Thursday, July 25, 2024

History – A Contested Terrain

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History despite its lack of economic prospects continues to evoke strong reactions and sentiments in every part of the

History is considered by millions of students globally as a boring, tedious discipline.

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A study of dry facts, dates, names of monarchs, empires, revolutions is considered to be a thankless exercise.

Students who are rational minded curse history to be their worst possible nightmare (for others it is mathematics).

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Nature of History

History is essentially a battle of ideas.

The origin of ideas dates back to antiquity, particularly to the times of Socrates and Aristotle.

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Ideas define what shall be the defining objective of any regime.

It seeks to underline the key to a good life, the metaphysics of human existence. Ideas prioritized human nature and how society and its institutions shape human nature.

While this may seem to belong essentially to the philosophical domain, it is in actuality an interdisciplinary issue with history taking the lead.

Henry Luard argued that the discipline is divided into different ages- the age of reason, enlightenment, nationalism, age of ideology and finally democracy.  The last one has been designated by Francis Fukuyama as constituting the ‘end of history’.

Relevance of the discipline

Contrary to popular economic perceptions regarding history, the discipline is of immense significance.

It helps an individual possess knowledge of their identity- who they are, where they have descended, who were their ancestors and what were their activities.

Knowledge of history helps one to know their roots, their past. Such a knowledge helps individuals globally to undertake courses of action that can make their future fruitful and prosperous.

History is also a reminder to societies worldwide that it is imperative that you learn from your mistakes, introspect and take steps to not repeat them in the future.

This is evident from the darkest episodes of German history- the Holocaust.

This refers to the systematic extermination of six million Jewish people in Europe undertaken by the Nazi regime of Adolf Hitler.

A knowledge of Holocaust is now mandatory for German and other European school students.

Similar is the case of Japanese students who have to study, mandatorily, the tainted militaristic past of Imperial Japan.

Conflictual by nature

History is inherently contested.

It is a subject of innumerable controversy which plays out in every society and institution.

This so-called contestation is being battled out in India by members of the left and right of the political spectrum in the recent NCERT textbook syllabus revision.

Notwithstanding its nature, it is very clear that history will always be remain contested.

This is evident in several Western intellectual academic circles which tries to whitewash the West’s tainted history of colonialism and imperialism.

They try to downplay the savagery of the Europeans in the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

They, however, intellectually justifying colonization of the continents of Asia, Africa and Latin America.

Similar is the impact of colonialism on indigenous societies, something which J Sai Deepak had brought out in the first book of the Bharat Trilogy.


Whether one likes history or not, you cannot escape it.

No matter where you go, live and spend your livelihood; you will be judged by your historical identity.

This is best seen in the global revulsion against people of Islamic faith, which in a large measure, is attributed to their highly controversial and contested history.



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