National Heritage Board (NHB)
Features | Arts & Heritage

Preserving Singapore’s Past
For Its Posterity

The National Heritage Board (NHB) is at the forefront of promoting greater awareness of Singapore’s heritage. Two NHB scholars tell us how they believe in studying our history to preserve the memories of our nation for generations to come.

NHB is the custodian of Singapore’s heritage and its vision, 'Pride in our Past, Legacy for our Future' serves as the watchword for preserving the rich tapestries that are Singapore’s heritage so that present and future generations may all learn from them and build a better future for our nation.

The NHB Scholarship will allow passionate individuals, who wish to aid in this noble cause, the chance to achieve their full potential and play a significant role in shaping Singapore’s cultural legacy. Two NHB Scholars, Kathleen Ditzig and Rachel Eng, tell us about their respective scholarship journeys and how they hope to contribute to Singapore’s burgeoning arts scene.

Kathleen Ditzig
NHB Scholar

Studying: Masters in Curatorial Studies,
Bard College, US

Studied: Bachelor of Art History
(Minor in Asian Humanities),
Magna Cum Laude, University of California, US

"Significant developments in history or culture have rarely come about because of the genius of a singular individual ... it’s key for us to understand how culture continues to be upheld and sustained by the community"


Kathleen Ditzig: I’ve always loved talking about art and its social and political context. At the University of California, I had a wonderful mentor who guided my research into contemporary Chinese art and I was able to see how contemporary art practices are often indebted to historical traditions or legacies.

I believe that cultural policy is a form of metaart curation and the NHB scholarship provides me with the opportunity to put that knowledge to good use. NHB is also quite a diverse organisation – it does critical historical work, advancing local culture and implementing building programmes that holistically develop the arts and heritage scene, and I want to help NHB in all these areas.

Rachel Eng: My parents are very interested in the arts and introduced me to movies and books about military history as a child. I also looked forward to school trips to museums and I realised I wanted a career related to history. The NHB scholarship offered me the opportunity to get involved in Singapore’s historical and cultural scene – essentially my dream job! Furthermore, the experience that NHB has in running the country’s museums and its work in the heritage sector is unparalleled.

Tell us about some of the high points of your scholarship journey.

Kathleen: Working at the National Museum of Singapore was a highlight for me – I had lengthy discussions with some fantastic historians on historical events and their representation. I’ve also met many social historians whose work I’ve been admiring for quite some time.

In addition, the Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College (where I’m reading my Masters in Curatorial Studies) offers a practice-based programme, which means that you are expected to take on public projects and produce professional content for a savvy and critical cultural scene. I am very proud of a particular project I developed with a Singaporean artist and Canadian curator, the research platform which studies how offshore structures have influenced cultural practices around the world.

Rachel: One of the most memorable (and certainly the most difficult) experiences was the second interview during my NHB scholarship application. At first, it was nerve-wracking to face interviewers who are also industry veterans, but thankfully they put me at ease and I was able to expound at length on various history and heritage affairs – both of which I’m very passionate about. I’ve since learnt that it is important to embrace any challenge wholeheartedly, as there will always be hurdles in life to cross and you might as well have fun with the experience.

Rachel Eng Kai Lin
NHB Scholar

Studying: Bachelor in Arts (History),
University College London, UK

How do you see yourself contributing to the arts in the future?

Kathleen: I really believe that the sustainability of the arts in Singapore will depend on how it is historically, socially and globally integrated into Singaporean society. Art is not just something to gawk at and be in awe of – it has to resonate with people and we should ask ourselves the fundamental question of what it means to experience art in our society today. I also want to build programmes that will convey the issues that matter to us Singaporeans to audiences all over the world and help them understand what it means to be a Singaporean.

Rachel: I would like to bring the arts to a wider audience! A lot of Singaporeans are ambivalent about our heritage and history, preferring instead to focus on the future. I think it’s equally important to reflect on the past and understand how we’ve come to this point in our history, as well as acknowledge the common threads that tie us together. I hope to generate more public conversation about the shared identity that our history and common experiences have given us Singaporeans.

What advice do you have for aspiring NHB scholars?

Kathleen: Significant developments in history or culture have rarely come about because of the genius of a singular individual. I’ve certainly not figured it out and I don’t think anyone can ever say that, but nevertheless I do feel that it’s key for us to understand how culture continues to be upheld and sustained by the community if we want to achieve cultural work of value in Singapore or around the world – this can only come about if you focus on the work of building the foundation of your practice at NHB.

Rachel: Know why you want to pursue your goals. The humanities are great because they allow you to do what you’re passionate about, and I think that passion is something that really is embedded in the framework of NHB. The most important thing is to be fascinated by what you want to do, as an NHB scholarship isn’t only about finishing your degree, but also taking on the role that comes after that – make sure you’re applying for that as well!