: Claire Leow)

Formal Chinese culture typically separates the dead on the hill and the living residing on the plain. This of course renders invisible the caretakers and other residents of the cemetery kampongs who help maintain the link between the two worlds. The residents regard the ghosts and spirits of the hilltops as part of everyday life, as much as maintaining the graves was part of the working lives of the caretakers. By expending their energy and sharing their intimate knowledge of rituals, the caretakers help preserve Chinese family values and bonds and the practice of ancestral worship. They make a contribution to the cultural life of the Chinese in Singapore far beyond their numbers and level of education.

In a historical narrative that celebrates Singapore’s ascent from fishing village to world city, social value is ascribed to certain forms of work and subtracted from others. The caretakers have fallen through the cracks of our history, from which they can be retrieved only through research and by listening closely to their stories. Peering through the cracks, our past also illuminates and complicates our present: history sets our dominant values in context and helps us to understand our attitudes towards the past.


A tomb keeper rolls his bike to a safe spot (photo: Claire Leow)


(bio) Dr Loh Kah Seng, a historian, is the coordinator of the oral history component of the Bukit Brown and Seh Ong Cemeteries Documentation Project. The article is based on his interviews with former residents of the kampongs formerly situated in the cemetery area, including several caretakers.


[1] Author’s interview with Ang Choon Siew, 29 December 2011.

[2] Author’s interview with Soh Ah Bee, 21 December 2011.

[3] Lin Guisheng & Zhang Wenlin, ‘The Location of Graves in Kheam Hock Road: A Field Study of the Locality’, unpublished article.

[4] Author’s interview with Chua Tiam Koon, 2 February 2012.

[5] Author’s interviews with Ah Tiong (pseudonym), 17 February 2012; and Chua Tiam Koon, 2 February 2012.

[6] Author’s interview with Chua Tiam Koon, 2 February 2012.

[7] Author’s interview with Ah Tiong, 17 February 2012.

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Seeking Stories of Bukit Brown Cemetery / 征寻与武吉布朗(咖啡山)坟场 有关的故事

Dear fellow Singaporeans

Seeking Stories of Bukit Brown Cemetery

I am a historian and am leading the Bukit Brown Cemetery Oral History Documentation. I am seeking former residents of Kheam Hock Road Village, Kampong Kubor and other settlements close to the cemetery.

Oral history shows that the cemetery was not just a burial ground, but played a crucial role in the lives of people. The villages emerged to provide tombstone engraving services, and there were about 10 such firms by the 1950s. People going to the cemetery during Qing Ming also bought joss paper from local shops and had refreshments at the coffeeshops. Some residents became caretakers, tending to the tombs. The villagers were resettled in HDB estates in the 1980s.

This is an unknown history we should uncover. If you had lived in the villages, or have a family member, relative or friend who did, kindly contact me to lend your voice to an important part of our history.

Dr Loh Kah Seng

Oral History Coordinator for Working Committee

Research Project for Documentation of Bukit Brown and Seh Ong Cemeteries

Institute of Southeast Asian Studies


Mobile: 81981172


征寻与武吉布朗(咖啡山)坟场 有关的故事

我是一名历史研究生。我正参与有关收集武吉布朗(咖啡山)坟场口述历史的工作。因此,我正在寻找曾经住在谦福路村落, 甘邦Kubor, 以及其他附近聚落的居民。

根据口述历史的陈述, 该坟场不只是埋葬死者的地方,它也曾经在附近居民的生活中扮演着重要的角色。坟场附近的村落是因提供石铺的发展而行成的。在50年代,那一带有大约十家石铺。每年清明节,也有许多前来扫墓的人在该地带购买须要的冥纸以及香烛。更有许多前来扫墓的人在那里的咖啡店休息。有一些居民成了看守坟墓的管理员,打理坟场里的一些要务。这些居民后来在80年代迁入政府组屋。






手机: 81981172

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History Students at Centrestage

Hi to all History/Social Studies students,

You’re invited to a unique event where your views, experiences and feelings matter – where you are at centrestage.

We invite you to submit short notes – through email or Facebook; and they can be written or visual, or comprise photographs or video clips – on your views and experiences in learning history.

Your views matter – we are seeking thoughtful and creative responses. Selected notes will be discussed at the Students at Centrestage Seminar (see below for details).

Some things to get your thoughts going:

1.         The Historian’s Way: in learning history, do you work and think like a historian?

2.         The Experience: what learning activities work for you, and which activities don’t?

3.         Values and Lessons: what values and lessons does history provide us?

4.         Problems and Frustrations: are you frustrated by problems such as language, concepts, sources, comparison etc? How can learning history be more fun and meaningful?

5.         The Future: will you take history in your next school or in university?
Students at Centrestage: A Seminar on Learning History in Singapore

Presented by the Singapore Heritage Society

9 am-1 pm, Saturday, 27 November 2010

Possibility Room, 5th Level, National Library Building

You can register for the seminar at:

The event is free and seating is on a FCFS basis.



Dr Loh Kah Seng,

Ms Candice Alexis Seet,

Ms Junaidah Jaffar,

Ms Lee Si Wei,


Founded in 1986, the Singapore Heritage Society is a non-profit, non-government organisation and registered charity. The Society is dedicated to the preservation, transmission and promotion of Singapore’s history, heritage and identity.

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Students at Centrestage: A Seminar on Learning History in Singapore

Call for Student Presenters

Students at Centrestage: A Seminar on Learning History in Singapore

Presented by the Singapore Heritage Society

9 am-1 pm, Saturday, 27 November 2010

Possibility Room, 5th Level, National Library Building

The teaching of history has undergone tremendous change in recent years: syllabuses have been rewritten, sources have become a major form of assessment, and the content has been framed to cultivate thinking skills and citizenship education. The changes are, we know, part of the ongoing revamp of the education system in pursuit of Singapore’s desired status as a world city.

This seminar will return students to centrestage. It will acknowledge the interest, creativity and potential many students show towards the past, while highlighting the obstacles and frustrations that plague the experiences of others. It will, most importantly, listen to students’ views and feelings, not because they are necessarily true, but because they exist and ought to be empathetically heard and understood.

We invite teachers to approach their students or students to contact us directly to present their views and experiences (10-15 mins per presentation). We are looking for students doing history and social studies at primary, secondary and tertiary levels. The form of presentation is flexible. Students can present singly or in small groups (up to 3 persons), or engage in an informal dialogue with a teacher. Besides the presentations, students can also send notes of their views and experiences by email to the conveners. Teachers will not present at the seminar, although they can facilitate a dialogue session and are encouraged to attend.

Students may speak on the following subjects:

1.     The Historian’s Way: in learning history, do you work and think like a historian?

2.     The Experience: what learning activities work for you, and which activities don’t?

3.     Values and Lessons: what values and lessons does history provide us?

4.     Problems and Frustrations: are you frustrated by problems such as language, concepts, sources, comparison etc? How can learning history be more fun and meaningful?

5.     The Future: will you take history in your next school or in university?

If you are interested in presenting, please send your name(s), school, email address, and a short summary of what you will talk about to us by 30 October 2010.


Dr Loh Kah Seng,

Ms Candice Alexis Seet,

Ms Junaidah Jaffar,

Ms Lee Si Wei,

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