Member book - Singapore: A Modern History - Barr

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My new history of Singapore has been published just in time for the bicentenary of Raffles' landing and the supposed foundation of Singapore.

Michael D. Barr, Singapore: A Modern History, London and NY: I.B. Tauris, 2019. pp. 257+xxxv. ISBN 978-1-78076-305-7

This is a revisionist history that challenges the orthodoxies of the official ‘Singapore Story’ in which Singapore’s success and its history are bookended by two ‘Great Men’, its British ‘founder’, Sir Stamford Raffles and its first prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew. Orthodox histories point to the Sir Stamford Raffles’s landing in Singapore River in 1819 as the beginning of modern Singapore. I offer a radically new periodisation in which 1819 was a punctuation mark in Singapore’s history, not a headline. Singapore as a town was already in place when Raffles arrived and then it did not become British property until the Treaty of London was signed in 1824. In contrast to all previous histories, I date the beginning of the development of ‘modern Singapore’ at around 1867 rather than 1819, with the period 1867 before that being an unbroken pre-modern history.

This is a national history that looks beyond the political and territorial boundaries that happen to mark the sovereign territory of Singapore at the moment. It places the contemporary reality in the context of earlier periods when Singapore was variously part of Malaya and a series of indigenous Asian empires. It pays special attention to the second half of the 19th century, when Singapore and the predecessor of the Malaysian state of Johor were effectively two wings of the same economy. The book follows a unique thematic structure in which the economic, social, geographic, and political history of modern Singapore are each considered in the context of colonial and precolonial history. It contains 11 original maps and 25 pictures, as you would expect of a book that mixes a regional maritime focus with social and economic history.

Table of Contents

    Foreword by Carl A. Trocki
1. Let’s Talk About 1819: Reorienting the National Narrative
2. The Idea of Singapore
3. Singapore Central: The Role of Location in Singapore’s History
4. Governance in Premodern Singapore
5. Governance in Modern Singapore, 1867–1965
6. Governance in Independent Singapore
7. The Economy: Singapore, Still at the Centre
8. Making Modern Singaporeans: People, Society and Place

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