Studying Singapore Before 1800

$45.00 SGD

by Kwa Chong Guan and Peter Borschberg
with the assistance of Benjamin Khoo

Historians rely on Singapore’s strategic position to explain its great success as a royal trading port in the 14th century, and as a British colony after 1819. What, then, accounts for the many centuries when it seemed not to thrive, and was seen in the words of John Crawfurd as “only the occasional resort of pirates”? This seeming paradox sits uneasily at the heart of Singapore historiography, and over time historians have suggested a variety of ways to resolve it.

This volume collects studies about Singapore before 1800, bringing together different efforts across the 20th century at reconstructing Singapore’s “missing years”. Some authors have found additional details by scouring ancient and early modern texts for references to Singapore, and by reading well-known classics such as the Sejarah Melayu against the grain. Others have built narratives that bridge pre- and post-1800 perspectives by positioning Singapore within long-term global history.

These efforts have yielded a much richer understanding of Singapore’s changing fortunes before 1800. The articles collected in this volume represent key milestones in this effort. Many are hard to locate, and two pieces are translated from Dutch to English for the first time. They are presented here with an introduction from historian Kwa Chong Guan.


"Kwa and Borschberg have been exploding the myth that Singapore began with Raffles. Now with this fine collection of essays, they not only open up all types of perspective on early Singapore but also show how exciting the writing of history can be."Anthony Milner, Australian National University

"The editors of this volume have done us a great service by bringing together the learned efforts to uncover Singapore’s early history. The authors of the papers had picked through every record, every story, and exhausted the documentary evidence to explain why the island did not become a success story after the 14th century. I commend Kwa Chong Guan’s masterly introduction that reviews how those who insisted on having Singapore’s history begin in 1819 had put earlier scholarship aside."-- Wang Gungwu, National University of Singapore

“The publication of this work could not have come at a better time. …the book is an important reminder of an older, deeper and longer history that has sometimes been forgotten…” -- Farish Noor, The Straits Times


Kwa Chong Guan is an adjunct associate professor in the Department of History at the National University of Singapore.

Peter Borschberg teaches history at the National University of Singapore. He is also a visiting professor in Modern History at the University of Greifswald.

Publication Year: 2018
600 pages, 254mm x 179mm 
15 colour images
48 b/w images
ISBN: 978-981-4722-74-2

NUS Press