Symposium on The Makers and Keepers of Singapore History

Date: 10/11/2008
Time: 08:30 – 18:00
Venue: ARI Seminar Room
  469A Tower Block, Level 10, Bukit Timah Road
  National University of Singapore @ BTC
Organisers: Dr LIEW Kai Khiun
LOH Kah Seng

Jointly organised by the Singapore Heritage Society and
Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore

The close relationship between the makers and gatekeepers of history is a defining landmark which researchers delving into the Singapore past will invariably encounter. It is also an association which has not been adequately explored. This conference examines the individual, social and political aspects of encountering the makers and keepers of the island’s history. The presenters will speak on their personal forays into key moments of this past, and the accompanying tribulations and tensions, and joys and frustrations. On a broader canvas, the conference takes an earnest, self-reflective look at the basic questions of what history means for the quintessentially forward-looking and rationally-managed city-state and the relationship between history, society and power.

The makers of Singapore history are an obvious subject of inquiry: specifically, how they viewed their world, acted upon it and their underlying motivations. The research is, in practice, a pursuit of sources, which includes both archival records and personal memories. Researchers know the sources they need and attempt to obtain them. What is less clear, however, is the role of the makers in determining this crucial access to the archives or oral history. In holding the keys to the past, the makers are then able to preside over two new makings of history: that of the present and of the future.

The terms ‘makers’ and ‘keepers’ are defined loosely here; this is a deliberate choice. Both apply to the political elites who dominate the usual historical narratives. They are not only movers of history but also powerful managers of the present and future, whose influence over access to the local archives shapes what is socially remembered as the nation’s history. As victors of history, they stand in marked contrast to the defeated, who may either choose to remember or to be silent. Ordinary Singaporeans who lived through the recent past are also involved in making, and keeping, history. Like the elites, they can determine what and how much of their personal memory to reveal to an interviewer. When personal experiences encroach upon what is considered politically acceptable in contemporary Singapore and are withheld, ordinary people in effect become gatekeepers of their own pasts. Finally, no less involved in making and keeping the past are those who speak on behalf of the abovementioned groups. This includes the researchers themselves and reveals the multiple individual and social roles they occupy.

Encounters with the makers and gatekeepers become particularly acute at the frontiers of knowledge, where academic, and social and political imperatives may coincide. The frontiers of Singapore history are also social and political boundaries. They are the margins of The Singapore Story, the official narrative of the island’s history which has been consciously scripted, and rescripted, in pragmatic pursuit of national goals. But the past is also becoming of deep interest to a new, younger generation of researchers who approach it with fresh visions and methods. They are attempting to outflank the official restrictions on access to local archives by venturing into the ‘side gates’ of history – the foreign archives. They are also seeking to gain deeper access to individual and social memory by engaging both ordinary and elite makers who once stood at the margins of society, economy and politics and have for a long time been forgotten. This conference highlights how researchers are striving to negotiate between the imperatives of the past and present, and the complex, dynamic relationship between history, society and power in modern Singapore.


Panel 1: Front Gates: Local Archives
Panel 2: Side Gates: Alternative Archives
Panel 3: The Prime Movers
Panel 4: Ordinary People and Subalterns
Panel 5: History, Society and Power in Singapore


Please click here for the SYMPOSIUM PROGRAMME



Conference Convenors

Mr Loh Kah Seng (
Asia Research Centre, Murdoch University, Australia

Dr Liew Kai Khiun (
Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore

Mr Alvin Tan Peng Hong (
Anglo-Chinese School (Independent)

Dr Kevin Tan Yew Lee (
Singapore Heritage Society


Miss Alyson Rozells
Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore
#10-01 Tower Block,469A Bukit Timah Road, Singapore 259770
Tel: (65) 6516 8787
Fax: (65) 6779 1428


Admission is Free. Do register early as seats are available on a first come, first served basis. We would gratefully request that you RSVP to Miss Alyson Rozells at Tel: (65) 6516 8787 or email her at indicating your name, email, designation, organisation/affiliation and contact number.

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