Historical Evidence: Archaeological Practice as a Pedagogical Tool for Historical Education in Singapore, pp. 5 of 10

Publications on the history of Singapore also expanded especially with further developments in archaeological study of the nation’s past. Low and Miksic traced the developments of a 14th-century kingdom in Singapore using various primary and secondary sources, such as the Sejarah Melayu, and analysis of artefacts found during archaeological excavations (Low 2004: 14-40; Miksic 2004: 41-54; Miksic 1985). Kwa, Heng and Tan (2009) co-produced another work by locating “Singapore's concerns as an aspiring global city…in earlier cycles of globalization". With the publication of The Silk Road of the Sea 1300-1800, Miksic (2013) combines technical descriptions of the way archaeological research was conducted with different inferences drawn from the data. Archaeology is neatly incorporated into the study of history in the above works.

The history textbooks for Singapore’s secondary schools had also been evolving over the years, with the latest textbook beginning the history of Singapore 500 years earlier (see Peterson 2014). The new curriculum crafted an official narrative that covers a period from 1300-1600, portraying Singapore as a thriving multinational trading hub during this period (Division 2014). As more coverage is being given to the study of the ancient history of Singapore, the incorporation of archaeological materials into the teaching practice workbook becomes more necessary to allow teachers to engage students via the use of artefacts in learning what seems to be a “lacklustre and uninteresting” history.

Teaching resources and approaches

Teachers can utilize the CPDD-supplied source-kits to pique students’ interest when teaching Unit 1: Tracing Singapore’s Origins. As they work with original artefacts, students will learn how to ask questions about events, issues and developments; examine primary sources and interpret evidence to support their claims; demonstrate knowledge and understanding of history as a construct; and engage in imaginative reconstruction of key characteristics of the period they are about to study (i.e. 14thC) to draw connections with present-day context.

There are three types of artefacts within the source kit, namely porcelain, stoneware, and earthenware taken from the St. Andrew’s Cathedral site (see Figure 1 for examples of each type). These are representative of the materials found in 14th-15th-century Singapore. Students can easily relate to these materials as the artefacts are also shown in the new edition history textbook (Division 2014: 34-35; 76-77).

The lesson is designed to adhere to historical inquiry processes, and is modelled after Gorman’s Structured Enquiry Approach. The main activity involves asking questions and the construction of knowledge in the context of a given problem. Within this structure, students will be encouraged to ask questions and identify areas of interpretation; be engaged in the act of questioning and examining sources to extract relevant information that can be used as evidence in light of the given question; and motivated to construct knowledge and develop interpretations in response to the inquiry question. The approach promotes active learning and allows learners to develop understandings throughout the meaning-making process. 

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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