Singapore Prize Gives the Spotlight to Everyday People in History

A new prize is giving the spotlight to everyday people in Singapore’s past. The National University of Singapore’s (NUS) History Prize aims to broaden the definition of what constitutes history and encourage writing that focuses on different themes. It also aims to forgo the traditional view of history as a record of big movers and shakers, says one author on the shortlist for the $50,000 prize.

The NUS Prize is the latest in a series of Singapore prizes to rethink how they recognise literary achievements. Other recent changes include the reopening of the Epigram Books Fiction Prize to accept manuscripts in translation, as well as the introduction of a new category for comics and graphic novels. The NUS Prize is one of the few book prizes in the world that gives its winner a monetary reward, as well as a trophy and an exhibition space in the library at NUS.

NUS President Prof Kishore Mahbubani was among the four judges who chose this year’s winner, John Miksic’s book Singapore and the Silk Road of the Sea, 1300-1800, published by NUS Press with the National Museum of Singapore. The other judges were archaeologist Peter Colcanis, historians Kishore Mahbubani and Claire Chiang, and academics Wang Gungwu and Timothy Barnard.

Miksic, a professor at NUS’ Department of History, started digging in Singapore in 1984, and later became involved with archaeological work in other countries, including China and Vietnam. The book is a memoir of his adventures, and also recounts the stories of some 1,000 volunteers who accompanied him to excavation sites.

He will visit schools to speak about the importance of reading and writing, as well as meet a number of Singaporeans who are doing innovative things to protect the planet and tackle climate change. He will also attend the United for Wildlife global summit, which features representatives of law enforcement agencies, conservation groups and corporations that are working to address the trade in illegally sourced animal products.

The event will mark the first time the Earthshot Prize has been held in Asia. Britain’s Prince William was among the celebrities who walked the “green carpet” to present this year’s winners, which range from solar-powered dryers to combat food waste to making electric car batteries more environmentally friendly. The winners will be given grants to help them scale up their solutions, with the hope of saving the planet from the threat of climate change. The event will take place at the Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay, on Nov 7, and will be streamed live around the world.