The lack of historical discourse: Why?

When I read the entry by Xenoboysg entitled Folding History, Facts and Time : (Ab)Use of History in Singapore Politics, I knew I had to respond simply because, contrary to popular belief, its very very true! Singapore history has consistently been contrived and abused that it is so difficult to even get an alternative viewpoint, unless its related to politics (where everyone agrees of disagree). We need to fundamentally question what we learn to get a better understanding of the issues which shaped our past, going beyond simple mind-numbing incantations of how “our suffering forefathers have toiled for our future” or why separation was hard because our then Prime Minister “shed a tear on National Television”. Sadly, very little people are vaguely interested in our history and have an aggressive aversion towards even talking about our history (History? What history?).

Nietzsche himself once said:

“It is not whether the facts are true or false but the question is how far is it life-furthering, life-preserving, species-preserving, perhaps species-creating.”

Isn’t this the purpose of National Education, to create a more patriotic and loyal Singaporean who has a deep sense of rootedness in his country through his history, albeit the blatant contrivance of historical facts as well as the “folding of history”?

What I find most disturbing is the lack of historical research and argumentation on our history, especially these well-quoted examples in our textbooks or during national campaigns. Why are we only given such views of history through the eyes of a singular individual (aka the government)? More importantly, is it not possible that there is (shock!) an alternative voice? Grappling with the orthodox cold war historians, the marxist historians of the Russian revolutions as well as the “Great Power conflict” theories of the New imperialism, I realised that there will always be historical discourse over every event, no matter how simple or problematic it can be.

The inclusion of Social Studies is an important example (something which I, as the pioneer batch of Guinea Pigs as my friends called ourselves, had to go through) that deserves careful mention. What other purpose does it serve other than to instill a more “positive” appreciation of our history, to be thankful for our success and to work harder for the future? The irony is that while it espoused critical thinking (through the evaluation of sources as well of cross-referencing of events), a clearly sanitised version of history was created with the aim of inculcating a sense of National pride.

“In the end, history us theory and theory is ideological and ideology is just material interests… knowledge is related to power… within social formations, those with the most power distribute and legitimize “knowledge” vis-a-vis interests as best as they can.”

This was said by Keith Jenkins. To those ardent anti-Jenkin believers out there, I’m quoting him simply because his arguments fits so accurately in the state of Singapore history. (If you do want to know, Jenkins’ postmodernist arguments was aggressively discredited due to his own inexperience in writing history as well as the fact that his singular view that all history is falsified and untrue did not recognise the idea of shared conventions in history, something that if you want to know more, go and study Historical theory or something..) Though I am a firm believer that history is not a hopeless cause, the current state of Singapore history is.

Where is the discourse?

[Also read my older entry about the lack of interest in the study of history in Singapore and the paradox in creating a more critical apporach if history acts as an extension to National Education.]

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3 Responses to The lack of historical discourse: Why?

  1. XenoBoy says:

    Hi Libertas,

    Responded kinda lengthily so figured I’ll just drop the link here.

    It is fearful when a student says “Sg history is boring” and prefers to study US history, Jp history or European Studies imho. hehe

    http://xenoboysg.blogspot.com/2005/10/folding-history-facts-and-time-abuse.html#comments

  2. XenoBoy says:

    Hi Libertas,

    Now see what your call for discourse threw up? Let me introduce Zyl, another cool dude. lolz

    http://www.yayapapayaz.com/ringisei/2005/09/20/past-tense/

  3. Libertas says:

    Hahahaha. Thanks XenoBoy! Zyl certainly brought up many salient points on the study of Singapore history worth pondering upon. Sometimes I just wonder whether MOE knows how much they have “mutilated” our history in wanting to provide a government-prescribed viewpoint. Sigh! 😀

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