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Approaches to History (Essays in India Historiography)

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Item Code: NAN478
Author: Sabyasachi Bhattacharya
Publisher: Primus Books, Delhi
Language: English
Edition: 2015
ISBN: 9789380607863
Pages: 374
Cover: Paperback
Other Details 9.5 inch X 6.5 inch
Weight 600 gm
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Book Description

About the Book

History as a social science is arguably more self-reflective than associated disciplines in that family. Other social scientists seem to see little reason to look beyond the paradigm they are developing in the present times. Historians on the other hand. tend to depend on the cumulative process of the development of their craft and the fund of accumulated knowledge. Yet, while this is acknowledged in the practice of research. Historiography in itself as a subject of study has rarely found its place in the syllabi of Indian universities. Knowledge of Historiography is taken for granted when a scholar plunges into research.

In an attempt to address this lacuna, the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR) has planned a series of volumes on Historiography comprising articles by subject specialists commissioned by the ICHR. The first volume in the series, Approaches to History: Essays in Indian Historiography brings to the readers the first fruits of that endeavour. While the essays encompass areas of research presently at the frontiers of new research, scholars will also find the bibliographies accompanying the essays of significant appeal.


HISTORY AS a social science is, arguably, more self-reflective than the other disciplines in that family. Other social scientists, such as economists or anthropologists, see scant reason to look back beyond the paradigm they are developing in the present times. Historians on the other hand, tend to depend on the cumulative process of the development of their craft and the fund of accumulated knowledge. To enable them to draw upon what has gone before, therefore, Historiography has been an important component in the historians' tools and methodology. And yet, while this is acknowledged in the practice of research, historiography as a subject of study in itself has rarely found its place in the syllabi of Indian universities. Knowledge of Historiography is, so to speak, taken for granted our scholars plunge into research.

In 2009, the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR) designed two programmes in an attempt to address this problem. One, a series of volumes on historiography, consisting of articles in different areas of historical study, written by specialists commissioned by the ICHR; and the second, comprising courses of lectures 'Workshops on Research Methodology' conducted across India, wholly funded by the ICHR and occasionally hosted by the local university, with a large component of historiographic lectures by recognized leaders in the field of their specialization. These workshops, each held for a period of three weeks, in Delhi, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Trichy, Kottayam, Guwahati, Kolkata, to name a few places, have been recognized as being equivalent to the Refresher Courses which the University Grants Commission (UGC) made a mandatory requirement for the promotion of college and university teachers.

The antecedents of this twofold initiative go as far back as the ICHR foundation charter, enshrined in the Memorandum of Association of 1972. However, only four small booklets were actually published in the 1970s, covering four subjects. For reasons not very clear to me, in the intervening years no further effort was made in this direction. Meanwhile, the Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR) stole a march over the ICHR in this regard and I myself contributed to it. It is encouraging that the ICHR has caught up and moved ahead of the ICSSR and is now able to take up the task of reviewing and promoting historiographic literature.

In addition to being able to survey the frontiers of new study through the present volume, researchers will also find the accompanying detailed bibliographies of singular interest. The authors are actively engaged in research in the area they write about and I am grateful to them for having responded to my request to write these reviews of literature in the fields in which they are breaking fresh ground.

I consider it redundant to follow the common editorial practice of summarizing the contents of the volume. However, a few points might be added to the agenda statement I have already made in respect of this new series. By editorial design, a trait common to all the essays in this volume is that they try to address new and developing areas of study in the discipline of history. One cannot, of course, infer that these areas are virgin fields, untouched by researchers until recently. There have been precursors and forerunners who are duly acknowledged in the following pages. But, on occasion, certain fields of research emerge as areas of more intense research activity, as a new 'specialization'. This process is driven by a variety of factors. A discourse far wider in ambit than just the writing of history has brought to the forefront 'gender history'-a facet of which is expressed herein, in one of several essays on gender history in India commissioned by us. Similarly, deep-seated social and political factors in South Asia have imparted a new significance to the history of the tribal communities which had been marginal to mainstream history earlier. More than one author in this volume, including one focusing upon north-east India, has touched on this theme. Likewise, the history of what is now called the 'Dalit community' has become a subject of serious academic study only recently. As the author of the essay on that theme points out, as an academic specialization, Dalit studies is only in its incipiency. In these instances, needless to say, for the important role historiography plays in the very construction of the subject and in the process of constituting agencyhood-these areas demand critical attention.

Some other areas of historical study merit attention due to the renewal of interest and the emergence of new issues. The history of pre-modern technology and the maritime history of ancient India are two such areas surveyed in this volume. Labour history as a specialization has developed only in the last two or three decades. The history of the Christian community was the preserve of missionaries and the like and, as an historian of that community points out in the following pages, it began to be studied as an academic specialization as late as the 1960s. Alongside, this volume carries a very comprehensive study of Sikhism and the Sikh community. Military history is by no means a new area of research, but the quantitative output in that field has made it one of the emerging specializations. The author of the survey of research in military history in this volume mourns the general lack of interest in India in military history, which he attributes to the attitude of 'Left-liberal academicians'. While the author is entitled to his opinion, the point remains debatable. That brings me to the point that needs to be made before I conclude. Each author in this collection has enjoyed full freedom to express his or her views, including judgements about historians, dead and living. The present series organized by the ICHR provides a forum, but the opinions expressed by the authors are their own.

In conclusion, I would like to express my gratitude to the Member Secretary, Dr Ishrat Alam, for having put this book on the fast track to ensure its early publication.


Tribal Societies and History Writing in India 1
Writings on the Maritime History of Ancient India 27
Approaches to the Study of Ancient Technology 55
Indian Labour History: A Historiographic Survey 87
Historiographical Survey of the writings on Indian Military History 119
Christain History as Indian Social History A Review of the Literature 159
Gender and the Writing of South Indian History 199
Contesting Exclusion, Resisting Inclusion  
Contradictory Trends in Historical Research  
in North East India (1800-1900) 225
Study of Sikhism, Sikh History and Sikh Literature 255
Dalits and History Writing in India:  
Some Historiographical Trends and Questions 323
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