The History of Singapore podcast

P.J. Thum Discussion

Dear all,

Members of this list may be interested in my podcast, "The History of Singapore". It's a year-long weekly podcast on the history of Singapore from founding by the British in 1819 to seperation from Malaysia in 1965. Along the way, it seeks to explore the central issue of identity in Malaya/Singapore. It was also picked up as a radio show in Malaysia, where it airs on BFM 89.9. I chose to do this podcast because of the heavy censorship in Singapore regarding our history. Narratives which disagree with the government are suppressed, and academics who do not toe the government line are harrassed, denied funding, or even lose our jobs. As such, I was looking for a popular medium that could also evade censorship by my government. It has become reasonably popular - around 3,000 downloads per episode on my channel and BFM's channel combined. The podcast is Patreon-supported, and has recently reached a level of support where I've been able to commit to a second season. A book of the podcast is also forthcoming.

I have just released Episode 28, "Christmas Pudding with Arsenic Sauce", which details the last six months of Chief Minister David Marshall's time in office (Jan-Jun 1956) and the failure of the 1956 Constitutional Talks in London between the Singapore and British representatives over Singapore's future constitutional status. It's part of a three part arc detailing David Marshall's premiership. Through examining Marshall's choices, I also explore the question of what it means to be a leader.

I welcome any comments and discussion. Thank you very much.

Best wishes,

PJ Thum
Project Southeast Asia
University of Oxford

3 Replies

Post Reply

PJ this is great. Thanks for sharing this. I would like to learn about the feedback you are getting from this project. Are you encouraging any interaction with an audience and are listeners finding you? What do they tell you?


Hi Robert,

Thank you for your interest. Yes, I'm getting lots of feedback. I created an email address -, a facebook page (, and a twitter feed (@historysg). At the end of each podcast, I also mention how to reach me. I regularly receive messages on all three, especially facebook.

As mentioned, the podcast is also Patreon supported (, and so I take particular care to interact with my Patreon supporters, who contribute between $1 and $15 each per podcast. I have a monthly online hangout, an irregular newsletter, and survey them for opinions. As a result of their feedback, for example, I started including a script with each podcast, for Patreon supporters only. I have also had a real-life meetup of Patreon supporters, after Christmas last year, where around 15 people showed up and I answered questions and chatted with people about their interests and what they'd like to see more of in the show.

Finally, every 12 episodes or so, I have a Q&A podcast, where I take questions. I had a lot of questions for my first Q&A podcast, but then only 2 for my second. But I don't think that reflects a declining interest - listenership numbers have held steady. I think it's because a lot of the obvious questions have been asked.

Listener feedback is always tricky: you often get conflicting comments. For every listener who asks me to simplify, I have another saying they want to hear more detail. Initially, people brought a lot of preconceptions and assumptions - for example, about Malay identity, which is heavily politicised today but had a rather different meaning in 1819. A lot of my early feedback was explaining terms and definitions. Overall, feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. People have told me how refreshing it is to hear a different perspective on Singapore history, and how they were learning new things with every episode. One student told me that he had always assumed Singapore history was incredibly boring, until he listened to my podcast. Others have told me they had had their eyes opened, usually when I point out that something that people consider "traditional" today is relatively new (eg the definition of race) or was formed by a hasty compromise legislation (eg the definition of marriage in Singapore). Finally, I have repeatedly stressed the multiplicity of perspectives that make up history, which many people appreciate. One listener told me he really enjoys how I both make a strong argument, but also never claim that my narrative is authoritative to the exclusion of other narratives.

I've sought to make historical parallels between historical events and contemporary issues, and to ask what lessons we can learn. This has led to some of my podcasts being featured in the online media in Singapore (which has more freedom than the print media, which is government-controlled) - on migrant labour, for example.

My feedback from my radio partner has also been very positive. It's not at a prime timeslot - Fridays at 3pm, when most people are at work - but the numbers are good for them too. They are eager to do more.

Amusingly, I was at a seminar last week and overheard a colleague speaking to one of his students. He was commenting on her essay and reminded her not to get all of her information from my podcast!

I think one change I will make for season 2 is to write and record further in advance. While recording the same week I broadcast has allowed me to respond to contemporary events, I have also found writing and recording a 30 minute podcast every week to be very exhausting. I started out four weeks ahead, but once term started, all the usual admin, teaching, etc. took up so much time that the four week buffer was quickly eaten up.

I feel I've learnt a lot from doing this and I'm happy to share. I think my most important advice to anyone who wants to do a podcast is to have a clear idea of what you want to achieve, and to find a very quiet place with no echoes to record. I once had to re-record an episode three times. The first time, there was construction noise outside my apartment. So I went to my office, only to find the echoes in the room were intolerable. So I went home again and waited till construction stopped, and re-recorded a third time!


This is great, I personally struggle with this type of engagement because I am still rather Luddite when it comes to social media. I think you have mapped out here some really great ideas of how to engage an audience and not only address their feedback but bring them into the podcast as content creators as such.