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Studying Singapore's Past

C.M. Turnbull and the History of Modern Singapore

edited by Nicholas Tarling

C.M. (Mary) Turnbull's contributions to historical writing on Singapore extended from her 1962 thesis, published in 1972 as "The Straits Settlements, 1826-1867: Indian Presidency to Crown Colony", to her magisterial history of Singapore, first published in 1977 and re-issued in 2009 in anupdated edition as A History of Singapore, 1819-2005. Her approach to history involved detailed work with documents and published materials, with a particular focus on political and economic history. One contributor to the present volume described the book as an "exercise in endowing a modern 'nation-state' with a coherent past that should explain the present." As styles in history evolved, younger scholars including some of her former students and colleagues began exploring new approaches to historical research that drew on non-English-language souce material and asked fresh questions of the sources. Mary enjoyed controversy and expected debate, and had a deep interest in these accounts, which were in many ways a natural progression from her own publications even when they raised questions about her interpretations and conclusions. Studying Singapore's Past had its origins in a conference organised to discuss her work. The volume includes ten contributions, some from long-established scholars of Singapore's history, others from a new generation of researchers. Their work offers an evaluation of established understandings of Singapore's history, and gives an indication of new directions that researchers are exploring. In publishing the book, the editor not only pays tribute to a distinguished historian but also seeks to make a contribution to the historiography of Singapore and to ongoing debates about Singapore's past.

Published by: NUS Press Pte Ltd

Half title, title and copyright page

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pp. i-iv


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-ix

WHEN THE SAD NEWS OF MARY TURNBULL’S death arrived in 2008, the idea of a Nachschrift at once emerged. That it has taken so long to produce does not imply any reluctance to contribute. Contributors were simply anxious to do their best....

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Chapter 1: Constance Mary Turnbull 1927-2008: An Appreciation

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pp. 1-16

CONSTANCE MARY TURNBULL WAS BORN IN WEST LYHAM, Wooler in Northumberland on 9 February 1927, where her family had farmed the land for several generations. It was a diffi cult time for her family and for the country as a whole. Britain was still struggling to recover from the effects...

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Chapter 2: Framing Singapore's History

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pp. 17-64

MARY TURNBULL IS MOST ASSOCIATED WITH A History of Singapore (1977 and 1989 editions), and with its posthumously published replacement, A History of Modern Singapore, 1819–2005 (2009). This chapter argues that these works should be seen not just as the superbly crafted national histories...

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Chapter 3: Mary Turnbull's History Textbook for the Singapore Nation

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pp. 65-86

IN 1977, MARY TURNBULL WROTE THE FIRST general history textbook for the new Singapore nation that did not view its history as a small part of the history of Malaya. Previously, history textbooks used throughout Singapore and Malaysia catered to a common history taught...

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Chapter 4: The Limitations of Monolingual History

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pp. 87-109

THE HISTORIOGRAPHY OF SINGAPORE IS DOMINATED BY an elitist Englishlanguage nationalist narrative. It is an important perspective and central to Singaporean decolonisation, but it can neither explain the nature of indigenous and vernacular Singaporean nationalism, nor the profound...

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Chapter 5: Historical Sketch of the Settlement of Singapore

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pp. 110-124

SIR STAMFORD RAFFLES LISTED AMONG HIS LOSSES in the disastrous fi re on the ship Fame on 2 February 1824 a “detailed account” of the establishment of Singapore which, he said, contained “the principles on which it is founded; the policy of our Government in founding it; the history...

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Chapter 6: Singapore's Role in Constituting the "Malay" Narrative

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pp. 125-145

IN PUBLIC AND TO A LARGE EXTENT academic discussion, Singapore history has been focused on two great men: Sir Thomas Stamford Raffl es and Lee Kuan Yew. The Malay history of Singapore, perhaps understandably, has received less attention. Partly because of my re-reading of Robert...

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Chapter 7: Reappraising the Aftermath of War: The Problems of the British Military Administration and Singapore's Place in the Changing Strategic Environment of Empire, 1945-1946

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pp. 146-170

WRITING ON THE BRITISH MILITARY ADMINISTRATION (BMA) in A History of Modern Singapore, 1819–2005, Mary Turnbull observes: In its seven months it destroyed the goodwill that existed at the time of liberation and brought British prestige in Singapore to an even lower point...

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Chapter 8: A Colonial Progress: Franklin Gimson in Ceylon, Hong Kong and Singapore

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pp. 171-206

FRANKLIN GIMSON WAS A PRIVATE MAN DEDICATED to public service in Britain’s eastern colonies. He was not a fl yer to be fast-tracked to promotion, but a typical recruit to the Ceylon Civil Service where he remained for 27 years making steady, if unspectacular, progress. At the age of 51...

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Chapter 9: To Negotiate Trade and Avoid Politics: The Overseas Chinese Trade Missions to China and Taiwan, 1956-1957

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pp. 207-227

IN 1949, THE GEOPOLITICAL SITUATION IN EAST and Southeast Asia changed dramatically with the victory of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in a civil war. On 1 October, Mao Zedong proclaimed the founding of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). In December, the defeated National Government of the Kuomintang (KMT)...

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Chapter 10: Singapore and Its Neighbours

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pp. 228-244

IN BRITAIN, WHEN MARY TURNBULL BEGAN HER research, public access to government archives was under a 50-year rule. The Wilson Labour government reduced the limit to 30 years, and the Major Conservative government of the 1990s initiated a re-examination of the documents...

Bibliography of C.M. Turnbull

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pp. 245-247


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pp. 248-249


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pp. 250-261

E-ISBN-13: 9789971696917
Print-ISBN-13: 9789971696467

Page Count: 272
Illustrations: None

Edition: New