Monday, June 22, 2009

History of Singapore: Unusual Perspectives

We are currently working closely with Dr. Rosaly Puthucheary to put the finishing touches to her first novel, The Tessellated Path. It is a novel that draws parallels between Singapore’s growth as a nation and the female protagonist’s life. More about this book in a future post, but working on the manuscript of The Tessellated Path led me to delve a little more into Singapore’s history, so here is a list of recent books that offer deeper and different perspectives on how Singapore is, in many ways, an “unexpected nation”.

  • Paths Not Taken: Political Pluralism In Post-War Singapore. Edited by Michael Barr and Carl A. Trocki. Singapore's era of pluralism between the 1950s and 1970s is a largely overlooked part of the country's recent history. It was a time of extraordinary cultural, intellectual and political dynamism: students, labour unions, ambitious political contenders and representatives of the various ethnic communities all stepped forward to offer alternate visions of Singapore's future from across the entire political spectrum. They generated ideologies, priorities, perspectives and social visions such as mainstream "official" politics had never known before and has not seen since. Most of the papers in this volume were first presented at a conference organised by the Asian Research Institute of the National University of Singapore in 2005. The contributions weave an alternative history to the "Singapore Story". They reveal a cast of significant players who offered real alternatives to the enduring PAP model and not the false starts they have often been portrayed as, thereby illuminating paths that were eventually not taken. This book will remind older Singaporeans of pages of pages from their past and provide a younger generation with a novel perspective of Singapore's past struggles.
  • Singapore: The First Ten Years of Independence 1965 To 1975. 1965-1975 were the crucially demanding first years of Singapore's independent existence. The three sections of this resource book are: Securing the Nation; The Path to Prosperity; and Shaping the People. The historical narrative and archival photographs are complemented by details of available written and multimedia research resources. There are biographical summaries, quotations, ministerial records and notes for students.
  • Singapore: The Unexpected Nation by Edwin Lee. This book deals with Singapore's transition from a British Crown Colony to a state in the Federation of Malaysia, and expulsion from the Federation to become a separate independent nation. For the leaders of Singapore's PAP Government, Malaysia was a traumatic experience. Yet, but for it, they might never have found the resolve and the secret of building this extraordinary nation, this nation based on Singapore alone that they and an entire generation had once believed an impossibility. This story of nation-building deals with topics on national (army) service, economic development, education in schools and in universities, housing and home ownership. It deals also with issues of ethnicity and national identity in the context of challenges from within and without, in the latter case from globalisation and global Islamism.
  • The Scripting of a National History: Singapore and its Pasts by Hong Lysa and Huang Jianli. History is of course not uni-linear and no version of past events can be final. This is a critical new look at aspects of some current and largely accepted versions of Singapore's history. Among the many presentations examined are: the highlighting of 1819, 1942, 1965 and Stamford Raffles and Lee Kuan Yew as the 'only' significant features in Singapore's development; the vision and activities of Chinese speaking leaders; Nanyang University problems and influence; the Wang Gungwu Report of 1965; national heroes and the reconstruction of the Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall and the Tiger Balm Gardens.

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