Review Essay Of “Jacques de Coutre’s And Matelieff’s Singapore and Johor”: Exploring Sources On Pre-Modern History of Singapore

Brief survey of the field

The education and awareness of the pre-Rafflesian Singapore history has seen much progress since the turn of the millennium. First, there is the publication of Early Singapore 1300-1819: evidence in maps, text and artefacts and Iberians in the Singapore-Melaka area and adjacent regions: 16th to 18th century in 2004. In 2009, the publication of Singapore: a 700-year history, Sino-Malay trade and diplomacy from the tenth through the fourteenth century and Singapore and Melaka Straits: violence, security and diplomacy in the 17th century provide the general public and the specialists alike a chance to explore the subject comprehensively or delve into the China-Malay Archipelago relations in the post Classical period as well as the relations between European empires and native powers in the Western Malay Archipelago in the early modern period. In between, there is the appearance of the Maritime heritage of Singapore which adds on to the list that the general readers can delve into. In 2013, the publication of Singapore and the Silk Road of the sea summarizes years of painstaking archaeological work done by J. Miksic in Singapore. The appearance of the Memoirs and memorials of Jacques de Coutre and Journal, memorials and letters of Cornelis Matelieff de Jonge as well as their abridged versions in quick succession enrich the narrative of the European empire-Malay native power interaction across a spectrum of audience immeasurably. To top it off, the CPDD-produced textbook for Singapore in 2014 has incorporated the pre-1819 developments of the island substantially compared to previous versions of the text.

Works by J. Miksic (2013) and Derek Heng (2010) have been urging for the pre-1819 history of Singapore to be seen from the large perspective of the trade passing through the region as well as from the intimate angle of activities occurring on the island. The broad phases of pre-1819 Singapore developments can be seen in the context of the chronology of Southeast Asian history: 1. post-Classical kingdom period (600-1400 C.E.), 2. early modern period (1450-1750 C.E.). Focusing on the latter half of the early modern period (17th and 18th centuries), this essay is written with three objectives: 1. as a brief review to the abridged version of P. Borschberg’s Jacques de Coutre’s Singapore and Johor and Matelieff’s Singapore and Johor; 2. to connect the coverage of Borschberg’s works to other primary sources and archaeological findings so as to delve into certain aspects of the subject and period in question; 3. as an in-service orientation of Borschberg’s 2015 works for Ministry of Education (MOE) teachers.  

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