When you want to find out more about Singapore history looking at old maps may not immediately spring to mind. However, maps can be a very important window into the past. Not only do they show how this part of the world was seen but also how it was perceived by the explorers and map makers of the time. This is the aim of Geo|Graphic, a collaborative project being run by the National Library Board, NUM Museum and the National Archives.
Inside the National Library this exhibition is spread over a number of floors in the building. On the first floor, where you enter the building, you can see Singapore’s first full scale topographical map. It was issued in 1924 and came in 16 pieces. This map shows the natural features at that time, such as swamps, rivers and corals as well as places of worship, railway and telephone lines, buildings and bridges. Also displayed here is the first coloured map that was made after Singapore received its ‘City’ status in 1951.
Land of Gold and Spices – Level 10
This exhibition looks at how the Europeans mapped South East Asia between the 15th and the 19th century. The first of these are maps based on geography, the Greek astronomer responsible for these referred to South East Asia as ‘India beyond the Ganges’. This was a land where gold, silver, spices and other riches were abundant.
One highlight are some pre-1800 maps which contains names such as Cinca pula, Cingatola and Sincapura, could these names refer to Singapore? Other maps refer to Singapore as Old Strieghts of Sincapura, Iantana, Paulau Panjang and Sincapour. Whatever the name used for this island these maps show evidence of life and perhaps even maritime trade existing before the arrival of Raffles in 1819.
There are also rare maps on display here which are on loan from European libraries, the first time they have been on display in Singapore.
Island of Stories – Level 11
This exhibition shows the development of Singapore from a small port settlement to the busy city it is today. Here the maps tell stories of the country’s history. British army intelligence maps show the location and movement of the British and Japanese forces during the Second World War. Maps of the harbour show the planned improvement works as Singapore developed as a major international port during the early 20th century. Aerial photographs from 1947 capture areas identified under the ‘Grow More Food’ campaign as the British administrators ensured there was enough food for the growing settlement. The expansion of the coastline can be seen in the maps from 1960 onwards, when land reclamation has a dramatic effect on the shape of the island. Also during this time major changes started to take place to the transport networks.
After gaining independence in 1965 Singapore embarked on a major urban planning exercise. Between 1967 and 1971 concept plans were developed that would alter the future of Singapore forever. All 13 of these plans are on display and are a rare insight into how different Singapore could have been.
This is a really enjoyable exhibition, an insight into Singapore’s past from a new perspective. I have always been a lover of maps and for me not only are these maps pieces of history but they are also hand drawn works of art.