Over 150 materials on display at new exhibition Human X Nature Environmental histories of Singapore


Explore our environment’s past and present! More than 150 books, maps, illustrations and manuscripts on Singapore’s biodiversity from the National Library and National Archives of Singapore, and collaborating institutions such as the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum and the Singapore Botanic Gardens will be showcased at an exhibition at the National Library – many on public display for the first time. The exhibition, titled Human x Nature: Environmental Histories of Singapore, traces the history of Singapore’s natural environment and how our present-day relationship with it is shaped by this legacy.

Organised by the National Library Board (NLB) to document and tell Singapore stories, the exhibition will run for six months from 9 April 2021 till 26 September 2021, at the Level 10 Gallery, National Library Building.

Tan Huism, Senior Director, Archives and Libraries Group, National Library Board, said, “With the renewed public interest in our natural environment, we are excited to present interesting stories of human interactions with the natural environment in Singapore over the past two centuries. The exhibition is for all who are curious to explore how our experiences or knowledge about nature today is shaped by our past. This includes children, who can explore an interactive display, storytelling sessions and holiday programmes to learn about the natural world. Through Singapore’s environmental history, we hope to inspire learning and discussion on current topics.”

“We are glad to collaborate with the National Library Board to enrich the historical narrative of our relationship with Singapore’s natural environment. Our specimens support the stories and anecdotes found in the national collection of rare books and manuscripts from the past, and we hope that they will give visitors a newfound appreciation of our natural heritage,” said Associate Professor Darren Yeo Chong Jinn, Deputy Head of the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum, National University of Singapore.

The exhibition highlights include:

  • The Ichthyological Atlas of the Dutch East Indies published under the auspices of the Colonial Government of the Netherlands[1] (1862-1878) – Collection of the National Library, Singapore.
    Singapore is part of the extended coral triangle, a region with the largest diversity of marine life in the world. This nine-volume series is one of the most comprehensive compilations on fish in the waters of the Malay Archipelago, containing 1,500 beautiful illustrations of species which can still be found today.
  • Map of The Island of Singapore and Its Dependencies (1885) – Collection of the National Archives of Singapore.
  • Malay Village Medicine: Prescriptions collected by I.H. Burkhill and Mohamed Haniff, (1930) – Collection of the National Library, Singapore.
  • Flowers of Singapore: Special Stamp Issues 10th Tree Planting Day (1980) – Collection of the National Archives of Singapore.

Please refer to Annex A for a full list of the exhibition highlights.

The Human x Nature: Environmental Histories of Singapore exhibition comprises three sections:

  1. Understanding Nature, which explores the study of the natural environment in Singapore from the 19th to the early 20th century. The section showcases how these efforts were possible through the knowledge provided by local communities along with the collecting and illustrating work of Malayan naturalists.
  2. Consuming Nature, which highlights how deforestation for plantation agriculture permanently changed the island’s natural environment from the 19th century to early 20th century.
  3. Remaking Nature, which connects late colonial to contemporary efforts to conserve and restore Singapore’s natural environment. We explore the balance between the greening, development, and conservation of Singapore’s natural landscape. 

The exhibition will also include materials that NLB has made available on the world’s largest open access digital library for biodiversity resources, the Biodiversity Heritage Library (https://www.biodiversitylibrary.org). The Biodiversity Heritage Library’s Singapore Collection includes digitised biodiversity materials contributed by the National Library, Singapore and Singapore Botanic Gardens.[2]

Display at NL Building lobby – Library of Life
Immerse yourself in the Library of Life, a fun multimedia display of natural history illustrations and facts about Singapore’s biodiversity! The mini exhibition features digital and physical books from four themed collections: Field Books, Fossil Stories, The Insect World, and Curious Creatures. These include selected highlights from the Biodiversity Heritage Library's (https://www.biodiversitylibrary.org) over 160,000 digital titles from around the world (?).

The display is located at the lobby display at Level 1 of the National Library Building, and will be available from 9 April – 26 September 2021. Please see Annex B for a list of display highlights.

Display at three regional libraries – Animal Friends

Did you know that tigers once roamed the forests of Singapore? More than a century ago, tigers habitually paddled their way across the Johor Strait to Singapore island.

Something for children – an exhibition of a smaller scale, Animal Friends, will roam three regional libraries to tell the story of Rimau, a tiger that travels to Singapore in search of new friends. Follow Rimau as she meets four animals – a dugong, smooth-coated otter, red junglefowl and oriental pied hornbill – and learn about their relationships with people and the natural world. The schedule of the display at the three regional libraries is listed below:

  • Jurong Regional Library, Level 2, from 7 April – 1 June 2021
  • Tampines Regional Library, Level 4, from 1 June – 2 August 2021
  • Woodlands Regional Library, Level 1, from 2 August – 30 September 2021

Exhibition programmes
Patrons can look forward to monthly guided tours of the exhibition by curators Georgina Wong and Chia Jie Lin, weekly tours by docents, talks on biodiversity, as well as a children’s workshop during the June holidays. These activities are free, and patrons can sign up for them via Eventbrite (https://www.go.gov.sg/hxnprogs). Please refer to Annex C for more information on these programmes.

Special BiblioAsia edition
The April-June 2021 issue of the National Library’s quarterly journal, BiblioAsia, will feature articles on selected materials from the exhibition and on the history of Singapore’s biodiversity. Contributors to the publication include librarians, archivists and subject experts. The special issue will be launched in mid-April. It will also be available on the BiblioAsia website (https://biblioasia.nlb.gov.sg).


About National Library Board
The National Library Board (NLB) nurtures Readers for Life, Learning Communities and a Knowledgeable Nation by promoting reading, learning and history through its network of 27 public libraries, the National Library and the National Archives of Singapore. NLB also forges strategic partnerships that encourage awareness, appreciation and greater discovery of Singapore’s history through its rich collections on Singapore and the region.

NLB achieves excellence through innovation, focusing on citizen engagement and co-creation, resource and digital innovation. This creates learning opportunities, greater access to library resources, services, and archival collections, as well as a continual development of innovative library spaces. Established on 1 September 1995 as a statutory board, NLB is under the Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI).

For more information, please visit the NLB website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and YouTube.

[1] The original name in French is Atlas ichthyologique des Indes orientales néêrlandaises : publié sous les auspices du gouvernement colonial néêrlandais

[2] NLB is in charge of the Biodiversity Heritage Library’s (BHL) Singapore Collection, as the country node for Singapore. NLB works with partner institutions in Singapore to digitise and upload materials to this global repository. Starting off with just 300 digital titles in 2006, the BHL today has a collection of over 160,000 titles, drawn from the digital holdings of more than 120 institutions worldwide. There are currently 394 rare books, government publications, periodicals, correspondences and catalogues in the Singapore collection.

For media enquiries, please contact:

Charmaine Lau
Weber Shandwick
Tel: 9223 2570
Email: chlau@webershandwick.com

Laura Goh
Weber Shandwick
Tel: 9386 0027
Email: LGoh@webershandwick.com





As part of the exhibition, the National Library will be organising exhibition tours and a series of programmes from April 2021 to September 2021. Members of the public can sign up for these activities via the NLB mobile app or Eventbrite: https://www.go.gov.sg/hxnprogs