Following the calling of a General Election in Singapore, a special episode of “The History of Singapore”, entitled “A Short History of Elections in Singapore”, will air on Friday 4 September 2015 (Thursday 3 September for Patreon supporters). The normal schedule will resume on 11 September 2015 with Episode 5, “Islamic Modernism”.
“Welcome to Singapore!” said Chow Yun Fat in the third Pirates of the Caribbean movie. Indeed, for most of the 19th century, Singapore was an archetypal pirate port and frontier town. The British provided only the minimum government they could get away with. So who did Singapore’s people turn to when they needed leadership, security, arbitration? Who decided who got to be in charge and how? In this episode of “The History of Singapore”, PJ Thum discusses how the 99% of Singapore worked out their own systems of government, giving birth to Singapore’s strong brand of locally-oriented, indigenous politics – and how the British responded to it.
As mentioned, here is part 2 of the duology: the story of the 99%. I have long wanted to include the Pirates of the Caribbean metaphor in my work, but I could never figure out how to put it into the “serious” academic pieces of writing (especially given the word limit). It’s a fun metaphor, but I hope it will help people to examine their own assumptions about the nature of colonialism. Colonialism was fundamentally about the imposition of capitalism and the forced integration of local economies into world trade and commerce networks, in order to enrich colonial elites, at the cost of the destruction of local societies. Whether you think this is a good thing or a bad thing depends on your own values, but we need to recognise what colonialism was. It wasn’t just about conquest; it was about reshaping entire societies in order for them to be exploited by global capitalism. Java on the eve of Dutch conquest, for example, had living standards and per capita GDP as high as Western Europe. But once Dutch guns, germs, and steel appeared, they rapidly declined and have never approached European levels again.
The seeds of Singapore’s independence movement were sown in the very first years of its existence. Raffles, Farquhar, and Crawfurd all had major impact on the contours of politics in Singapore, which would in turn have a huge impact on the nature and trajectory of Singapore’s colonisation movement. In this episode of “The History of Singapore”, PJ Thum traces how Raffles’ radical vision, Farquhar’s good sense and courage, and Crawfurd’s shrewd pragmatism gave birth to Singapore’s history of freedom, liberty, and republicanism.
After last’s week rather theoretical episode, we get into the meat of the series with episode 2, which tells the story of Raffles, Farquhar, and Crawfurd. Someone asked why I don’t go back even further; the basic answer is that this series is a story of Singapore’s independence movement, and there is nothing to be independent from before Raffles walked up the beach. Hence, we start at the moment of colonisation.
Episodes 2 and 3 might be seen as a duology: Episode 2 tells the story of the 1%, and the benefits of colonialism; episode 3 is the story of the 99%, those neglected by the colonial government.
In this first episode for “The History of Singapore”, PJ Thum introduces the series with a discussion about the partition of Malaya in 1946, its importance, and how it illustrates two central conflicts in Singapore/Malayan history: The meaning and purpose of government, and national identity.
The radio time slot required a commercial break about halfway through, which is why the theme music plays just after 9:30 – that’s where the commercial break is.
Thank you so much for the outpouring of enthusiasm and support. In the first day alone, the facebook page has had 769 likes, 12 people have pledged a total of $53 per episode on Patreon, “Episode 0” was played 1,214 times (one chap listened to it twice!). It is very humbling. I hope I will be able to justify your faith. In response to feedback, I have created a “How to Listen” page to make all your listening options clear. I have also added a page listing history resources for teachers, students, and history enthusiasts. Thank you very much and please keep the suggestions and comments coming!
In this preview of “The History of Singapore”, PJ Thum talks about why he is making the show, and plays excerpts from upcoming episodes. “The History of Singapore” premieres 7 August 2015. Subscribe now!
Welcome to The History of Singapore podcast!
This is a really exciting time! There are so many new sources of Singapore history. Every year, as new sources of history emerge, we find that we keep having to rewrite Singapore history in response to new information.
We need to learn from our past! For example, the best government that Singapore ever had was the PAP government between 1965 and 1975. Why? What did they do well? What did they do poorly? We need to know.
And so, to make my own contribution to our understanding, I have created the History of Singapore podcast, a weekly podcast series about Singapore, our history and our people. I want Singaporeans to have access to more perspectives on our history of our country and our people, and to understand how we got to where we are today.
Over the next year, I am going to tell the story of Singapore’s independence. I hope you will enjoy our journey together.
If you enjoy the podcast, please consider supporting the podcast on Patreon.
The History of Singapore podcast will launch on 6 August 2015 – the 10th anniversary of the day I swam the English Channel – for supporters on Patreon; and on 7 August at 3pm on BFM89.9 in Malaysia and online.