Old is gold at the National Archives of Singapore | The A List
An 1828 census of the population of Singapore from the Straits Settlements Records, on display at the On Paper: Singapore Before 1867 exhibition, at the National Library building. (Photo: National Archives of Singapore)

Old is gold at the National Archives of Singapore | The A List

Dusty towering shelves. Relics locked in glass cases. These images might come to one’s mind at the mention of “archives,” but they do not apply to our national trove of records.

At the National Archives of Singapore (NAS), materials of national significance are carefully preserved for posterity and they span everything from maps and building plans to audio-visual recordings, oral history interviews and photographs. The Straits Settlements Records, for example, is a vast collection dating from 1800 onwards, that documents the history of the British administration of Singapore, Melaka and Penang.

The appeal of old records is not lost on historians and vintage-hunters, but in this age of decluttering and minimalism, are archives still relevant to the man in the street?

christabel archivist

Assistant archivist Christabel Khoo (above), who is with the records management department at NAS, says: “Collectively, they provide a rare glimpse into the past as they allow us to trace the development of communities over time and capture the memories and experiences of those who lived then.”

The ability to travel back in time through archival material, however, is not limited to archivists or a select handful. The exhibition, On Paper: Singapore Before 1867, which comprises records from the collections of the National Library, National Archives of Singapore and overseas institutions, for example, has on show at the National Library more than 150 paper-based artefacts that tell the story of Singapore’s early history.

There is also the Citizen Archivist Project, which invites the public to transcribe records into text form. Since the start of the Project in March 2015, more than 33,000 pages of the Straits Settlements Records have been transcribed through crowdsourcing efforts by dedicated citizen archivists.

The public can also search and discover many records such as images, posters and audio-visual materials via the Archives Online catalogue, and request for copies of the records. Some gems in the catalogue include a collection of sound recordings made in Singapore in 1903, as well as oral interviews with pioneer artist Georgette Chen and jazz musician Jeremy Monteiro.

archivist fiona

Archivist Fiona Tan (above), with the Archives Reading Room at the NAS, says: “By making these materials available for the public to access, we hope to inspire new and exciting works of art and spark more interest in Singapore’s past.”

“It takes time to dig into the archives, but it is always satisfying to see that twinkle in people’s eyes, when they start to discover things that are of interest or relevance to them.”

Details about the exhibition, On Paper: Singapore Before 1867, here.

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