by Loh Kah Seng, Alex Tan Tiong Hee, Koh Keng We, Tan Teng Phee, Juria Toramae
Published by: Pagesetters Services
Preorders will be closed on 30 September and mailed out towards the end of October.
Most of the old factories are long gone and many workers have retired. Combining history, memory and heritage, Theatres of Memory: Industrial Heritage of 20th Century Singapore takes a stroll through Singapore’s industrial past. From Jurong to Redhill and Kallang, the book uncovers the many hands that enabled the island’s transformation from a colonial entrepôt to an industrial nation.
Along the way, we will meet the pioneers of industry—government officials and production workers, men and women, Singaporeans and foreigners. We will hear laughter on the assembly line, descend into the quiet dark of the night shift, and relive the products once made in Singapore, from Rollei cameras and Acma refrigerators to carbonated soft drinks and Bata shoes.
About the Authors
Loh Kah Seng is a historian of Singapore and Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Western Australia. He is the author of several books, including Squatters into Citizens: The 1961 Bukit Ho Swee Fire and the Making of Modern Singapore (2013, shortlisted for the 2015 EuroSEAS Humanities Book Prize and 2018 Singapore History Book Prize), and Tuberculosis—The Singapore Experience, 1867-2018: Disease, Society and the State (co-authored with Dr Hsu Li Yang, 2020). He is interested in the varied histories and heritages of Singapore—housing, industrial, medical and culinary.
Alex Tan Tiong Hee graduated with a law degree and is a Trustee of the Settlement of Dr Lim Boon Keng (1921). He has a tremendous interest in history and heritage. He served as Honorary Secretary of Goh Loo Club, founded in 1905 as a meeting place for Chinese businessmen and community leaders. He also served as Council Member of The China Society and Honorary Secretary of the Singapore Heritage Society. He contributed to the book, World War II @ Bukit Brown by Claire Leow and Catherine Lim (eds.) (Ethos Books, 2016).
Koh Keng We is a historian and Assistant Professor at the Nanyang Technological University. He is the editor of Singapore’s Social & Business History: Through Paper Ephemera in the Koh Seow Chuan Collection (National Library Board, 2017). Tan Teng Phee is a historian and Chief Researcher at the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry. He is the author of Behind Barbed Wire: A Social History of Chinese New Villages in Malaya (1948- 1960), published in 2020.
Juria Toramae is a visual artist with a research-based practice. Working in the intersections of photography, cartography, installation and 310 moving image, she is interested in making visible histories and ecologies that would otherwise go unnoticed. Her work has been presented at international festivals and venues including the Singapore Art Museum, the Benaki Museum (Greece), the Chiang Mai University Art Centre (Thailand) and The Substation (Singapore).
Ly Nguyen is an urban planner based in Singapore. She graduated from Yale-NUS College where she majored in Urban Studies and gained an in-depth understanding of the city and its goods and evils. Her study and personal interest converge in the field of urban history, and specifically this book, which elucidates a crucial but less talked about aspect of Singapore’s development narrative.
“As an economics researcher who wandered around Singapore’s factories in the 1970s and 1980s, interviewing managers about their investment decisions and operations, it was a nostalgic delight to revisit in this book those times, places, enterprises and brand names.
The book vividly brings to life and gives voice and salience to the work and life experiences of that generation of Singapore’s industrial workers, who contributed so much to, and benefited from, our economic development. It documents, from a grounds-up perspective, with many photographic illustrations and original personal quotes, how mass manufacturing rapidly took hold, transforming the physical and social face of the island and with it, individual skills, lives, families, lifestyles and aspirations.
This imaginative and warm-hearted work rightfully puts workers, including easily-forgotten foreign workers, at the centre of our modern economic history. It deserves to become a classic.”
—Linda Lim, Professor Emerita of Corporate Strategy and International Business, University of Michigan
“An important intervention into the field of Southeast Asian history, Theatres of Memory retraces the past along the archival grain by weaving together the recollections and narratives of both officials and ordinary people who shaped one of the most dramatic and crucial periods of Singapore’s development. Powerful and often poignant, Loh et al. offer an epistemic challenge in this tapestry of stories about the city-state’s past.”
—Dr Ernest Koh, Head, Global Studies, University of Canberra
“Can seemingly non-descript shipyards and flatted factories constitute ‘industrial heritage’? This book makes a convincing case that they do, turning the history of Singapore’s first major industrialisation drive into a fascinating and colourful narrative, backed by many rare photographs. What is outstanding in this book is its attention to the less known actors who made industrialisation possible—managers, engineers, technicians, clerks, production workers, suppliers, small entrepreneurs.
This is a compelling book that expands the notion of heritage to include industry and work. Singapore’s industrialisation had many ‘firsts’, and the book captures many key moments in national, family and personal history. It reads like a story, with the theatres of memory triggering the reader’s own memories of work and life. The book is also socially relevant. Many contemporary labour issues, such as foreign-local collaborations and tensions, salaries, safety, work cultures, foreign labour policy and heavy reliance on cheap migrant labour, have their precedents in the earlier period.”
—Lai Ah Eng, Adjunct Senior Fellow University Scholars Programme, National University of Singapore
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Publisher: Pagesetters Services Pte Ltd
ISBN: 978-981-18-1516-4 (paperback)
Published: October 2021
Dimension: 215mm x 150mm