archives, but could be proactive in creating and sourcing for 'new' categories
of information. Historians can create their own records through oral history
interviews. For instance, C. C. Chin and Karl Hack have edited the transcripts of
an oral history interview sessions with MCP Secretary-General Chin Peng, which
provides new insights and evidence about a communist party whose records, if
they exist, will almost certainly never be opened.50 The historian can therefore
influence the character and direction of Singapore historiography by the mere act
of supporting certain categories of sources above others, as an older generation
of University of Malaya/University of Singapore historians did, or by questioning
the purpose and workings of the archives' role in advancing or denying particular
historical narratives as many of the contributors to the volume Makers and
Keepers of History attempts.
Following Ann Stoler,51 historians can also challenge the archival records
by deciding how they could be read. James Warren's work on the Coroner's
records is an outstanding example of reading records 'against the grain' for
a reconstruction of the social conditions of rickshaw pullers and sex workers
in a colonial society.52 The historian today moreover need not be constrained
by what a national archives continues to keep closed, for in an increasingly
interconnected globalised world, the records that one archive keeps closed may
have been circulated widely when they were created and perhaps opened by
other archives which received copies of these records. Thus Albert Lau and Tan
Tai Yong wrote their contemporary histories of the formation of Malaysia and
Singapore's separation on the basis of records or copies of records in the Public
Records Office or the Australian National Archives in the absence of records from
the National Archives of Singapore.53 More recently, Edwin Lee wrote a history
of nation-building in Singapore largely on the basis of newspaper reports and
secondary studies with scant reference to the archival records.54
Seen from this perspective, archivists and historians cannot afford to be unaware
of the other's priorities and needs. The archivist can disclaim any responsibility
for how the historian interprets the documents in his charge; but the past the
historian reconstructs is in large part shaped by the documents the archivist
assessed worth preserving. The historian needs to be more acutely aware of the
genealogy of the records he is working on, especially how and why they came to
be in the archives and opened to him or her.
The archive, this essay contends, is more than a repository of documents as
historical and legal evidence of what happened in the past. The stereotype
image envisioned by Sir Hilary Jenkinson of the archives as the passive and
neutral keeper of the records of government as evidence of its transactions
and accountability is today being undermined at its conceptual foundations.
What are the records archives keep intended to be evidence of? To say that they
are evidence of the transactions and accounts of those transactions begs the
question of who decided that those and not some other transaction are worth
KWA CHONG GUAN AND HO CHI TIM ARCHIVES IN THE MAKING OF POST-COLONIAL SINGAPORE
51 Stoler, Along the archival grain, or her 'Colonial archives and the arts of governance'.
52 Warren, Rickshaw Coolie,and Warren, Ah Ku and Karayuki-San.
53 Lau, A moment of anguish; Tan Tai Yong, Creating 'Greater Malaysia'.
54 Lee, Singapore: The Unexpected Nation.