Exploring The Evolution Of A Concept

Rajat Roy

By Shashi Bhushan Upadhyay
Oxford University Press, Oxford, Year 2017, pp.794, Rs. 1495


Shashi Bhushan Upadhyay’s Historiography in the Modern World: Western and Indian Perspectives is a brilliantly compiled book, a re-view of the whole trajectory of historical thinking, sometimes based on primary sources and at times on secondary texts. Upadhyay’s book not only records history as an objective area of study, it also documents the history of historical methods. Unlike what the title suggests, the book is not only an exploration of the concept of historiography focusing on modern times, it also looks into the evolution of the concept from pre-modern to the modern times.  However, as the author suggests, one has to make a distinction between the past, history and historiography. Not all the events or occurrences of the past can be called history, nonetheless, history is the record of the past (p. 1). Therefore, if the past is the objective reality of an old time, history would be the record or the representation or mediation of such reality from the perspective of the present. Whereas, the term historiography would mean three things—firstly, history in general, secondly, critical study of historical works, and thirdly, a particular field of historical scholarship (p. 9). Therefore, historiography can very well be distinguished from what is considered to be history, nevertheless, they complement each other. In other words, one can say that it is historiography which makes the past intelligible through history. The book is formally divided into four parts; however, they are interconnected with each other, be it chronologically or conceptually: the first is about premodern historiographies of both western and eastern world; the second section invests on the modern western historiography, which is conceptually vast and also diverse in nature; the third, historiographies in modern India, and finally, critique of mainstream historiography. Each of this fourfold division in itself requires a dense and spatiotemporal historical analysis. However, the book successfully summarizes them by bringing them together and also conceptually differentiating them from each other. As a background study, the book begins with the account of premodern western historical writings, which are fragmentary pieces and date back to as long as the end of the fourth millennium bce in Egypt, on the ‘glorious deeds of the kings’ and later, in the form of family genealogy. However, in the premodern period, the past usually meant the aspect of ‘origin’ or creation which was usually covered under the realm of either myth or religion. It ...

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