The First Lecture
The First Lecture at Gandhi Bhawan, University of Delhi
|Series||The Historiography Series Lectures|
|Chief Guest||Prof. Ramesh Bharadwaj, Director, Gandhi Bhawan & Head of Department, Department of Sanskrit, University of Delhi|
|Venue||Gandhi Bhawan, University of Delhi|
|Agenda||Revisiting Indian Historiography|
|Date||8th March, 2022|
|Speaker||Prof. Saumya Dey, Professor at the Rashtram School of Public Leadership, Rishihood University|
The Inaugural Lecture of the ongoing Historiography Series at Historical India was held on 8th March, 2022 at the Gandhi Bhawan, University of Delhi. The lecture deliberated upon revisiting Indian historiography and was delivered by Dr. Saumya Dey, Rishihood University, with Chief Guest Dr. Ramesh Bharadwaj, HoD, Sanskrit, DU.
The Historiography Series
The Historiography Series is an ongoing lecture series at Historical India that attempts to equip students with the necessary skills to read, interpret and eventually write history. With a multitude of narratives getting traction, and political motives getting injected into these, the discipline of history is unfortunately becoming the biggest casualty. We believe that it is essential to get an idea of how history is to be written and understood, so that a foundation can be established for future discourse and debate. The objective of this series is the formulation of a Historiography policy document that shall be made part of the website’s content policy.
Dr. Saumya Dey is serving as a Professor at the Rashtram School of Public Leadership in Rishihood University. He has done a Ph.D. at the Center for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University. His primary research interests are intellectual and cultural history.
He has till date authored 3 books and a number of essays –
- Becoming Hindus and Muslims. Reading the Cultural Encounter in Bengal. 1342-1905 (Munshiram Manoharlal, 2015)
- The Cultural Landscape of Hindutva and other Essays.
- Historical Legitimacy of an Idea (Shubhi Publications, 2019)
- Narrativizing Bhāratvarṣa &
Other Essays (Shubhi Publications, 2021). [ref]
The Chief Guest
Prof. Ramesh Bharadwaj was the director of Gandhi Bhawan, University of Delhi and also the then Head of Department of the Department of Sanskrit, University of Delhi during the course of the lecture. At present, he serves as the Vice-Chancellor of Maharishi Valmiki Sanskrit University, Kaithal, Haryana. He was also a Visiting Research Fellow at the Department of Indian Philosophy, Tokyo University, Japan. He has also authored several books that were published by internationally renowned book houses. Historical India conveys its gratitude to Prof. Ramesh Bharadwaj for extending his generous support by permitting the use of the Conference Hall of the Gandhi Bhawan, University of Delhi in order to conduct the lecture. [ref]
Notes from the Lecture
The lecture ponders upon - 'Revisiting Indian Historiography'. But, what would that entail? What exactly we ought to do? What questions must we consider while revisiting Indian historiography? To gain clarity on these matters, it is necessary that we begin with certain fundamentals and then theoretically frame this issue.
What is history? – the most basic definition possible is that it is a record of human efforts and endeavors in the past.
What is historiography? – It is the art and craft of conducting historical researches and writing history. This begs the question as to what history is as a system of knowledge, what objectives does it pursue and what ends doe it serve?
You might have heard of R. G. Collingwood, so to speak a philosopher historian. He in his very famous book - ‘The Idea of History’, considers history as a philosophy. This is because, inherent to history as a discipline is the philosophical tendency and the very existence of history as an organized body of knowledge begs certain philosophical questions.
History requires us to philosophize and consider certain abstract ideas, values, etc. But the question that arises is why?
This is because, to begin with, the narrative function is inherent to historiography. Writing histories means narrating stories, and there are so many ways the same story might be told. Again, there are so many ways stories might be structured and restructured.
One may structure narratives stressing continuities between time periods or one might, as a historian, emphasize changes.
The American historian Hayden White calls these, respectively, the synchcronic and diachronic modes of storytelling.
Historical narratives must make points to make sense, that is, they are required to form conclusions. This is another reason why they are so diverse in terms of how they are structured.
According to Hayden White, a historical narrative might take the form of a ‘mode of emplotment’, ‘mode of argument’, or ‘mode of ideological implication’.
As a mode of emplotment, a historical narrative might be Romance, Comedy, Tragedy, or Satire. Romance in this case means ‘Romantic’ or the tendency to romanticize.
As a mode of argument, a historical narrative might be formist, organicist, mechanistic, or contextualist.
It is formist when it identifies the unique characteristics of the phenomena it studies. It is organicist when it establishing connections between phenomena. It is mechanistic when it is reductive. It is contextualist when it establishes connections or highlights specificities as and when required.
As a mode of ideological implication, a historical narrative is anarchic, conservative, radical or liberal.
Historical narratives might be characterised by a broad attitude towards the past. Friedrich Nietzsche writes that they might be monumental, antiquarian or critical.
Historical narratives are monumental when they mine the past for heroic deeds, they are antiquarian when the display the tendency to valorise and glorify the ancient past and they are critical when the denounce the past as a source of injustices.
Moving on, historiography is dependent on ideas or conceptual frames.
To bring up Collingwood again, he writes that historical inquiry must adopt some principles. It seeks to derive some morals from the past. In this sense, history is an ideal endeavour. It is ideal also in the sense that it apprehends the past through ideas. Think of these categories like ‘feudalism’, ‘tyranny’, ‘freedom’, ‘tolerance’, ect., that one might look for in the past. These are ways to frame the past with ideas.
(With reference to E. H. Carr) Then again, there purely, if we might say, clerical sides to the historiographic effort. This is since writing history, at its most basic, is a documentary exercise and it requires one to identify one’s sources, sift through them, select them, and so on. Sources yield facts which, again, have to be put through careful sifting and selection.
The historian is meant to be unbiased and ‘objective’ through the entire process, but that is only an ideal situation. Historian’s own preferences of course influence his selection of sources and facts and this in turn determines what history eventually gets written and from what point of view.
As E. H. Carr says, the historian decides which facts to give the floor and the historical fact is thus not pure, it is filtered through the historian’s prejudices.
Referring to Carr again, historical inquiry is a social process because the historian is a social phenomenon. That is, the historian is the product of a social milieu which is likely to influence his output, the histories that they write. They might also, as a result, promote a social vision wittingly or unwittingly.
Let us, at this point as to how conventional Indian historiography has functioned in relation to some of the foregoing and then we may discuss what revisiting Indian historiography would entail for us.
What continuities or changes has Indian historiography emphasised from age to age? What changed as ancient India gave way to the medieval?
Has Indian historiography taken a formist or organicist view of Indian social and cultural phenomenon? Has it made the case for an overarching Indian civilization by establishing connections between them or has it view them in isolation from each other?
Has Indian historiography romanticised the Indian past or presented it as a tragedy, or, perhaps, done both? If it has done both, which periods has Indian historiography romanticized and which has it presented as tragedies?
Has Indian historiography been monumental, has found the heroic in our past? Has it glorified our ancient past, or has it been critical of it?
Through what moral values, concepts and principles has Indian historiography sought to apprehend the past?
Finally, how objective or accommodative have Indian historians been in their selection of sources and facts? Have historians of ancient India, for instance, given due respect to the Puranas and the facts they relate in configuring their narratives?
Last but not the least, what social vision has Indian historiography promoted?
It is imperative to have a candid discussion and find answers to these issues before formulating a historiography policy document.
Glimpses from the lecture