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Intercultural Comparison


Narayani Gupta

HISTORICAL THINKING IN SOUTH ASIA: A HANDBOOK OF SOURCES FROM COLONIAL TIMES TO THE PRESENT
Edited by Michael Gottlob
Oxford University Press, Delhi, 2003, pp. xv 318, Rs. 695.00

VOLUME XXVIII NUMBER 5-6 May/June 2004

Thank God for Michael Gottlob, who has put together a book we have felt the lack of for many years, and done nothing about. Here is two hundred years (1786-1993) of ‘the development of historical consciousness in South Asia’—from William Jones to Ramachandra Guha. This is the translation of what was part of an 8-volume series, in German, on “historical thinking in intercultural comparison”. It can and should be used in Indian universities where ‘original sources’ are almost never referred to. And for that reason, it would be worth looking at its contents with attention.      The book can be divided, for the purpose of this review, into three sections of roughly equal length—one, a long introductory essay by the Editor; two, a section of extracts from the works of three Europeans and twenty-four Indians writing before 1947; three, extracts from seventeen publications which appeared between Independence and 2002.      The Introduction shows evidence of meticulous reading of a range of material. The Editor begins his account with the circumstances in which Europeans in the nineteenth-century read India’s past in the light of their own histories and of Britain’s role in India. He goes on to illustrate how these scholars’ work cast a long shadow across the studying and writing of Indian history by Indians themselves. From this point the discussion is about Indian philosophers, social reformers, nationalists of various persuasions (from Gandhi through Savarkar to Jawaharlal Nehru), and the early economic historians. Among academic historians, K.M. Panikkar and Nilakanta Sastri’s works are analysed. There is a suggestion that, after Independence, and with the proliferation of universities and research institutes, history started to be a contested sphere – with debates on Sanskritization, on the Asiatic mode of production, on feudalism, on nationalism. History is shown to have inspired writers who were not historians, like Ashish Nandy and Nirmal Verma, as also to have interested  political organizations like the VHP.       The second section—of text extracts—begins with the writings of three individuals whom many of us ritually condemn/paraphrase, often without having read them. The classic case is James Mill – how many teachers of modern Indian history have ever read him? Well, here is your chance, now that C.H.Philips’s Historians of India, Pakistan and Ceylon (1961) is out of print. The other two are William Jones and Max Muller. The excerpts from the writings of Indians are ...


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