Tag Archives: oral history

Book Launch: The Makers and Keepers of Singapore History

Invitation to the Launch of The Makers and Keepers of Singapore History

24 July Saturday, 2-5 pm, at The Pod, Level 16, National Library Building

The Singapore Heritage Society and Ethos Books cordially invite you to a launch of an important new book on researching and writing Singapore history.

Book URL: http://makersnkeepers.wordpress.com/

In exploring the past, researchers labour in the present: to locate the archival document which is located somewhere – behind a gate with its keeper; or to find that elusive participant who will throw light on a gap in our knowledge, and convince them to speak. The Makers and Keepers of Singapore History meditates on this relationship between past and present in a developmental city-state. It discusses how researchers seek to gain entry to archives and memories, in endeavours which crucially shape the imagination of Singapore as a nation and the identity of its people as citizens.

Due to limited seats, registration is required & can be made via http://golibrary.nlb.gov.sg and surf on to “Singapore”.


13:30 – 14:00 REGISTRATION
14:00 – 16:30 COMMENTARY & DISCUSSIONModerator: Dr Loh Kah Seng
14:00 Welcome by Professor Kevin Tan, Singapore Heritage Society
14:10 Professor Prasenjit Duara, National University of Singapore
14:30 A/P Kwok Kian Woon, Nanyang Technological University
14:50 A/P Huang Jianli, National University of Singapore
15:10 A/P (Adj) Kwa Chong Guan, S Rajaratnam School of International Studies
5:30 Responses from other book contributors
16:30 – 16:45 LAUNCH OF THE BOOK

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Seeking Stories of the British Bases and Military Withdrawal

Dear fellow Singaporeans

I am a Singaporean historian looking to speak to people who remember the British bases and their withdrawal in the early 1970s. The withdrawal was the first major crisis independent Singapore faced. The 56 bases, contributing a fifth of the country’s GDP, were its largest industry, and the pullout threatened the livelihood of one-sixth of the labour force, including an estimated 8,000 amahs.

The pullout also transformed the economy, society and landscape of Singapore in the 1970s. Most of the bases were converted to commercial use, while many base workers underwent a 3-month retraining crash course. Technical and vocational education also expanded, as new laws sought to increase labour productivity and attract foreign capital investment.

These developments resonate with us today: the retraining programmes, the mobilisation of the young, the philosophy that ‘no one owes Singapore a living’. There is also a forgotten social history to unearth: how retrenched base employees coped with the crisis and how workers adjusted to new work routines.

If you remember the British bases and rundown, or have a family member, relative or friend who does, kindly contact me to lend your voice to an important episode of our national story.

Please pass this message along to those who might be interested.

Thank you.

Loh Kah Seng (Dr)

Visiting Research Fellow

Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore


Mobile: +65 81981172


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CFP Conference on Historical Fragments in Southeast Asia 23-24 June 2010

Conference on Historical Fragments in Southeast Asia:
At the Interfaces of Oral History, Memory and Heritage

Organised by Institute of Southeast Asian Studies and Singapore Heritage Society
23-24 June 2010

The Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, together with the Singapore Heritage Society, is revisiting oral history in Southeast Asia two decades since it co-organised the first conference. Historical Fragments in Southeast Asia will bring together the latest oral history and ethnographic research on the region and explore its links with two exciting fields which investigate the same content in different ways, namely, memory and heritage studies.

Historical Fragments in Southeast Asia serves as an important platform to explore the interfaces between oral history, memory and heritage and formulate new ways of approaching Southeast Asia’s fragmented pasts. Traditional oral history work in the region, which seeks to retrieve what Paul Thompson called ‘the voices of the past’ to complete or contest historical narratives, has largely been concerned with questions of objectivity and reliability. Memory studies, by contrast, has attempted to analyse the deeper politics and subjective meanings of the fragments that people remember or forget. Both oral testimonies and memories are also closely connected with the emerging and topical field of heritage in its intangible, cultural and everyday forms.

Important note: Proposals should make an attempt at this preliminary stage to consider oral history’s convergences with memory and/or heritage and not merely situate the discussion within the originating discipline or methodology. Proposals should be centered around oral history or ethnographic work. We welcome submissions from, among others, historians, anthropologists, sociologists, geographers, architects, public officials, activists, and social workers, as well as approaches from academic and advocacy perspectives.

The conference organisers are pleased to be able to offer partial financial support to participants, although they are also encouraged to seek funding from their home institutions. Selected papers from the conference will further explore the interfaces between the three fields and will be published in what we hope to be a path-breaking edited volume.

Submission of Proposal
Those interested in presenting a paper at the conference are invited to submit a proposal which includes a working title, 500-word abstract, CV, and an indication of your funding requirements by 14 December 2009 to Dr Loh Kah Seng kahseng@iseas.edu.sg.

Suggested Themes
Crisis of Memory. What and how Southeast Asians remember or forget are often narrowly channeled into narratives of loss or nostalgia. What are the influences of major historical and contemporary forces on oral history such as colonialism, developmentalism, urbanism, architectural modernism, cosmopolitanism, and globalisation? What will these developments mean for the forms of heritage that Southeast Asians can adopt? What is the impact of Internet technologies in rendering oral histories and individual memories public?

Politics of Memory. Oral history remains a deeply contested field in an era of Southeast Asian nationalism. What are the influences of the official mass media and the prerogatives of nation-building and social engineering on memory? What are the silences or social rumours of the past? What is the role and impact of the political biography and the official myth in the region? Does oral history affirm or contest dominant narratives? Does it accentuate historical agency and empower the informants?

‘Difficult’ Heritage and Identity. The nation-state remains the primary organising actor in Southeast Asia. Yet, there are important forms of memory, heritage and identity which exist outside or even in direct opposition to the national paradigm, along the divides of locality, gender, ethnicity, class, age, among others. How can communities and oral historians attempt to recover these interstitial, everyday or local forms of heritage and memories that exist ‘between the cracks’ or ‘out of sight’ of the dominant paradigm? How should we negotiate between national, transnational, community, and local identities?

Trauma and Reconstruction. Since World War Two and the subsequent decolonisation which has transformed Southeast Asia, political conflict, economic crisis, natural disasters, epidemics, and social upheaval have been marked features of everyday life in the region. How have memory and heritage been affected by these developments and does oral history help redress the personal and social traumas experienced in the process?

Contact Details
Dr Loh Kah Seng
Institute of Southeast Asian Studies

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book out!

Loh Kah Seng. Making and Unmaking the Asylum: Leprosy and Modernity in Singapore and Malaysia. Petaling Jaya: SIRD, 2009. Pp. 189. ISBN: 9789833782765. Product ID: 434.

Making and Unmaking the Asylum is a book which tells of two entangled stories – one of the misapplication of modern medicine – and the other of the resilience and resourcefulness of those who suffered from the disease and its terrible consequences….

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‘An outstanding and timely contribution to the historiography of Malaysia and Singapore: well-written, comprehensive, compelling, and poignantly illustrated. The stories present a striking and moving narrative of life on the margins of society. Highly recommended reading on the social history of Malaysia and Singapore’. Dr Ernest Koh, Lecturer, School of Historical Studies, Monash University

‘This book awakens us to the final remaining agendum for people affected by leprosy: a challenge to society, and to each of us as members; how we chose to respond is a measure of our conscience and sense of justice’. Kay Yamaguchi, Sasakawa Memorial Health Foundation

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