In February, three Yale-NUS History undergraduates were invited to speak at the Conversations in Singapore History symposium at Trinity College, Oxford University. Karen Ho (Class of 2017), Min Lim (Class of 2018), and Ng Qi Siang (Class of 2019) each presented their research on different aspects of Singapore’s history, and its interactions with the region.
“Oxford is an important centre for historical research and to get the opportunity to present there is a great honour,” stated Qi Siang, a sophomore from Cendana College. His research is centred on the de-emphasis of colonial violence in Singapore history textbooks, where he analysed the depictions of the Chinese Middle School National Service Protests in 1954 in Singapore’s official narrative.
The students’ presentations were featured alongside those of students from Cambridge University, Oxford University, and various top institutions in the UK. This is the first time students from a non-UK university have presented at the conference.
“I’m really fortunate to have been given the opportunity to share my research ideas and hear from other like-minded individuals,” said Karen, who presented her capstone findings on Xinyao, a Mandarin youth music movement in Singapore during the 1980s. With incoming President of Yale-NUS College, Prof. Tan Tai Yong, as her advisor, Karen’s research reveals an alternative conception of national identity in Singapore.
“Prof. Tan gave me many crucial areas for consideration as I went about my thesis,” she added. “He also linked me up with professors, librarians and others that have played a huge role in shaping my capstone.”
History majors at Yale-NUS are exposed to a comprehensive curriculum to develop historical inquiry skills, and are offered in-depth support from the history faculty in their research.
“I came into Yale-NUS never expecting to major in history,” mused Karen. “However, professors offered me help and insight along the way. The practice of critically reading primary sources, weighing and questioning my secondary sources, and making nuanced and well-substantiated arguments, are valuable skills I’ve picked up…that one can adopt across fields and careers.”
Institutional support and lessons taken in the college were indeed key areas noted by the participants that contributed to their successful research.
Min Lim, a junior from Cendana College, presented on defensive structures in ancient Temasik, a topic she only discovered through a Historical Immersion course from the Common Curriculum. “I attended a class on 14th Century Singapore taught by Prof. Derek Heng (then Rector of Cendana College) a year ago,” she said. “It’s a part of Singapore’s history that we’re never exposed to in our education.”
The interdisciplinary nature of Yale-NUS’ liberal arts system was a major plus for the participants’ research.
“I didn’t have a formal faculty advisor; this research was part of some independent research I undertook during the winter break,” said Qi Siang. “However, I did build very heavily on the work I did in Modern Social Thought (MST).” Qi Siang developed an interest in post-colonial history after classes on postcolonial feminism taught by Dr. Rochisha Narayan, a gender historian at the college.
Indeed, participants found themselves grappling with larger concepts beyond their specialised field of research in their presentations.
For Min, her research also holds a larger social significance. “I wanted to show how far our history goes,” she mentioned, “that Singapore’s history didn’t start with British colonisation in the 1819. That we’re connected profoundly to our region – our links to our surrounding Southeast Asian countries extend into the ancient past.”