Meeting of the Worlds: Reframing Singapore’s Early History with ‘An Old New World’

Mr  Daniel Tham2

2National Museum of Singapore, Singapore, Singapore

With “An Old New World: From the East Indies to the Founding of Singapore, 1600s–1819,” an exhibition held in conjunction with Singapore’s Bicentennial, the National Museum of Singapore situated Singapore’s founding as a British East India Company settlement in 1819 in a longer historical narrative and broader geographical context. The epistemological, and in turn curatorial, approach involved framing this history in terms of the “worlds” and “worldviews” represented. This is highlighted in the exhibition’s title, which contrasts the largely European perspective of the East Indies being a “new world” to be discovered and exploited, with a local perspective of the region being an “old world” that had already been thriving culturally and economically for centuries. This paper examines how the exhibition’s framing of Singapore’s history and historiography in terms of the “meeting of the worlds” allows for pertinent questions of knowledge and power to be surfaced and negotiated.


Daniel Tham is Curatorial Lead at National Museum Singapore. Specialising in paintings, prints and photography, his exhibitions at the museum include “A Changed World: Singapore Art 1950s–1970s.” He was centrally involved in the revamp of the Singapore History Gallery in 2015, and is curator of “An Old New World.”


The Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) is the peak body of university experts and educators on Asia in Australia. Established in 1976, we promote and support the study of Asia in Australian universities and knowledge of Asia among the broader community. Our membership is drawn mainly from academics and students, but also includes industry and government Asia experts. We take a strong interest in promoting knowledge about Asia in schools and in contributing to state and Commonwealth government policies related to Asia. We provide informed comment on Asia to a broad public through our bulletin, Asian Currents, and specialist research articles in our journal, Asian Studies Review. Four book series published under our auspices cover Southeast Asia, South Asia, East Asia and Women in Asia.

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