By Aiko Yeo (23A01B)
“History is written by the victors.”
As understood by most, this age-old adage questions the construction of narratives that define regional and international histories. The quintessential history student, however, refuses the superficial readings of such a sweeping claim.
Is history written solely by the victors? Is the victors’ prevailing account permanently set in stone? Is there even a universal standard that qualifies “victors” of the past, present and future?
If questions of this nature have crossed your mind, congratulations! You’ve understood a key lesson that the H2 History curriculum tries to teach us: we must delve deeper into claims to uncover a complex multitude of perspectives that belie our first impressions.
Welcome to the world of H2 History: an admittedly confounding but deeply rewarding study of the socio-political, economic and diplomatic affairs of the past. Contrary to popular belief, H2 History is not synonymous with pure memorisation of tedious facts. Central to the discipline of history at the pre-tertiary level is the application of historical facts in a concise and relevant manner.
With the main repulsion to taking history debunked, hopefully more dear readers are encouraged to stick around and discover the offerings of this mentally stimulating subject.
Whose history matters?
As outlined by SEAB’s syllabus document, H2 History entails the study of regional and global developments across two papers: Paper 1 (Shaping the International Order), and Paper 2 (The Making of Independent Southeast Asia). Each paper consists of three broad themes that outline the general focus of study.
Paper 1 follows the happenings of a bipolar international order that defined superpower and inter-state relations in the post-WWII 20th century. Theme I examines the Cold War, with particular emphasis paid to its origins and end, alongside pivotal turning points such as the Korean War, the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Vietnam War. Subsequently, Theme II navigates the global economic developments of the 20th century in the context of the prevailing Cold War. Theme III continues to expound on overarching themes of international relations and power dynamics through understanding the United Nations’ role in promoting international peace and security.
On the other hand, Paper 2 adopts a comparative approach to intra- and inter-state developments in independent Southeast Asia. Theme I focuses on two aspects of nations’ attempts at maintaining political stability: governance models and national unity. Theme II probes into nations’ diverse approaches to economic development, culminating in the region’s focal economic crisis: the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis. Theme III tackles interstate relations, defined by conflict and cooperation, through the lens of confidence-building by ASEAN.
Students taking H2 History can expect 2 papers in the A Levels: a 3-hour written assessment for Paper 1 and Paper 2 respectively. Each paper comprises 1 case-study question and 2 essay questions, with Paper 1 and Paper 2’s case-study set on Theme I and Theme III respectively.
Who can take history?
Prospective H2 History takers often believe that taking H2 History at the secondary level is a prerequisite for excelling at H2 History in JC. These worries are completely understandable. For the unacquainted, submerging oneself in the vast, unknown world of the study of history would undoubtedly appear daunting. Of course, it doesn’t help that H2 History is a relatively less-trodden path, with yearly cohorts numbering in the one-hundreds.
However, rest assured that it is indeed possible to cope with the demands of this subject even without prior experience at the secondary level. Analytical skills required in the subject can be picked up and honed with much passion and diligence. Beyond the formal curriculum taught in lectures and tutorials, students may further their understanding of historical areas of study on their own time using the extensive array of resources available online.
Should you take H2 History?
As much as the writer herself would love to enthusiastically answer “Yes!” on our dear readers’ behalves, ultimately your interest in the subject—its contents, skills, processes, and rigour—should guide your decision on whether to take H2 History. Nonetheless, H2 History is an enriching study of the past that promises much nuance and insight, and the writer further implores you to consider the value of learning history past the academic demands of the A-levels. After all, as the great Roman statesman Cicero once said, “to be ignorant of what happened before you were born is to always remain a child”.