Diary of an NUS Museum Intern: Eddie Koh
Eddie Koh is a fourth-year History major from the Faculty of Arts and Social Science at NUS. Eddie's first internship with the NUS Museum ran from May-July 2010, where his research centred upon important figures in the Museum's history. This year, Eddie is back with us again, conducting even more in-depth research on the Museum's second curator, William Willets. Today, Eddie will be sharing with us his reflections of the time he spent with us in 2010.
When the research focus was first briefed us to intern researchers, Fiona, Janice and me, I was initially psyched about the idea of digging up historical records of my research subjects, namely Michael Sullivan, Malcolm Macdonald and William Willetts. “Who knows, maybe I might be able to discover something that others had overlooked in the past”, or so I thought to myself wishfully.
While that little wishful thinking did not materialize, I was rewarded with the respectful understanding and appreciation of just how much research work had to be done before reaching the end point of constructing any historical narrative. I remember vividly of how I scoured the University’s Central Library and National Library’s records on anything and everything to do with my research subjects. Rolls after rolls of microfilms were scrutinized for any scrap of useful information and articles after articles of newspaper reports were thumbed through for the same purpose, as I slowly amassed a wealth of data. I still remember how after endless hours of virtual stalking through the internet, pursuing every scent and hint pertaining to my desired information, I would shout “JACKPOT!” out of sheer joy and satisfaction upon uncovering the information.
Once or twice each week, we would all meet and present our findings to Mustafa, our research supervisor, and each other. Holed up in our small meeting room somewhere in the NUS Museum, we would discuss and brainstorm on what we could make of the information each of us had obtained. Out of a curious combination of lacking proper equipment to organize our materials and a need of a physical display of our findings, we ended up taping all of our research work onto a wall of the room. Thus at the end of each meeting, the wall display grew more and more elaborate, filled with newspaper cuttings, photocopied materials of images and texts. Despite some initial reservations on how the tape might ruin the paintjob of the said wall, I must admit that I acquired growing satisfaction from just witnessing how my particular section of the wall grew more and more cluttered with information as weeks passed by.
Ahem, let me get back to recounting my research experience. Researching on the three individuals was not as easy as I had thought it would be. While Michael Sullivan and Malcolm Macdonald were easy enough to research on but William Willetts proved to be a big obstacle for me. Initial search revealed next to nothing on him. As he did not have a strong presence in the public media, I could hardly find any mention of him in the news. This forced me to read his publication in greater detail in order to construct an understanding of the man and his role in shaping the museum. Strangely, this lack of information on Willetts led to a proposal for me to construct a letter that would aptly capture his genius and spirit. The snitch here was that the letter is suppose to look like it had been written by him! Amazingly, the letter was successfully constructed (how I shall not say) after many hours of toil and hair pulling. It was subsequently published in the catalogue that accompanied the opening of the Camping and Tramping exhibit.
It has been nearly one year since I embarked on the road towards ‘Camping and Tramping’. It has been irrevocably, the best life experience of my years in NUS thus far. It has even gotten me to seriously consider taking up curatorship as a possible job prospect. While I did not make any groundbreaking discoveries, I would not for a moment trade the experience away for anything else.
Thank you NUS Museum.