Talk: A New Dating Method Using Magnetic Declination Extracted from Historical Sources

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Old Chinese world map on vintage burned paper background. Stock photo from Shutterstock / BaanTaksinStudio
Old Chinese world map on vintage burned paper background. Stock photo from Shutterstock / BaanTaksinStudio
Old Chinese world map on vintage burned paper background. Stock photo from Shutterstock / BaanTaksinStudio

Readers in Singapore may be interested in this talk at ISEAS next Wednesday.

A New Dating Method Using Magnetic Declination
Extracted from Historical Sources

Date : Wednesday, 17 April 2019Time : 10:00 am – 11:30 am
Venue : ISEAS Seminar Room 2
About the Lecture

The magnetic north pole is a moving point at the Northern Hemisphere and is crucial to maritime navigation. The information on the magnetic north has been found encoded in ancient travel notes, rutters (mariners’ notes), and nautical charts. As the position of magnetic north moves slowly from east to west and vice versa every few hundred years, it has provided scholars with useful data to date materials which contain compass bearings.
In this talk, the dates of the compass bearings which have been recorded in certain rutters and nautical charts are identified. The Southeast Asian location which ancient Chinese navigators visited most often is singled out and used as an example to show how this method works. The historical magnetic north information for this location is first compiled in chronological sequence.
To date a compass bearing recorded in historical material, the figure from these materials is compared with the compiled historical magnetic north information. The date of the nearest magnetic north figure on the list shows when the compass bearing was taken. This dating method can be used for maps, rutters, text records, and archaeological sites or structures which were oriented to particular compass bearings. This dating method becomes useful when other dating methods, such as carbon-14, are not applicable.

About the Speaker

Dr Tai Yew Seng is Visiting Fellow at NSC. He is an archaeologist and specialises in excavating and handling ceramic from kiln sites, shipwrecks, ruins and tombs, as well as Southeast Asian maritime trade with China. His current project is on Chinese navigation charts and texts. He was a Research Fellow at the Earth Observatory of Singapore, Nanyang Technological University (NTU), and was involved in the Aceh Geohazard Project which collected and analysed over 52,000 pieces of ancient ceramics sherds. He has taught courses on Chinese culture and lectured on material
culture at the Chinese Department at NTU and the National University of Singapore. He has authored a number of papers and book chapters on ceramic archaeology and maritime trade in English and Chinese.

To register, please write to nscevents@iseas.edu.sg

How Not to Decolonize Your Museum

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Thomas Stamford Raffles. Source: Asian Civilisations Museum
Thomas Stamford Raffles. Source: Asian Civilisations Museum
Thomas Stamford Raffles. Source: Asian Civilisations Museum

via Hyperallergic, 26 Mar 2019: A critical piece about the Raffles exhibition at the Asian Civilisations Museum (see other reviews here and here), but the headline is unfair – it suggests that the exhibition sets out to ‘decolonize’ the museum (for whatever that means) in the first place.

Three large billboards loom beside the gates of Singapore’s Raffles Place metro station, advertising the Asian Civilisations Museum’s latest special exhibition, Raffles in Southeast Asia: Revisiting the Scholar and Statesman. The billboards feature several taglines about the metro station’s namesake: “Plagiarist or pioneer? Leader or liar? Scholar or scoundrel?” The tone here is barbed, suggestive, inviting us to reconsider our understanding of Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles (1781–1826), a British colonial administrator now branded in history textbooks as the founder of Singapore and a national hero: a figure whose legacy includes an international healthcare conglomerate, the state’s most prestigious high school, and, yes, a subway station. While the museum’s marketing team deserves kudos for getting the ball rolling in a long overdue public reconsideration of Raffles’ legacy, the exhibition unfortunately turns out to be entirely different from what is promised, lacking the bite and verve of its advertising campaign.

Source: How Not to Decolonize Your Museum

Talk: The Inception of Lion City

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Merlion of Singapore. Stock photos from Shutterstock / AAR Studio
Merlion of Singapore. Stock photos from Shutterstock / AAR Studio
Merlion of Singapore. Stock photos from Shutterstock / AAR Studio

Readers in Singapore may be interested in this talk at ISEAS on Wednesday.

The Inception of Lion City

Date : Wednesday, 3 April 2019Time : 10:00 am – 11:30 amVenue : ISEAS Seminar Room 2
About the Lecture

In recent decades, outstanding progress has been made in understanding Singapore’s past, but many questions remain about its thirteenth-century founders, the so-called Tribuanic dynasty. This lecture examines the meaning and scope of the place names Temasek, Singapura and Melaka in connection with the dynasty’s Indo-Malay roots. The name Temasek is related to trading in tin, which was a distinctive part of the region’s economy. As for the “lion” of Singapura, it is shown to be both synonymous with the royal line and connected to the putative founder of the dynasty. The story of the sighting of a lion-like animal at the founding of Singapura draws on the old trope of the superior defender, which is repeated at the founding of Melaka and gives clues as to the real meaning of the city’s name. This fresh look at the ‘century of Singapura’ brings in previously overlooked visual and textual evidence from the period.
About the Speaker

Dr Iain Sinclair is a Visiting Fellow at the Nalanda-Sriwijaya Centre. He studies the history and art of South and Southeast Asia using sources in classical languages. His research at the Centre explores exchanges taking place between the Malay Archipelago and the Indo-Himalayan region throughout the tenth to fourteenth centuries. His PhD dissertation (Monash University, 2016) examined the late period of South Asian and Nepalese Buddhism. He has published work on iconography, portraiture, ritual, inscriptions, and manuscripts.

