Diary of an NUS Museum Intern: Kim Soh Won

Note: Diary of an NUS Museum Intern is a series of blog posts written by our interns about their experiences during the course of their internships. Working alongside their mentors, our interns have waded through tons of historical research, assisted in curatorial work, pitched in during exhibition installations and organised outreach events! If you would like to become our next intern, visit our internship page for more information! 

In January 2015, three JC 1 students, Dana Gan,  Kim Soh Won and Liang Siyi, interned with us for a month as part of Temasek Junior College's Wonder. Observe. Weave! (WOW!) Attachment Programme. Across their four-week attachment, they were tasked to do research and craft educational activities for the primary level based on our new Sherd Library.


I had a really fulfilling experience during these four weeks in NUS Museum. It not only changed my view and understanding of museums in general but also helped me gain more knowledge and interest in areas such as Southeast Asian and Singapore history. Prior to this internship, I used to have the perception that a museum is a rather boring place; this was probably because I always looked through the exhibits without truly understanding them and why they were displayed in such a manner. However, the activities I have done in this one-month internship have completely changed my view of museums. Now, I believe that I am able to better appreciate why exhibits are displayed in a particular manner and also the process behind making worksheets for students who visit the museum for excursions.

 Our main focus of our attachment was to research on Bakau shipwrecks and make worksheets for primary and secondary school students. The research on Bakau shipwrecks has really helped me understand shipwrecks better and realise that they are not merely broken pieces of shards found in the sea, but also a clue to the cultures and trades that took place at the point of time. The quote that I really loved from Kwa Chong Guan’s Locating Singapore on the Maritime Silk Road was “The snapshot nature of shipwreck data provide time-capsules which allow, with data from a sufficient number of wrecks spread over a substantial period of time, a moving image of the development of this maritime trade to emerge.” This quote enabled me to really understand that archaeologists use the discovered shards as a clue to trace back to the past in order to find out more about the lifestyles then. After thorough research, I revisited the NUS Museum and to my surprise, I, who previously found museums a rather boring place, was engaged by the exhibits the whole time.

Besides researching, my two group members and I created three worksheets for primary and secondary school students. In order to understand how students usually learn at their respective levels, we looked through the History and Social Studies textbooks they use in schools and this enabled us to roughly understand how the questions are asked and phrased and the types of activities that are suitable for students of different grades. We tried to create activities that involve a lot of interaction with the museum displays – shards from Singapore and Southeast Asia as well as the shipwrecks. The activities we have come up with require observation, comparison and most importantly inference skills as well as creativity and imagination. 

For instance, for primary school students, we asked them to freely express their opinions about the ceramic wares they observe in the museum. We felt that instead of asking primary school students to solve difficult questions which require prior knowledge on the topic, it would be better to encourage them to appreciate and observe the exhibits more carefully by asking them to describe the exhibits and give their feelings about it. For upper primary school students, we added in inference questions, which are guided step-by-step as we were afraid that the students would not be able to derive the answer. For instance, first, we asked the students to describe unique patterns they can observe on the shards, then asked them to infer the country of origin based on the answer they gave in the previous part. 

Questions for secondary school students were similar in nature, but less guided as we wanted to drill their thinking skills. For instance, questions such as “What can you infer from the proximity of these sites where the shards were found?” and “Why do you think a number of ceramic wares were found in these areas? Explain your answers for every location.” were asked directly without any guiding questions or clues. We believe that these activities will be able to guide the students to better understand the history behind the shards that are displayed in the museum in a more interesting way. 

We also had a chance to visit the National Museum, where I learnt that surprisingly, many archaeologists have been quietly excavating in Singapore for the last three decades - they have been investigating the activities and life of the early settlers on the island. I felt that the National Museum’s exhibition on Singapore archaeology was rather similar to that of NUS Museum and thus I was able to relate to and enjoy their exhibition even more. 

We also had the chance to visit the NUS Baba House, a heritage home run by NUS Museum, for a one-hour heritage tour. This was indeed my favourite and the most memorable experience throughout this internship programme as we could experience the lifestyle of a typical Peranakan family in 1920s and I personally felt as though I was walking through history as I toured the house. All in all, this tour has definitely raised my interests in the Peranakan culture and I would love to revisit soon. 

All in all, I have definitely grown to love museum exhibitions, especially the archaeological findings. The museum to me is no longer a boring place, but a place where I can truly appreciate the past and drill myself to make conclusions based on what I observe. Though NUS Museum is not large in terms of its size or number of exhibits, there is no doubt that it is a good start for visitors to gain interest in Singapore and Southeast Asian history as well as museum exhibitions in general.


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