PARLIAMENT:Committee of Supply debate: Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth

Curation of history 'open and consultative'

Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say, former DPM Wong Kan Seng and Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen viewing a panel at the launch of The Parliament In Singapore History exhibition at The Arts House on March 23.
Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say, former DPM Wong Kan Seng and Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen viewing a panel at the launch of The Parliament In Singapore History exhibition at The Arts House on March 23.PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

Singapore's history is objectively presented, and no "standard" or "official" account is imposed, said Minister for Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY) Grace Fu.

Speaking in Parliament yesterday during the debate on her ministry's budget, Ms Fu said the National Heritage Board (NHB) is "open and consultative" in its curation of history, and invites visitors "to examine different perspectives and engage in critical thinking".

She was responding to Mr Low Thia Khiang (Aljunied GRC), who had called for NHB exhibitions to present different interpretations of Singapore's history to encourage critical thinking and educate citizens.

Mr Low said: "It is time we moved away from representations of a standard or official history.''

The Workers' Party chief said that while learning Singapore history contributes to having a stronger national identity, this can only be achieved if history is presented in a manner that encourages students to consider multiple perspectives and think critically.

"This will also reduce students' and parents' perceptions of using history as government propaganda," he added.

Citing the Parliament In Singapore History exhibition at The Arts House, Mr Low said it could present different interpretations from the perspectives of pioneer statesmen, the ruling party backbenchers, plus opposition party, women and minority members.

Replying, Ms Fu said these groups were represented in the visuals and text of the exhibition. She cited how opposition veteran Chiam See Tong's quote on being an opposition party member in Parliament was prominently displayed.

She also gave examples from the National Museum's Singapore History Gallery, which has a showcase displaying published political material leading up to the 1962 Referendum on Merger with the Federation of Malaya.

She said the showcase presents the Chinese, English and Malay versions of the Battle For Merger, a series of radio talks by then-Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew aimed at exposing the goals, methods and organisation of the Communist movement.

It also presents two alternative political perspectives published at the time, Ms Fu said. One was a booklet, The Truth Behind Merger?, written by Felice Leon-Soh, who was then-Secretary General of the Liberal Socialist Party. She had urged people to question the People's Action Party's (PAP) campaign for merger, and to make an informed decision when casting their votes.

The other was Merger, Phony Merger And Confederation, a booklet by the former Barisan Sosialis, in which it disagreed with the merger terms set out by the PAP, and instead championed full and complete merger.

Ms Fu said NHB "draws widely on local and international experts in curating exhibitions".

For example, the National Museum is advised by senior historians from local universities who are acknowledged in their fields on the subject of Singapore history.

She added: "As NHB does not dictate content, we have seen many different topics and perspectives represented."

Mr Low also proposed that an independent commission of professional historians and heritage specialists be established to oversee grants disbursed by the board, with the aim to encourage critical thinking.

This would signal to people that the Government "is not here to control and censor history", he said.

Ms Fu replied that the board already taps the expertise of independent external panels to evaluate its grants.

These panels comprise representatives from different sectors, including academics and civic society groups such as the Singapore Heritage Society, to ensure a wide range of views, she said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 15, 2016, with the headline 'Curation of history 'open and consultative''. Print Edition | Subscribe