Both the changing of calendars and times bring to heart a pleasantly elegiac feeling of passage.
We enter the second decade of the third millennium reflecting on the ever-passing present. Sometimes inevitable change can only be appreciated in retrospect, while on other occasions, it brings a welcome clarity. Like stepping back to let our eyes focus, historical recollection is a vital part of understanding all that we are now, how we came to be, and the way forward.
BiblioAsia January 2011 opens with an exploration of history’s capacity for objective representation. Dr Arun Bala, a Visiting Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies discusses traditionally Eurocentric perceptions of Singaporean history. Parallelling the formation of post-colonial identity in our country with the history of modern science taught in schools, his investigations suggest that both constructs are complicated by the confluence of different cultures, belonging not to any single master creator or colony, but to the multitude and the multicultural.
History as a composite of stories by different storytellers requires understanding from a variety of perspectives. Its iterations, which orientate and shape themselves according to levels of understanding made possible only by time, guide us to renewed, and ever renewing, interpretations of past, present and future.
In their contributions to this issue, Lee Kong Chian Research Fellows Tan Teng Phee and Phyllis Chew revisit events and times past to trace their long-lasting effects on contemporary society. Tan expounds on the segregationist tendencies that rose from a fear of intercultural influences during the time of the Malayan Emergency, whereas Chew discusses the unifying potential of multiculturalism. These examples of history reframed in retrospect are richer for what we know now.
Sundusia Rosdi focuses on the history of Baweanese immigrants in Singapore through the lens of Ahmad Haji Tahir’s Shair Saudara Boyan (Poem of the Baweanese). This essay analyses the device of poetry as both a compass and vessel — something past which dictates in relative terms how we conduct ourselves in the present and which influences our impressions of desireable futures.
Reflections on the past are guards against collective amnesia in our information-overloaded world. The “When Nations Remember” conference, where local and international delegates gathered to share their experiences with national memories, was organised by the National Library with this end in mind.
It is heartening to see that within the vastness of the plurality offered to us by multiculturalism, there still exists the solidarity that unites us in fellowship — that of documented human experience, whether shared or unique. We at the National Library are passionate about the conservation and celebration of our collective history that binds us. Embracing memories, and engaging in its preservation, showcasing and presentation in our programmes and publications is one way we hope that future generations may benefit from our rich literary heritage and knowledge today.
Ms Ngian Lek Choh
Director National Library