To register, please write to nscevents@iseas.edu.sg

Asia, Art and the Transcultural: SOAS Voices

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Masterclass organised by SOAS and the Asian Civlisations Museum on 13 and 14 April 2019. Registration fee applicable.

Asia, Art and the Transcultural

SOAS University of London, in partnership with the Asian Civilisations Museum, is pleased to announce this series of public masterclasses on transcultural issues in the arts of Asia, on 13th and 14th April, 2019.

The SOAS-ACM Masterclasses Series will provide perspectives and insights on key intersections in the historical transmission of arts, styles, cultures and religions between the cultural and political centres of Southeast Asia, India and China. The eight academics, from SOAS’s School of Arts and School of History, Religions and Philosophies, will lead this unique public event, exploring transformative patterns of engagement and understanding.

The Masterclasses Series, which will be of special interest to anyone with a passion for art history, museology, archaeology and history, takes place in the Asian Civilisations Museum, one of the world’s leading centres for knowledge exchange on Asian cultures and heritage, located in one of the world’s most transcultural cities.

Source: Asia, Art and the Transcultural: SOAS Voices Tickets, Multiple Dates | Eventbrite

Revisiting Raffles exhibition reveals what an ignoramus Raffles really was

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The guardian Mahakala as depicted in The History of Java, and in actuality. Source: SG Magazine, 20190207
The guardian Mahakala as depicted in The History of Java, and in actuality. Source: SG Magazine, 20190207

via SG Magazine, 07 Feb 2019: A review of the Raffles in Southeast Asia exhibition currently at the Asian Civilisations Museum in Singapore until 28 April. You can check out my review here.

Curated in collaboration with the British Museum in London, the exhibition consists mostly of Javanese and Sumatran objects Raffles personally collected, employing him as a frame to explore the encounter between the British, Dutch, Javanese, and Malay peoples here in the Malay Archipelago. It grounds notions of the colonial ruler as a collector of natural history and culture from Southeast Asia, before subverting them with new possibilities—that he was exploitative, wrongfully pompous; even a plagiariser.

Source: Revisiting Raffles exhibition reveals what an ignoramus Raffles really was | SG Magazine Online

[Talk] The Mysterious Malay Jong and Other Temasek Shipping

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Reconstruction of a Javanese Jong

For readers in Singapore, a talk by Dr Michael Flecker in ISEAS on Friday.

Date: Friday, 15 February 2019
Time : 10:00 am – 11:30 am
Venue : ISEAS Seminar Room 2

About the Lecture

Apart from the European square riggers, the eclectic mix of vessels anchored off Kallang Basin during Raffles’ era would not have differed much from the shipping of five centuries earlier. Chinese junks and Southeast Asian traders would have swung alongside a smattering of Arab and Indian dhows in Temasek roads. During the 14th century the Southeast Asians were transitioning from the thousand-year-old lashed-lug tradition to the fabled jong that would fascinate the Portuguese upon their arrival. Sino-Siamese hybrid ships arrived with Siamese ceramics when various Ming emperors banned Chinese exports. While the numbers were slashed, smuggling ensured that junks from northern and southern China kept on sailing. Drawing on archaeological and historical evidence, we investigate the wide range of ships that plied Singapore waters from the 14th to the 17th century.


About the Speaker

Dr Michael Flecker, Managing Director of Maritime Explorations, has overseen some of the most important shipwreck excavations in Asia over the past 30 years. They include the 9th century Belitung (Tang), 13th century Java Sea, 15th century Bakau, c.1608 Binh Thuan, and c.1690 Vung Tau Wrecks. He earned his PhD from the National University of Singapore, based on the excavation of the 10th century Intan Wreck, and specialises in ancient Asian ship construction and maritime trade. He has twice been a Visiting Fellow at NSC.

Raffles in Southeast Asia: A multilayered exploration of the man, colonialism and re-looking our past

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Last week while I was back in Singapore I took the opportunity to visit the Raffles in Southeast Asia exhibition at the Asian Civilisations Museum. The exhibition coincided with Singapore’s bicentennial celebrations, a “celebration” that has been met with mixed reception because it commemorates the arrival of Raffles to Singapore, and hence the colonial period of Singapore.

The arrival of Raffles has traditionally been the start of beginning of the history of Singapore. This view has softened somewhat, due in no small part to Prof. John Miksic’s work on the archaeology of Singapore. With the discoveries at Fort Canning, school history books now acknowledge the Temasek period. Still, the idea of Raffles as founder of modern Singapore carries an air of preeminence and prestige, and some of the country’s top schools and institutions bear the name of Raffles.

