Time for S'poreans to actively engage with history

The recent debate on what role historians and political leaders should play in interpreting the nation's history (History is not the preserve of historians; April 10) reminds us that there is a need for Singaporeans to play a more active role in engaging with history.

First, interpreting history should be a field, a process that encourages unfettered exchanges of perspectives and opinions, and should include views from a wide spectrum of the society.

We should note that the basis of historical interpretations does not lie in the belief that there exists a single, rigid historical truth. Instead, the boundaries of historical inquiry are neither fixed nor static, and benefit from an inquiring mind.

Hence, historical interpretations should not be subject to the debate on whether historians or political leaders should have a larger role in its making, simply because no one should have a disproportionate role in it.

What is more pertinent is that Singaporeans engage actively and critically in understanding history, especially when our own nation's history is at stake.

When confronted with mixed historical interpretations, it behoves us to take the step to engage directly and acutely with the materials available.

While some may harbour scepticism relating to the misrepresentation of historical details, a market of ideas and opinions actually benefits us by reducing our blind spots.

Additionally, if we can shoulder the responsibility of understanding and filtering historical information for ourselves, why fear interference by other parties?

As for the history of our nation, what is meaningful to Singaporeans should not be derived solely from what a historian writes or what a political leader says. Neither should it be derived from what history objectively describes.

Rather, it is how we feel and understand this shared history. It is perhaps more of a "what we think" than "what they say".

Our historians and political leaders have done a commendable job in constructing clear and diverse historical interpretations of our nation.

But we should not leave that job to historians and political leaders only.

It is time for ordinary citizens to play a greater role in understanding our nation's history.

Michael Zhou Xizhuang