Help to 'tag' a piece of Singapore's history

Without tagging – such as by photo captioning and digital transcription – old photos like this one will not appear during an online search. There are more than 140,000 photos that cannot be searched today.

WANTED: History enthusiasts to caption old photographs and transcribe handwritten manuscripts with a piece of Singapore history.

They are invited to contribute to an upcoming portal with about 3,000 unidentified photographs dating back to the late 1800s, and 3,000 pages of Straits Settlement records, including letters from the time of Sir Stamford Raffles' administration.

These historical treasures, from the collections of the Government and individuals, are waiting to be "tagged" on the portal The Citizen Archivist Project at

The portal will be launched this weekend, Dr Yaacob Ibrahim, Minister for Communications and Information, told Parliament yesterday during the debate on his ministry's budget.

Without tagging - such as by photo captioning and digital transcription - they will not appear during an online search.

What is on the portal is just part of more than 140,000 photos and about one million pages of Straits Settlements records that cannot be searched today.

"The key challenge is that they were written in elaborate cursive penmanship which is not machine-readable," said Dr Yaacob, noting that tapping the public's knowledge could make these documents more accessible.

Also, it is an initiative young people would enjoy, he said, in replying to Mr Arthur Fong (West Coast GRC) who had asked how the Government could get youth interested in Singapore's history.

When contacted, Mr Eric Chin, director of the National Archives of Singapore, said the aim of the project is to get as many people interested in history as possible, and to "provide meaningful contributions to uncover a piece of Singapore's history".

Mr Chin hopes to find, for instance, the actual written regulations for five-foot-ways. These are the footpaths linking rows of shophouses, much like the common corridors in HDB blocks.

To contribute, people have to log into the portal by using their Facebook, Google or National Library Board accounts.

Their contributions will be saved in their own user profiles, which will be created automatically when they log in.

Transcript contributions work in the same way they do on Wikipedia; the text is uploaded immediately on the portal.

The National Archives, however, will take up to three days to review photo caption contributions. Approved captions will be uploaded on its website,

In his speech, Dr Yaacob also said the National Archives building on Canning Rise will be renovated from this year.

It will include a gallery to showcase - for the first time - original constitutional documents.

An example he gave was the envelope on which Mr Lee Kuan Yew and Tunku Abdul Rahman penned the terms of Singapore's merger with Malaysia, as well as the proclamations of merger and separation.

Also, the building housing Memories at the Old Ford Factory - where the British surrendered to the Japanese in 1942 during World War II - will be closed from early next year for a major revamp that will include more interactive content.

The building in Upper Bukit Timah will re-open in early 2017 to coincide with the 75th anniversary of the fall of Singapore.

This article was first published on March 11, 2015.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to for more stories.