Tan Tai Yong: Good historians should examine details honestly, Lianhe Zaobao, 6 September 2018

Lianhe Zaobao reported on the speech by President Tan Tai Yong at the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS)-Nathan lecture series held last evening. President Tan gave the speech as the 6th S R Nathan Fellow for the Study of Singapore. In his speech, President Tan said that good historians should be able to defend their intepretations of history when questioned by others and also be open to feedback when their perspectives are been challenged.

In talking about the origins of Singapore’s official historical narratives formulated by the ruling government party, President Tan noted that intepretations of Singapore’s history have been fraught with questions over openness and access to official records. Over time, there have also been several opinion articles published in the Chinese and English broadsheets that asked how one should be engaging Singapore’s history. President Tan noted that there have been calls for more comprehensive and nuanced accounts of the anti-colonial and left wing movement of the 1950s. He said that analyses should be done in the contexts of the period and its environment, which saw the interplay of many factors that included communism, anti-colonalism, merger with Malaysia, power struggle, ideological contestations and differing visions for the future of Singapore. He added that solid research would be needed to carefully historicise the events and he expressed his hope that this can be aided by access to the official archives.

During the Q&A session, President Tan was asked how the public can understand history in a manner that favours academic research without triggering polarised reactions. In response, President Tan cited the example of his book Creating Greater Malaysia: Decolonization and the Politics of Merger that was published in 2008 and said that he did not experienced many restrictions when he was writing the book. He said that he has been able to write anything he wishes, as long as he is able to support his work with good research.

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