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Articles by our Archivists

10 Men, 10 Years: A Decade of Nation-Building

10 men. 10 years. The names of Singapore's First Cabinet ministers may sound unfamiliar to many young Singaporeans now. But to the working adults in the 60s and 70s, these ten men were "heroes" as they were instrumental in shaping Singapores destiny immediately after its Independence. This travelling exhibition and catalogue developed by NAS record the many poignant stories on the contributions of the First Cabinet and Singapore's first decade of nation building.

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A Traveller's Tropical Treat

One 19th-century writer who complained about the lack of colour in Singapore would have been pleasantly surprised by 1980s Singapore. Take a look at what was in store for the typical tourist in these photographs spanning 20 years deposited by the Singapore Tourist Promotion Board with the National Archives.

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An Old Acquaintance Not Forgotten

Did you know that the foundation stone for the monument honouring early founders of modern Singapore stood for the last 10 years fronting the entrance to the National Archives’ Lobby Gallery until it was relocated in May 2010?

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Botany in Raffles Vision for Singapore

It is lesser known fact that Raffles was an amateur botanist of genius. Raffles wrote on botany in his leisure and his works were acclaimed by renowned naturalists in his time. His great personal enthusiasm for the subject, together with his belief that natural science contributed to general human advancement and potentially to economic prosperity, led him to encourage botanical research Singapore in the form of spice cultivation.

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Congratulations to our NHB Heritage Award Winners 2008/2009

The National Archives of Singapore (NAS) extends its warmest wishes to our donors who were honoured at the National Heritage Board's Patron of Heritage Awards, held on 17 April 2009 at the National Museum of Singapore.

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Congratulations to Our NHB Heritage Award Winners!

On 15 April 2003 three of NAS' distinguished donors, Ms Bridget Choy, Mr Lim Kiat Seng and Ms Tham Yee Van, received the National Heritage Board's prestigious Friend of Heritage Award for their exceptional contributions to national heritage. Their collections and their significance are showcased in this article.

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Congratulations to our Supporter of Heritage 2009/2010: Mr Ronni Pinsler - Extraordinary Photographer of the Nation’s Cultural Landscape

Mr Ronni Pinsler is an independent photographer who has made invaluable contributions to Singapore heritage by documenting the nation’s changing landscape till 1995. He is best known for his extraordinary efforts recording the multifaceted practices of popular Taoism and has captured many valuable images of Singapore focusing on vanishing local street scenes and people portraits. He recently received the prestigious Supporter of Heritage award from the National Heritage Board in April 2010 in honour of his generous permanent loan of a comprehensive collection of his work to the National Archives of Singapore.

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David Marshall: Singapore's First Chief Minister

This article commemorates the 100th anniversary of the birth of David Marshall, the celebrated Singapore nationalist, politician, lawyer and diplomat. The article draws on Marshall's recollections of the experiences that shaped his life and his political and ethical convictions, as well as his reflections of Singapore society, which are taken from an in-depth oral history interview he conducted with the National Archives of Singapore in 1984.

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Do you know what are Singapore's State Symbols and when did they come into being?

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Do you know what do the "Kallang Roar", National Day Parades, 7th SEAP Games have in common?

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Do you know what is the "Stop At Two" Policy?

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Do you know who drafted the Proclamation of Singapore?

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Do you know who wrote Majulah Singapura?

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Do you know why was POSB set up?

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Do you know your fundamental rights as stated in the Constitution of Singapore?

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Elizabeth Choy - Singapore's War Heroine, Politician and Teacher (1910 - 2006)

Better known as a war heroine, Mrs Elizabeth Choy's experiences during the Japanese Occupation continue to inspire many. She also made history by becoming Singapore's first woman in the Legislative Council in 1951. Foremost, Mrs Choy was a natural and dedicated educator for 40 years.

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From Emporium to Singapore City: Mapping the Journey

Maps play a privileged role, much like witnesses of history, in documenting the progress and transition of the Singapore landscape at different stages in time. Between the fine grids and scales of the maps, intricate lines and symbols depict these changing landscapes, preserving memories of landmarks and interesting details of places that once stood in Singapore, and form part of the stories that each map conveys.

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In Memory of Chua Ek Kay - Renowned Ink Artist (1947-2008)

Renowned ink artist Chua Ek Kay organized his first solo exhibition, ‘Chua Ek Kay’s Works in Chinese Ink’ in 1988. He captured the essence of local scenes in Singapore through his Singapore Street Scene series from 1988 to 2002. In 1999, he was honoured with the Cultural Medallion Award by the Government of Singapore.

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In Memory of Dollah Kassim (1949-2010)

Retired national footballer Dollah Kassim passed away on 14 October 2010. A football icon of the 1970s, his oral history interview with the National Archives is now accessible.

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In Memory of Dr Goh Keng Swee: Architect of Singapore’s Economic, Defence and Education Policies

Dr Goh Keng Swee was among the most visionary of Singapore’s founding generation of leaders. Independent minded, farsighted, and realistic Dr Goh laid the foundations of the Republic’s economic, defence and education policies. More than just an expert, hard-headed technocrat, Dr Goh was broadly read in history and the humanities, deeply interested in human nature and morality, and integrated these perspectives into original thoughts on policy. A man of great personal integrity, he was deeply respected by people from all walks of life.

