Travel back in time with ST e-book

Travel back in time with ST e-book

From tracking down and interviewing World War II survivors to ploughing through newspaper archives for old pictures, the undergraduates who helped work on The Straits Times' latest e-book say the experience has opened their eyes to the country's past.

Living History: 170 Years Of The Straits Times takes readers through the country's past 170 years, highlighting major events. It can be downloaded for free through The Straits Times Star E-books app on both Android and iPad tablets.

Undergraduate Yuen Sin, 23, a Singapore Press Holdings journalism scholar, had to do some investigative work to track down the relatives of Maria Hertogh.

Hertogh, who was adopted by a Malay woman and raised a Muslim, found herself sucked into a highly- publicised legal tussle when her Dutch Catholic birth parents tried to claim her back. After the court decided she should be returned to her biological parents in 1950, racial riots erupted in Singapore.

While the late Hertogh's Dutch family declined interviews, Ms Yuen managed to locate Madam Rokayah Yusof, Hertogh's niece who lives in Malaysia.

"She kept inviting me to Terengganu and offered to tell me more about the story of Nadra (as they called Maria). I realised how important holding on to this contested version of history and retelling it to people was to her," says Ms Yuen, who is studying public policy and administration at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

Ms Madeleine Lim, 22, who helped put together the Times Capsule picture spreads, says her favourite shot is one at the Singapore River where labourers are crowded around a raconteur, their attention held rapt by his stories.

"For someone who grew up watching YouTube, that picture was unfamiliar to me," says the geography major at the National University of Singapore.

"I've always heard about how the Singapore River was dirty in the past. Looking at the old photos drove that point home."

One challenge faced by the team was retelling familiar stories in a fresh way, says the e-book's author, Ms Bhagyashree Garekar, who led a team of 12 to put together the publication.

Ms Garekar, 46, who is The Straits Times' deputy foreign editor, oversaw the newspaper's first and award-winning e-book, Myanmar Sunrise.

She says: "We looked at the big stories with long-lasting impact that had happened in the past 170 years. On each topic, we dug up the archives to see how The Straits Times covered it. Then we had to find interesting ways to present them in the e-book. "

A picture spread on the Botanic Gardens was added at the last minute, soon after the 156-year-old attraction was named a Unesco World Heritage site, she adds.

To make the 14 chapters of text more digestible, the team added photographs, animations and interactive elements to the layout. These include galleries showing how the paper's masthead has changed and 50 design submissions for this year's National Day Parade fun-pack .

The Straits Times executive multimedia designer, Ms Sally Lam, 47, was in charge of the e-book's design and layout. She says: "We wanted to show how the newspaper has changed over the years, but we also wanted to use fresh, vibrant colours instead of too much black and white."

So she used the colour palette adopted for The Straits Times' recent revamp - bright shades of blue, green, orange and red.

But for Nanyang Technological University undergraduate Charmaine Ng, 22, who also worked on the project, the sepia photos of old Singapore are the most memorable.

"I remember looking at them with fascination. The old photos really take you back to a time in this country that we can probably never imagine now."

This article was first published on July 26, 2015.
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