April 2019 is a special month for the National Archives of Singapore (NAS). After an 18-month makeover, the NAS building at Canning Rise re-opened on 7 April with a slew of upgraded facilities for the public. As the NAS’ year-long 50th anniversary celebrations that began in June 2018 draw to a conclusion, we will mark its close by hosting the SARBICA* International Symposium from 24–28 June 2019.
This special edition of BiblioAsia puts the spotlight on all things archives. In his op-ed, Dr Shashi Jayakumar describes how recent initiatives undertaken by the NAS prepare the organisation – as well as Singapore – for the future. Eric Chin examines the role of the archives in providing evidence and the value this has for Singapore – from resolving the landmark Pedra Branca dispute to helping bring the past to life for today’s generation.
Fiona Tan remembers some of the pioneers who started the archives in Singapore, Mark Wong interviews an archives veteran to glean insights into her 45-year career, and Abigail Huang charts the timeline of the archives buildings over the years (we did say this issue is about the archives!). Cheong Suk-Wai stresses the importance of oral history records and tells us why the life of a humble tailor matters as much as that of the tycoon.
The Japanese Occupation remains a dark chapter in our history, and three essays touch on this period and its aftermath. Kwok Kian Woon reflects on the tragedy of war and why it is important to remember. Lee Geok Boi pieces together oral history interviews to paint a grim picture of hunger and deprivation during those difficult years. The problem didn’t go away when the war ended: the British had to set up children’s feeding centres to address malnutrition, as Cheryl-Ann Low discovered.
Other articles elucidate the value of the archives. Tan Chui Hua puts on her dancing shoes to uncover Singapore’s early disco scene through oral history and newspaper records. Irene Ng, biographer of one of our founding fathers, S. Rajaratnam, ponders the painstaking process of uncovering the life of a person using archival records. Gretchen Liu highlights the work of the Photo Unit, whose contributions comprise the single largest collection of photographs held by the NAS.
We recently published 50 Records from History: Highlights from the National Archives of Singapore. Three of these items – a map, a contract and an architectural drawing – provide a peek into the NAS’ vast collection of 10 million records (and counting).
Since 2012 – when the NAS became part of the National Library Board – the library and the archives have worked together to make our resources more accessible to the public. We hope this issue of BiblioAsia will inspire many of you to look deeper into Singapore’s documentary and publishing heritage in this bicentennial year, and gain a new appreciation of our roots.
*Southeast Asia Regional Branch of the International Council on Archives