Studying Singapore's Past: C.M. Turnbull and the History of Modern Singapore

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Edited by Nicholas Tarling, Introduction by Nicholas Tarling, Contributions by Ping Tjin Thum, Karl Hack, Kevin Blackburn, John Bastin, Anthony Milner, Kelvin W.K. Ng, A.J. Stockwell, Lim and Nicholas Tarling

C.M. (Mary) Turnbull's contributions to historical writing on Singapore extended from her 1962 thesis, published in 1972 as "The Straits Settlements, 1826-1867: Indian Presidency to Crown Colony", to her magisterial history of Singapore, first published in 1977 and re-issued in 2009 in an updated edition as A History of Singapore, 1819-2005. Her approach to history involved detailed work with documents and published materials, with a particular focus on political and economic history. One contributor to the present volume described the book as an "exercise in endowing a modern 'nation-state' with a coherent past that should explain the present."

As styles in history evolved, younger scholars including some of her former students and colleagues began exploring new approaches to historical research that drew on non-English-language souce material and asked fresh questions of the sources. Mary enjoyed controversy and expected debate, and had a deep interest in these accounts, which were in many ways a natural progression from her own publications even when they raised questions about her interpretations and conclusions.

Studying Singapore's Past had its origins in a conference organised to discuss her work. The volume includes ten contributions, some from long-established scholars of Singapore's history, others from a new generation of researchers. Their work offers an evaluation of established understandings of Singapore's history, and gives an indication of new directions that researchers are exploring. In publishing the book, the editor not only pays tribute to a distinguished historian but also seeks to make a contribution to the historiography of Singapore and to ongoing debates about Singapore's past.


"The volume concludes with a comprehensive bibliography of Turnbull's work, a resource sure to send many of us scurrying to the library."- Michael Montesano


Nicholas Tarling (1931–2017) was Professor of History at the University of Auckland 1968-97 and has since been a Fellow of its New Zealand Asia Institute. He held the Cambridge LittD degree. He was editor of The Cambridge History of Southeast Asia and has published many other books and articles in that field and others. His most recent books include Britain and Sihanouk's CambodiaBritain and the Neutralisation of LaosBritain, Southeast Asia and the Impact of the Korean War, and The British and the Vietnam War: Their Way with LBJ.

Publication Year: 2012
272 pages, 229mm x 153mm
ISBN: 978-9971-69-646-7, Paperback

NUS Press