ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Remaking the Indian Historian's Craft

The Past, Present and Future of History as an Academic Discipline

Unlike literature, which results from an imaginative plunder of individual and collective memory, professional history is based on primary and secondary sources which verify the historian's truth. Compared with literature, history's relationship with memory appears complicated, primarily because of its institutionalised modernisation. This paper underlines the need to expand the horizons of history by approaching memory more constructively than Indian historians usually do. In India, this means analysing the memory of the majority who remain excluded from academic constructions of knowledge. Several modes of remembering have flourished in the pre-literate, literate and post-literate contexts of Indian society since the early 20th century outside professional history. This paper suggests that written history and unwritten memory must both be used critically by the historian. The historian must begin by interrogating his vocation to examine why history, once a popular discipline, has steadily lost social importance since 1947. This paper favours histories appropriate to present and future Indian conditions; it tries to offer possible solutions to the "problem" of history with reference to Indian conditions.

A draft of this paper was presented at the Second National Symposium on the “Human Sciences in the Time of Disciplinary Decadence”, organised by the Balvant Parekh Centre for General Semantics and Other Human Sciences and Forum on Contemporary Theory, Vadodara, 10-12 February 2011. I am indebted to the chief resource person at the symposium, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, for several critical observations. Comments by Amiya Prosad Sen and Anshu Malhotra are gratefully acknowledged.

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