The Shortlist For the NUS Singapore History Prize

SINGAPORE – The stories of average Singaporeans are taking centre stage in the shortlist for the inaugural NUS Singapore History Prize. The prize was created in 2014 to mark SG50 and honours works that recast Singapore’s past through the perspectives of its citizens. It is awarded every three years to a book on the nation’s past written in either English or a Singapore official language.

The latest nominations include historical tome Seven Hundred Years of Singapore by historians Kwa Chong Guan, Tan Tai Yong, Peter Borschberg and Derek Heng; and memoirist Kamaladevi Aravindan’s novel Sembawang (2020, available here). These works forgo the traditional view of history as a record of big movers and shakers and instead look at the way events impacted average people in their day-to-day lives.

This year’s other shortlisted works are imperial animal history book Imperial Creatures by Timothy P. Barnard and graphic novelist Sonny Liew’s The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye, which won the Eisner Award, widely regarded as the Oscars of the comic world, last month. Liew’s work has sparked controversy in Singapore for featuring political figures like Lee Kuan Yew and the country’s first Prime Minister Lim Chin Siong as its main characters.

In addition to the NUS Singapore History Prize, a number of local publications have been nominated for other top literary awards. The National Museum of Singapore’s Leluhur: The Story of Kampong Gelam has been named as a finalist for the Asian Civilisations Prize while Professor Miksic’s book Singapore And The Silk Road Of The Sea, 1300-1800 has been nominated for the British Society for the History of Science’s Hughes Prize.

While the prizes celebrate academic and creative works that showcase the diverse facets of Singapore, their organisers also aim to connect their winners to potential partners and investors in Singapore and beyond. The winners will be invited to attend a business forum next month where they will meet with leading global companies and investment fund managers to discuss opportunities in the region.

The event is one of the flagship programmes of the Earthshot Prize, which is supported by the government’s Economic Development Board and National Research Foundation. It has attracted Nobel Laureates and leading thought leaders like Professor Stephen Hawking to the city-state and is now a four-day event with a host of activities that highlight the innovations of the finalists. The programme is expected to attract around 1,000 guests. It is a significant increase from last year’s two-day forum that saw 300 attendees. The organisers have attributed the rise to greater interest in the Earthshot Prize as well as the greater diversity of the finalists. The finalists represent various sectors, including biotech, energy and transportation. They are also from a variety of countries, including Australia, Germany, Japan, the United States and the Philippines. A total of 24 finalists were selected from over 300 submissions. The winner of the prize will be announced at the end of October. The other finalists will be announced in November.