The Singapore Prize is an award given to a book that has made a lasting impact on the understanding of Singapore’s history. It was introduced by NUS in 2014 to mark the 50th anniversary of the country’s independence and will be given out triennially.
The inaugural prize was awarded to archaeologist John Miksic for his 491-page tome Singapore and the Silk Road of the Sea, 1300-1800 which revealed that Singapore was a bustling trading port in the 1300s.
In the book, Prof Miksic traces the origins of Singapore back to the Yuan Dynasty and unearthed evidence that there was a settlement here more than 700 years ago. His discoveries include glass shards, bronze bowls, coins and pottery that were found in archaeological digs over two decades.
According to Prof Wang Gungwu, who heads a four-man panel that picked the winner, Professor Miksic’s book laid “the foundations for a fundamental reinterpretation of the history of Singapore and its place in the larger Asian context”. He said that while the discovery of the first ancient community in Singapore has been on people’s minds since Sir Stamford Raffles set foot on the island in 1819, “there were bits of historical information from literary records that suggested Singapore’s existence before then.”
His findings confirmed a long-held belief that there had been an ancient trading community in Singapore as early as the Yuan Dynasty. He also uncovered evidence of a Chinese trader from the 13th century who mentioned names such as Temasek and Longyamen.
He was able to confirm this by digging up artefacts from the time period that proved Singapore was a major trading hub in Southeast Asia. He said the findings were “shocking” and have given rise to a new way of looking at Singapore’s history.
The book has also been a catalyst for further research by other historians into the earliest days of Singapore and its connection to other parts of Asia. It will help researchers to better understand the development of Southeast Asian societies and economies, he added.
In addition, it is hoped that the prize will encourage local scholars to explore the roots of Singapore’s rich and diverse cultural heritage. It will be administered by NUS’ Department of History, which is responsible for promoting and encouraging the study of Singapore’s history.
During the ceremony, NUS also announced that the 2021 Singapore History Prize will be awarded to Ms Hidayah Amin for her work Leluhur: Singapore’s Kampong Gelam. She will receive S$50,000.
Her award will be the first for an individual author and the prize is one of the most prestigious in Singapore, along with the Singapura Prize. The prize is given out in three categories – fiction, poetry and creative non-fiction – and is open to writers who are Singapore citizens or permanent residents.
The Singapore Literature Prize is the country’s premier award for books published in English, Chinese, Malay or Tamil. The biennial competition is open to writers who are Singapore citizens or resident, and their works must be published in Singapore or overseas.