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In Memory of Fang Xiu, Chinese Literary Pioneer (1922-2010)

Fang Xiu (方修), Chinese literary pioneer passed away on 5 March 2010. He is best remembered as the pioneer in the study of Singapore-Malayan Chinese literature. The Oral History Centre was honoured to have interviewed him in 2006 for the Development of the Chinese Literary Scene in Singapore project.

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In Memory of Justice Choor Singh (1911-2009)

One of Singapore’s most prominent Supreme Court judges, Justice Choor Singh passed away on 31 Mar 2009. He was the first Indian in Colonial Malaya to be appointed as a Magistrate in 1949. After his retirement from public service in 1980, he continued to be active in writing and community service. The Oral History Centre was privileged to have interviewed him in 1991 and 1993 for the Communities of Singapore and Civil Service projects.

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In Memory of K S Rajah, Former Judicial Commissioner and Director of Legal Aid Bureau

K S Rajah was a latecomer into the legal profession, entering only at age 33. However, it was a profession he would stick to for the rest of his life, living up to the highest ethics of his calling in ensuring the delivery of justice and contributing substantially to the development of Singapore law.

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In Memory of Professor Mary Turnbull, Historian

The National Archives of Singapore and Oral History Centre pay tribute to one of its eminent interviewees - Professor Mary Turnbull. She was the first woman to be appointed to the overseas colonial service. After her career as a civil servant, she later became a history professor. Prof Turnbull is known for her authoritative book "History of Singapore" which is still widely in use as a standard text book for history students of higher learning.

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In Memory of Sha’ari Tadin (1932 - 2009)

Former People’s Action Party (PAP) MP for Kampong Chai Chee (1968 - 1976) and Bedok (1976 - 1980), Sha’ari Tadin, passed away on 13 December 2009. Sha’ari was also fondly remembered as Cikgu Sha'ari, for his role as teacher, tutor, principal and educator.

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Know Sars, No Sars

Comics can be instructive, not merely entertaining when in the right hands. During the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) crisis in 2003, comic strips were extensively used to inform and educate. Take a look at the posters produced by the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Community Development and Sports. They come in Singapore's four official languages: English, Chinese, Malay and Tamil.

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Life of an Embalmer: Mrs Phyllis Ganapathy

From cutting the scalp, scrubbing and sewing it back, body is cut from the chin to the stomach to determine the cause of death, putting the intestines and sewing it up using a four-inch needle, pumping formalin into the body, these are the processes that happen during embalming.

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Life on the Fishing Line

In the early 1950s traditional kelongs not only stood in the way of development in Singapore; they were also becoming counter-productive. More did not mean an increase in fish production. So what did the Primary Production Department do about it? Find out this and more in the records of the Primary Production Department deposited with the National Archives.

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Lim Kim San - Singapore's Home-Builder (1916 - 2006)

Best remembered as the man who solved Singapore’s dismal housing problems in the 1960s, Mr Lim Kim San was a bastion of public spiritedness. Despite his numerous contributions and achievements for Singapore, Mr Lim remained unassuming and paid tribute to the young officers who worked together with him.

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Oil Palm: The Imported Wonder

Native to West Africa, the first oil palms in Malaya were those cultivated as ornamental plants in Singapore’s Botanic Gardens in 1875. Some forty years later, as commercial oil palm plantations began to proliferate in peninsula Malaya, Singapore played a key role in re-exporting and processing oil palm products from the hinterland to the rest of the world, especially the United Kingdom. During the Japanese Occupation, palm oil played a vitalising role in keeping people healthy. Today, even as the debate about the impact of biofuels rages on, Singapore is positioning itself as a major centre for the processing and trading of biofuels, of which palm oil is a major source.

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On Naming Mental Health: The Case of Woodbridge

“Mad” King George of England almost had a mental hospital named after him in far-off Singapore. What were they thinking? Academic researchers can view the correspondence and discussion notes on the naming of Singapore’s mental hospital in the 1950s among the files of the Ministry of Health deposited with the National Archives.

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Pioneer of Standards and Industrial Research - Dr Lee Kum Tatt

Dr Lee Kum Tatt (1927-2008) was Chairman of the Singapore Institute of Standards and Industrial Research from 1969 to 1985. In addition, he was active in the Board of Governors of Singapore Polytechnic and the Science Council. Dr Lee was also instrumental in setting up the Singapore Science Centre in 1977. His legacy, however, remains the gold orchid, first produced and marketed by RISIS on 16 April 1976.

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PS Teo (1930 - 2005) - Portrait Photographer

The late Teo Poh Seng, who was popularly known as PS Teo, was one of Singapore most famous and successful portrait photographers. An extensive collection of his images was donated to the National Archives of Singapore in 2008 and 2009 by his family, who were recently named Friends of Heritage for their generous contribution.

