History fraternity gives its take on Founders' Memorial

Members of the history fraternity during a session, one of three held in November and this month, to discuss a concept for the Founders' Memorial to honour Singapore's founding leaders.
Members of the history fraternity during a session, one of three held in November and this month, to discuss a concept for the Founders' Memorial to honour Singapore's founding leaders.PHOTO: NATIONAL HERITAGE BOARD

The upcoming Founders' Memorial could leverage the Republic's existing network of museums, monuments and historical sites.

The history fraternity wants the memorial to not be a standalone structure but be incorporated into historic precincts such as the Civic District, and that institutions such as the National Museum, National Archives and The Arts House should serve as "memorial nodes".

History teacher Rita Lopez, 57, said this would make sense in land-scarce Singapore.

She added: "It should be located in an area where there are many historically relevant buildings and landmarks which are symbolically significant to the people being remembered."

Members of the fraternity also suggested homing in on the contributions of the first Cabinet and providing visitors with both an educational and contemplative experience. Yale-NUS College's executive vice-president of academic affairs and history professor Tan Tai Yong said it should encourage visitors to "ponder and reflect".

The fraternity's views were sought over three roundtable sessions in November and this month to discuss a concept for a memorial to honour the values and ideals of Singapore's founding leaders.

Those involved included heritage experts and enthusiasts, academics, and teachers from the History Association of Singapore.

The sessions were facilitated by the National Heritage Board (NHB). The sessions were organised on top of eight public consultation sessions conducted by a 15-member Founders' Memorial committee, in the first phase of public consultations for the memorial.

NHB assistant chief executive of policy and development Alvin Tan said the historians and academics were engaged for their expertise and to gain different perspectives on historical figures and events to enrich the dialogue.

The committee, led by Esplanade chairman Lee Tzu Yang, has been seeking people's views on, among other things, the values and ideals embodied by Singapore's founders and who to honour.

The idea of a Founders' Memorial was announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in Parliament on April 13.

Prof Tan said the memorial should be tasteful and subtle in its design.

"It should not be too garish or ostentatious to stay true to the values of frugality and resilience that were characteristic of our founding generation."

He also suggested producing a timeless storyline, incorporating values such as courage, resilience, vision and determination, so that its messages "are not trapped in history" but have relevance to future generations.

Mrs Lopez said a Founders' Memorial is important as it can share with future generations of Singaporeans the contributions of the country's first political leaders and the difficult decisions they made.

She added that the duty of historians is to ensure that the opinions weaved into a memorial are supported by facts.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 21, 2015, with the headline 'History fraternity gives its take on Founders' Memorial'. Print Edition | Subscribe