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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Review of the Presentations and Discussions on History and Cultural Studies

The study of history and culture are the two sides of one coin. They complement each other. The culture of a society or a nation is very much influenced by its history. So the manner of interpreting history is very important. So the presentations and discussions on history and culture raised different questions and problematized the understanding of history. What are the parameters used to analysis the history? How does the imperialism influence the history? Whether the past is fixed or not?

The first presentation was based on the article, “Postcoloniality and the Artifice of History: Who Speaks for "Indian" Pasts?” by Dipesh Chakrabarty. It problematized the idea of “Indians” representing themselves in history. In the academic discourse of history “Europe” remains the sovereign, theoretical subject of all histories. All other histories, Indian, Chinese, Kenyan etc., tend to become variations on a master narrative that could be call the history of Europe. In this sense, Indian history itself is in a position of subalternity. Europe works as a silent referent in historical knowledge itself becomes obvious in a highly ordinary way. There are at least two everyday symptoms of the subalternity of non-Western, third-world histories.
Third-world historians feel a need to refer to works in European history; historians of Europe do not feel any need to reciprocate.

The dominance of Europe as the subject of all histories is a part of a much more profound theoretical condition under which historical knowledge is produced in the third world. Our footnotes bear rich testimony to the insights we have derived from their knowledge and creativity.

For generations now, philosophers and thinkers shaping the nature of social science have produced theories embracing the entirety of humanity. These theories have been produced in relative and sometimes absolute ignorance of the majority of humankind i.e., those in non-Western cultures. The everyday paradox of third-world social science is that the third world intellectuals use these theories eminently useful in understanding their societies.

For example, following the western methodology of writing history on the basis of historical transition, the Indian history is also written. To prove this the writer takes Sumit Sarkar’s Modern India (regarded as one of the best textbooks on Indian history written primarily for Indian universities). The text opens with “The sixty years or so that lie between the foundation of the Indian National Congress in 1885 and the achievement of independence in August 1947 witnessed perhaps the greatest transition in our country’s long history. A transition, however, which in many ways remains grievously incomplete, and it is with this central ambiguity that it seems most convenient to begin our survey.”

Now the question arises, what kind of a transition was it remained? Answer is grievously incomplete. The study of such a failed history creates a lackness, absence or incompleteness. This history lead us to the British conquer and to the medieval period. This led to modernity. The terms have changed with time. The medieval was once called despotic and the modern is the rule of law. For example, Alexander Dow’s History of Hindostan, (1770) says: “this fundamental jurisprudence was the rule of law that contrasted with a past rule that was arbitrary and despotic ...Despotism was the opposite of English constitutional government.”
In the nineteenth and twentieth century’s, generations of elite Indian nationalists found Indian history between the two poles: despotic-constitutional, medieval-modern, feudal-capitalist. Within this narrative shared between imperialist and nationalist imaginations, the Indian was always a figure of lack. There was always the theme of inadequacy or failure.
This discussion led to Provincializing Europe. Here Chakrabarty is not dealing with "the region of the world we call 'Europe,'" but rather the "imaginary figure [of Europe] that remains deeply embedded in clich├ęd and shorthand forms in some everyday habits of thought." European thought is no longer the sole property of Europeans and can be used by postcolonialists to good effect, when revised for local conditions.

The Second presentation was based on the article “The Many worlds of Indian History” by Sumit Sarkar. It explores the idea of Indian History, its limitations and the development of history in the late colonial and contemporary times .Finally, the article concludes with a discussion on the how the gap between the writings of elite people on history and the teaching done by primary school teachers can be bridged in the academic arena. . In this article Sumit Sarkar first describes how Indian history failed to project reality. Our historigraphical essays tend to become bibliographies, surveys of trends or movements within the academic guild. Through the Ramjanmabhumi issue in Ayodhya, he gives a clear idea about how history is created because of faith and academic knowledge is sidelined. This, however, was very far from being a simple triumph of age-old popular faith over the alienated rationalism of secular intellectuals. Scholars and researchers have limited role here.

Sumit Sarkar says in his essay that the main aim of teaching history is limited to stimulating patriotism among students and to build in a quiz culture where the students should have by-hearted knowledge of various dates and events. Thereby we fail to imbibe in ourselves questioning attitudes and the ability of critical evaluation.

Impact and impositions of Western English education has affected Indian history. Two major changes occurred because of the influence of Western English education. British rule brought a notion of time as linear abstract and measurable. The other major change was they divided period into three phases. This led to the four yougas being replaced by three phases (i.e., Ancient, Medieval, and Modern Schema).

The focus of this essay, however, is not the history of India. Rather, the purpose of this piece is to explore very schematically some of the issues and examples for the abandonment of history and show what is the present stage of our history and how it can be effectively produced in future in the academic arena. Sumit Sarkar argues that the shift from late colonial history has produced one-sided accounts that artificially separate from pure history. As a result, the main essence/aim of Indian history and its basic purposes has been neglected altogether.
In the third part Sumit Sarkar compares two periods in Indian History i.e. late colonial Indian history and contemporary history. He says that, hierarchical division is more visible in late colonial period opportunities, for any kind of education was more restricted and therefore education and research was not sharp in the late colonial period. But in contemporary times, research and education has grown considerably. In late colonial period, absence of internal hierarchization is more visible. Sumit Sakar gives the example of Sir Jadunath Sarkar whose formal degrees were in English, and till retirement he combined research with the teaching of history.

In contemporary India very significant shifts in basic approaches and choice of research question has taken place. In 1950 the themes like social formation, debates about the existence and nature of Indian Feudalism, the possibilities of capital development in pre-colonial time were focused on, but in late colonial period the primary focus was on information about kings, dynasties or conquests. In 1960-1970 there were major changes happening in history. Firstly, there was the emergence of the Left. Secondly, the lower cast became more powerful due to peasant revolution. Thirdly, women participated in revolutionary activities. Sumit Sarkar says that, due to these changes Subaltern Studies and Women history came into existence. Meanwhile, there was a spate of research publications on tribal peasant and labour movements, as well as a few pioneering, sympathetic studies of lower-caste initiatives in large part independent of, or even hostile to, mainstream nationalism. The hierarchical divisions between scholars at research institute, university teachers, and those working in undergraduate colleges are visibly deepening in contemporary times. Sumit Sarkar gives the example of Ekalavya volunteer group who tried to bridge the gap between the primary school teachers and the elite researchers through teaching-cum-research seminar. They encouraged classroom discussion and creative assimilation.

Other questions that came up for discussion were, on Gramsci’s notion on common sense? How do the social and the political get connected to the education about which Sumit Sarkar has discussed in the later part of his essay? What does Partha Chatterjee say about the adoption of modern principle of European history in India?

For the further discussions the class invited Dr.Vageshwari SP, Christ University. She initiated the discussion on systematic breaking down of history. The problem in the study discourse is that we consider history as fixed not dynamic. We are not questioning the history. In India, the study of history is based on the methodology of imperialism and Geometry which provides a defined way of studying history.

The theory of relativity challenged the undisputable absolute truth of the past. Study of history is a truth making process.

One of the problems is how to convert the cultural practices to academic. Here many times form takes over content and we fail to bring up tools for the analysis.
Rewriting history is always a part of society. Here, why the history is rewritten is important, not what is rewritten. What is the agenda behind it?

The syllabus of the history in higher education should be re-worked. It should be based on facts as well as issue based.

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