The Phasing-Out Of Venice In The Social Studies Curriculum: No More Lessons To Be Learnt?, pp. 2 of 16

Current lessons drawn from history are posited from an interventionist and Cartesian perspective of history; which also incidentally drew more from the similarities rather than differences between the two cities. From the textbook, the lesson which link to the economy is: Venice and its people need to take advantage of opportunities and be highly innovative. The associated decline is pegged to the fact that Venetians were not able to operate new (ship) technologies effectively as well as not having more open trade laws. Taking a non-Cartesian and longer time perspective of the same issues can yield a different set of learnings. If the topic of Venice was meant to “integrate the other topics and themes [covered in the Social Studies curriculum]”, a closer nexus and reference can be made between it and for instance, the chapter on economics, environment, and globalisation in the textbook. Benefits and problems of globalisation involving for instance, increasing income gap, presence of foreign culture, and environmental degradation can be connected to Venetian history and discussed for possible learnings (CPDD, 2008). At a more basic level, one could even question the textbook whether Venice is indeed an appropriate case study for Singapore. Y.K. Chan (2013, p. 316) thinks that Singapore was never known as the “Venice of the East.” The post-independence association of Venice with Singapore is backed up by “two strongest [local] proponents of Venice’s history”, Mr. George Yeo and Mr. Tommy Koh, drawing from F. Lane’s work, stressing the “mercantile rationality… as an indispensable ingredient of Venice’s economic prosperity” and Singapore being connected to the world. In specific instances, the case of Venice was used to alley the fear of the “mass influx of immigrants” which the government ‘had to sanction’ (in order to keep up with the economic race). Chan also alerts to Hamilton-Hart who tries to convince of the usefulness of Venice’s lessons by highlighting the ‘differences’ between Venice and Singapore (Chan, 2013, p. 320 & 325).[i] While no approach to comparative history is bias-free, discourse can take the route of exploring possibilities rather than mandating didactic lessons to be learnt.

Without negating the role of able leadership and human intervention in the course of Venetian and post-independence Singapore history, this paper aims to give some agency to the interpretations of non-Cartesian theorists and Annales scholars. The paper will first discuss the ideas of particular non-Catesian theorists and draw linkages between these and the propositions of Annales scholars, most notably Fernard Braudel. Next, the essay will discuss the issues and problems of the economy, environment, and globalisation experienced in the two city-states and highlight how taking a step back or taking a larger or longer perspective can result in a different set of learnings and lessons for present Singapore.

Non-Cartesian and longue durée approach

The theoretical basis for a more diverse interpretation of affairs can be found in the ideas of Friedrich Hayek as well as proponents of “spontaneous order” and other associated theorists.  As an economics Nobel laureate, Hayek is known for his many ideas of which “spontaneous order” appeared in the later part of his career. In its widest conception, no idea developed independently; “spontaneous order” must also have formed the basis of his earlier writings such as Prices and production and The use of knowledge in society. Hayek’s ideas are “critical of Cartesian constructivism” which seeks to measure and construct models of the natural world. The gist of “spontaneous order” postulates that self-interested individuals are able to unintentionally create a social order without the input of a centrally planning source and in the field of economics, appreciates the free market where prices serve as an indicator for activity. It is well worth to remind that the “order” Hayek advocates is oriented towards the benefit of human ends.[ii] Still, Hayek thought that Cartesian modeling fails to capture the essence of the “spontaneous (social) order” and more importantly, new perspectives or alternative ways of thinking might be hampered by a constricting power.

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An Inspiring Quote

"[Open-mindedness] includes an active desire to listen to more sides than one; to give heed to facts from whatever source they come; to give full attention to alternative possibilities; to recognize the possibility of error even in the beliefs that are dearest to us."

~ John Dewey, How We Think

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