The Shortlist For the NUS Prize for Singaporean History

SINGAPORE—The stories of ordinary Singaporeans have a strong presence on this year’s shortlist for the National University of Singapore’s (NUS) history prize. This year, the organizers have broadened the definition of “history” to include nonfiction works with a focus on personal stories about the country’s past. The book that wins the $50,000 Singapore prize will be deemed to have made a lasting impact on public understanding of Singapore’s heritage, and can be by authors from any nationality.

The prize was established in 2014 after an anonymous donor donated an endowment fund to support it. The first winner was archaeologist John Miksic for his book, Singapore and the Silk Road of the Sea, 1300-1800. In the book, he sought to debunk myths and preconceptions about the country’s history. He found traces of human activity in the region dating back to the 13th century, and he used these clues to construct a new picture of Singapore’s place in Asia.

Miksic’s win prompted NUS historian and prize founder Prof Kian Seng Mahbubani to quip that his column calling for wealthy Singaporeans to donate cash for a history book prize had been a great success. It led to an offer from a newly arrived citizen who wanted to remain anonymous, and the NUS prize for Singapore history was born.

This year’s NUS prize jury includes three professors from the Department of History, as well as a prominent Singaporean academic and a museum curator. The shortlist is also dotted with books with more of a political slant, such as Sembawang by Jeremy Tiang (2019, available here), which follows his extended family through the leftist political movements in Malaysia and Singapore in the 1950s. There’s also Home Is Where We Are by Hidayah Amin, which explores the rich history of a Kampong Gelam neighborhood.

The winning project will be showcased at the 2023 WAFX trade show in Shanghai, where it will receive a bespoke exhibition booth and free admission for up to four members of its design team. The panel of judges will be looking for projects that have a clear connection between form and function, and a positive impact on the city’s overall quality of life.

The prize winner will also be given the opportunity to attend a summit hosted by the Singapore government and the United Nations Environment Programme to discuss solutions for the global illegal wildlife trade. Britain’s Prince William, who is visiting Singapore for the awards, will also take part in a morning of dragon boating on Monday, paddling with athletes from the British Dragons club on the Kallang River. He’ll then meet Singaporeans who are involved in community and environmental initiatives.