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Raffles' Moral Vision for Singapore

Raffles is remembered today as the visionary founder of modern Singapore whose great foresight led him to grasp the latent commercial and strategic potential of the island. He is also remembered as an idealist, whose romantic vision of Singapore seemed at times far-fetched and impracticable. Raffles' idealism however was based on a fine balance he drew between commercial success and more universal human hopes to advance culture and knowledge.

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Remembering Karl Van Kleef and the Van Kleef Aquarium

The Van Kleef Aquarium was once a landmark in the cultural consciousness for many Singaporeans but today it is a fading memory. This article traces the little known origins of the aquarium and its dramatic history. Who was Van Kleef, the person whom the Aquarium was named after? How was the Aquarium like in its heyday? Why was it eventually closed and demolished? What did the Van Kleef Aquarium mean to Singaporeans and how did Singaporeans respond to its demise?

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Remembering Madam Kwa Geok Choo

The late Madam Kwa was one of the Oral History Centre’s earliest interviewees. We take this moment to recall how our other interviewees have remembered her during their interviews.

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S. Rajaratnam - Singapore's Son and Poet Warrior (1915-2006)

A man of ideas and moral courage, Mr S Rajaratnam is heralded as one of the founding fathers of independent Singapore. The National Archives of Singapore safeguards the memories of a visionary whom believed that Singaporeans could be a united people, regardless of race, language or religion. From fighting for an independent Singapore to speaking out against injustice, tyranny and aggression, Mr Rajaratnam exemplifies what it means to be Singapore's son.

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Sago to Go - Our Pioneering Manufacturing Export

As early as 1830s, Singapore was known for its exports of sago to Europe and India. What was sago used for? Why did the sago industry fail? And what's the connection between sago and death-houses? Find out more in this article.

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Singapore: A Pineapple Canning Delight

The pineapple is commonly depicted as an "exotic" tropical island fruit, with associated images of beach paradise and leisure tourism. This, however, is in sharp contrast to Singapore's experience with pineapple in the first half of the twentieth century.

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The Armenians

The Armenians came to Singapore as early as 1800s. They have been migrants throughout the century partly because they have been overrun by other great powers and partly, because Armenia is not a very rich country which was why they went to other countries to make a living.

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The Art of PS Teo - Portrait Photographer

One of Singapore’s finest portrait photographers in his time, the late Teo Poh Seng, popularly known as PS Teo, was the chief photographer at his family business, Studio Deluxe. Mostly self-taught, his works won numerous local and international photographic awards and he was one of the most sought after portrait photographers in Singapore. The life, art and triumphs of this humble master photographer continue to instruct and inspire and are remembered in this article.

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The Box

Once upon a time “the box” did not mean the TV set. Radio turned out to have more uses than providing entertainment and music for its owners as those living under Japanese Occupation between 1942 and 1945 found.

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The Memories of Joshua Benjamin Jeyaretnam (1926-2008)

The National Archives of Singapore and Oral History Centre pay tribute to Joshua Benjamin Jeyaretnam, better known as JBJ. He is best remembered as the first opposition politician to break the ruling party’s monopoly in 1981 when he won the Anson By-Election.

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The Midwife Profession in Singapore

In the early years, midwives are practitioners of midwifery which is a term to describe a medical specialty within the medical fraternity. Their duties range from making house calls and providing delivery and domiciliary aftercare services.

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Traditional Chinese Medicine

Practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine believed that inducing perspiration is part of the treatment for flu. Not all flu patients can be given the same treatment though, as they have classified flu into common flu and stomach flu. Learn more about the treatment of stomach flu using TCM.

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Vernon Cyril Palmer - The man who was dubbed "Mr Broadcaster"

Mr Vernon Palmer, a broadcasting legend in Singapore, was interviewed by the Oral History Centre in 1993. In his three and a half decades in the broadcasting business, Vernon Palmer had worn practically every known hat in the profession - from technician, to radio producer, news reader, stage director, and Controller of Television.

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William Cheng (1928-2010)

A staunch anti-communist, he was former Deputy Superintendent (Special Branch, Police Force), Principal Assistant Secretary (Education), Permanent Secretary (Labour) and Singapore’s first Trade Representative to the Republic of China (Taiwan).

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William Farquhar’s Pragmatism: Another Perspective on Raffles Vision for Singapore

Between 1822 and 1823 a quarrel broke out between Stamford Raffles and William Farquhar, on the development of the Singapore town. The quarrel was a clash of ideals - the pragmatic style of Farquhar collided with Raffles’ high minded, yet at times inflexible vision for Singapore. No compromise was possible between them and the conflict was taken to its bitter end. Farquhar’s reasons for doing what he did are explored in greater depth in this article.

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Yusof bin Ishak - The Republic of Singapore’s First Head of State

Yusof bin Ishak was the first President of the Republic of Singapore and between 1965 and 1970 headed the nation during a tumultuous period of its history. His widow, Puan Noor Aishah Bte Md Salim was named a Partner of Heritage for donating a collection of photographs which belonged to the late President.

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