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Southeast Asian Studies, Vol.

, No. , June

Records and Voices of Social History: The Case of the Great Depression in Singapore

LD= Kah Seng

Abstract This paper discusses the roles of written and oral records in the writing of the social history of Singapore. It takes the case of the early s Great Depression, which has hitherto been treated as a subject of economic history, written from the colonial records. This paper examines how using in conjunction colonial, newspaper, coroner, biographical, and oral records provides a window into the social history of the slump, enabling fresh perspectives into how people were affected by the crisis and how they sought to negotiate it. While a global economic slump might be thought to have severe effects on the residents of a colonial city reliant on entrepot trade, evidence drawn from the wider range of sources suggests that the slump’s impact was not uniformly harsh and that people in Singapore were not hapless victims. Many of them actively negotiated the Depression’s worst effects, utilising family and kinship ties which had developed among the island’s migrant communities. Keywords: Singapore history, Great Depression, social history, oral records, coroner’s records

The writing of social history in Singapore has undergone considerable development in recent years. Much published social history between the popular history. s and the present was influenced by the politics of nation-building and belonged to the realm of public and Such works, which tended to focus on the island-state’s migrant communities, their customs and associations, and the places where they stayed, were conceived typically in ethnic and subethnic terms and framed within the matrix of the multiracialism ethos of the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) government [see Archives and Oral History Department ; Siddique and Shotam-Go ; Tang ]. While fleshing out the lives of ordinary people vividly in photographs and oral history interviews, these...


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