I teach and research the history of Australia and Southeast Asia. My focus is Malaysia and Singapore. Much of my expertise is on the history of World War II and the Japanese Occupation of Southeast Asia. My work covers the themes of war, memory and the nation, oral history, as well as public history and heritage. The prisoner of war experience under the Japanese has been an enduring interest.
I started teaching history at the National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore in 1993, when I was 28 years old. I arrived from Australia, where home was among the cattle properties around Rockhampton and the pineapple farms of Yeppoon. In the 1980s, I worked part-time on a Department of Veterans' Affairs survey of the health of local veterans in Rockhampton. Walking the streets of the town, knocking on doors, and interviewing veterans began a life long interest in oral history and other related areas of historical research, particularly the prisoner of war experience under the Japanese. There were a number of ex-POWs in Rockhampton at that time, the most well-known was Roman Catholic Dean Patrick 'Paddy' Walsh, a former padre on the Burma-Thailand Railway, who had also been a keen sportsman and respected educator.
I studied for my BA degree at the University of Queensland in the state capital of Brisbane, obtaining First Class Honours in History in 1986.
In 1987, I was offered a Commonwealth Postgraduate Research Award scholarship to do a PhD in the History Department at the University of Queensland. I chose to work on the Catholic living wage and the Protestant work ethic with George Shaw, an historian and Anglican minister. I graduated in 1991.
While I was doing my doctorate, and shortly after, I was a tutor, lecturer, course writer, and a research assistant at a number of Queensland universities - Griffith University, the Queensland University of Technology, the University of Queensland in Brisbane, and the University of Central Queensland in Rockhampton.
In 1993, I formally started my academic career when I was appointed as a Lecturer/Assistant Professor in History at the National Institute of Education (NIE), Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. In 1998, I introduced the beginnings of an oral history programme for History at NIE. At the height of the oral history programme (2003-2005) in collaboration with my colleague, Karl Hack, we had over 500 students a year doing oral history assignments as their main piece of assessment. Since then, the programme has been scaled down, but is still an important part of doing History at NIE. In 2004, I was promoted to Associate Professor. Since 2006, I have been the overall co-ordinator of the History Programme of the BA Degree at the National Institute of Education.
COLLABORATIVE PROJECTS AND RESEARCH GRANTS
Working in Singapore has allowed me to easily study the history of war and commemoration, as the place itself is a World War II battlefield and a historic site of the captivity of prisoners of war. Much of my collaborative work has been with my history colleague Karl Hack, an historian of imperial history. We worked together as teachers and researchers for the 11 years that he was at the National Insitute of Education before he returned to the UK in 2006. I have been involved in the following projects.
Singapore Tourism Board:
2001 Setting up of the Changi Chapel & Museum
2002 Creation of the 1942 big guns of Singapore Johore Battery project
2005 Forum with the Wartime Generation at the Singapore History Museum and The Japanese Occupation Conference held at the Singapore History Museum
Collaboration with documentary makers for the History Channel:
2009 The Sook Ching Massacre by Marilyn McFadyen, Right Angle Media.
2009 Changi by Lian Pek, Journey Pictures.
National Institute of Education Academic Research Fund (AcRF) Grants:
2002 The Many Falls of Singapore
2006 Testimony and Oral History from the Japanese Occupation of Singapore
2011 War Memory and Nation Building in Singapore
2014 Heritage Conservation in GeorgeTown, Melaka and Singapore
Collaboration with the National Centre for Australian Studies at Monash University and Professor Bruce Scates - Australian Research Council Grants:
2009 Revisiting Australia’s War: International Perspectives on Heritage, Memory and ANZAC Pilgrimages to the Cemeteries, Sites and Battlefields of World War II
2010 Anzac Day at Home and Abroad: A Centenary History of Australia’s National Day
BOOKS AND REVIEWS
Kevin Blackburn, The Sportsmen of Changi (Sydney: University of New South Wales Press, 2012) 296 pages.
‘In The Sportsmen of Changi, Australian academic Kevin Blackburn provides a meticulously researched insight into how and why troops before and after the fall of Singapore -- 70 years ago last month -- put such store in pitting their sporting athleticism in fiercely contested encounters against their countrymen, local teams, their allies and, later, even their foes.’ Gary Smith, Australian (Sydney), 24 March 2012.
‘There is much that will cause awe in The Sportsmen of Changi.’ Michael McKernan, Canberra Times, 10 March 2012.
‘thought-provoking and highly recommended’, Greg Growden, Sydney Morning Herald, 5 March 2012.
‘…it's an interesting story with a beautiful driving sentiment about the power of sport.’ James Weir, Courier-Mail (Brisbane) 7 April 2012.
‘Pick of the Week’, Steven Carroll, The Age (Melbourne), 25 February 2012.
Kevin Blackburn and Karl Hack, War Memory and the Making of Modern Malaysia and Singapore (Singapore: NUS Press, 2012) 476 pages.
‘The war years were a defining period in Malaysia’s history and how events of those times were remembered has determined the course of nation-building in this country and will continue to do so. In this excellent study, War Memory brings out the multiplicity of memories and the challenge of constructing a national narrative that is inclusive yet authentic.
It is a book of high scholarly standard and should contribute to an informed discussion of history-writing in Malaysia.’ Lee Kam Hing, The Sunday Star (Kuala Lumpur), 23 December 2012.
'This book, which is based on oral history, newspapers, archives, observation and participant observation, is a very good study of “history from below'”. Badriyah Haji Salleh, JMBRAS, Vol. 85, Part 2, 2012.
'In this painstakingly researched and richly detailed book by historians Kevin Blackburn and Karl Hack on war memory and the making of modern Malaysia and Singapore, the theme of politics clearly dominates. The book is an ambitious attempt to write the making of modern Malaysia and Singapore in terms of the multiple — but clearly delineated as distinct and disparate — war memory of individuals,communities, and state in these two countries...
The book remains the first to provide a comprehensive and fascinating account of the history of war memory in the modern nation–states of Malaysia and Singapore, and an illuminating study of the complex contestations and configurations of the politics of memory to which war lends itself.'
Diana Wong, Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, Vol.45, No.1, 2014.
Kevin Blackburn and Karl Hack, (eds) Forgotten Captives in Japanese Occupied Asia (London: Routledge, 2008) 310 pages.
‘this collection is a useful contribution not just to the field of wartime Southeast Asia, but to the social history of war’, Beatrice Trefalt, Japanese Studies, Vol. 29, No.1, May 2009.
Kevin Blackburn and Karl Hack, Did Singapore Have to Fall? (London: RoutledgeCurzon, 2004) 300 pages.
‘Their work is the best study of the fall of Singapore, comparable in quality to any account of the military and imperial history of the Pacific War.’ John Ferris, War in History, Vol. 13, No.3, July 2006.
‘…a major and original contribution to what the authors call the “never-ending post-mortem” destined to continue not simply for want of an authoritative inquiry conducted at the time but more especially with ever-changing perspectives.’ A.J. Stockwell, The Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, Vol.32, No.3, 2004.
‘By standing back from conventional history and by entertaining the dialectic between competing versions of an epochal event – the notion of many versions of the fall – this book is a valuable addition to the genre.’ Geoffrey Gunn, The Journal of Contemporary Asia, Vol. 34, No. 3, 2004.
TEACHING IN THE BA DEGREE
History as Film
Biography and History
Modern Southeast Asia
Australia and Asia
Heritage and Culture