Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Museums make history: Singapore and the Belitung shipwreck

Rachel Leow, who runs a very thoughtful (and recently revived) history blog called A Historian's Craft, reviews the Singapore ArtScience Museum's exhibition of the Belitung shipwreck.  The Belitung wreck, found in 1998 off the Indonesian island of Bilitung, is an Arab dhow that was trading between the Abbasid empire of South Asia/Iraq and the Chinese empire. Wikipedia background here.  It is securely dated to about 830 CE.  830!  This must be the best 1170 year old shipwreck ever.

Wreck and cargo were found in an excellent state of preservation. The find has been kept intact and in the control of archaeologists and museologists rather than looter/collectors. The museum display sounds absolutely riveting.

Nevertheless Leow's review focusses on museological politics.  The exhibition, she argues, is skillfully used to reinforce Singapore's image as a cross-roads of trade and of culture.  Yet ... the wreck took place far from Singapore at a time when Singapore did not exist.
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