The bicentennary, Raffles, the discourse of (de)colonisation and rejection of the ‘Big Man’ myth of Raffles all come together in this one exhibition. On one level, Singaporeans only learned about the Raffles who came to Singapore in 1819 but never knew the Raffles who was Governor of Java and his role in the rediscovery of Borobudur. Raffles never actually went to the now-Unesco world heritage site, but he commissioned the survey and is now credited for its discovery. This unearned claim to fame would be a recurrent theme in his career.

Plan of Borobudur, donated by to the British Museum by the great-grand-niece of Raffles but probably prepared by Hermann Cornelius, the Dutch engineer sent by Raffles to uncover the stupa.

The exhibition, through the lens of Raffles’ seminal History of Java and the items collected by Raffles and his contemporaries show a bias towards ancient Hindu relics but pay little attention to Muslim culture.

A collection of rare three-dimensional puppets which were owned by Raffles but not mentioned in The History of Java.
Painting of Candi Sukuh in East Java by T. C. Watson, during the time Raffles was Governor of Java. The Europeans at the time did not believe that the native Javanese were capable of building structures like these, and thought they might be related to the Egyptian civilization which is reflected in the painting.

Some of Raffles’ personal flaws also come through, now with 200 years of hindsight and other historical sources to draw upon. This story of the tapir publication is quite telling about Raffles’s conflict with his second, William Farquhar. Farquhar arguably should be credited as the actual founder of the Singapore settlement (having done the actual legwork) but even the named after him was erased in the 1990s, a victim of Singapore’s urban redevelopment. William Farquhar’s legacy was more recently redeemed in Nadia Wright’s book, William Farquhar and Singapore: Stepping out from Raffles’ Shadow

Juvenile Malayan tapir from the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum, National University of Singapore
I love this caption basically says Raffles was a dick.

Raffles in Southeast Asia was enjoyable in many layers. For many Singaporeans, it was an eye-opener to the influence of Raffles on the rest of the region and not just the country he ‘founded’. The exhibition can also be seen as a critique to the legacy of colonialism, and how its perspective was selective in many ways.

Raffles in Southeast Asia is on display at the Asian Civilisations Museum until 28 April 2019. Admission fees apply.

Visitor numbers for museums, heritage centres hit record high in Singapore

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National Museum of Singapore by saiko3p/Shutterstock
National Museum of Singapore by saiko3p/Shutterstock
Stock photo of the National Museum of Singapore by saiko3p/Shutterstock

via Straits Times, 31 January 2019: 5.4 million visitors to national museums and heritage institutions in Singapore in 2018!

Museums and heritage institutions in Singapore are gaining popularity, with visitor numbers hitting a record high in 2017, according to data from the 2018 Singapore Cultural Statistics released yesterday.

Visitor numbers to national museums and heritage institutions reached 5.4 million in 2017, up from 5.1 million the year before.

This was in tandem with the record-high attendance of 11.3 million at free arts and cultural events, a figure released earlier, on Jan 22, by the Ministry for Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY).

Source: Visitor numbers for museums, heritage centres hit record high, Arts News & Top Stories – The Straits Times

In search of the real Singapore stories, beyond Raffles

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Excavations at Fort Canning. Source: Channel NewsAsia 20190203
Excavations at Fort Canning. Source: Channel NewsAsia 20190203

via Channel NewsAsia, 03 Feb 2019: Singapore celebrates its bicentenary this year which has been met with mixed reactions as critics say it is a celebration of colonialism. However, one good thing that has come out of this is an enhanced discussion of Singapore past, e.g. its precolonial period. This article from Channel NewsAsia mentions Prof. John Miksic’s work in Fort Canning Hill, among other stories.

One man who has spent three decades hunting for clues to Singapore’s secrets has found them hidden on a hillside. Bukit Larangan (Forbidden Hill) – now known as Fort Canning – was once revered as the final resting place of Malay kings.

It is where Professor John N Miksic and his team started excavating in 1984, when “there’d never been an (archaeological) dig anywhere in Singapore”. They discovered 14th-century artefacts and a wealth of evidence of a flourishing society.

Source: In search of the real Singapore stories, beyond Raffles – Channel NewsAsia

[Video] Becoming Singapore

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Becoming Singapore on Channel NewsAsia

Singapore is celebrating its bicentenary this year, and this documentary by Channel NewsAsia explores aspects of Singapore’s past, including archaeology. Link to the video below.

Eunice Olsen explores Singapore’s – and her own – forgotten past. Tracing back hundreds of years, this is an insightful and emotional journey into the faded histories of our ancestors.

Over two episodes, the series takes us on an evocative journey through Singapore’s landscapes to meet a variety of people with rich and diverse stories to tell. The series reflects that there’s not just one singular Singapore narrative, but a meeting of many tales.

We explore bustling streets, excavation sites, mangrove swamps and lush green parks, galleries and museums teeming with national treasures, in search of fading stories that reveal where we came from and just how far we’ve come. Eunice takes a bold step into understanding her own roots – and discovers far more than she ever expected. How does her own personal family history mirror that of Singapore’s story?

Read more at https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/video-on-demand/becoming-singapore/episode-1-11098652

Source: Becoming Singapore – Channel NewsAsia