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1. How, When and Where

This chapter talks about how do we classify historical events and the sources of historical records

1.1      Importance of Dates

History is a subject which describes the changes that occur over time. While studying history, we compare the past with the present.

There was a time when historians only wrote the accounts (stories) of kings/rules and their lives. It talked about the important events in the life of that king, like

  1. When was the king born
  2. When was he crowned and took control over the kingdom
  3. The year he fought the important wars and their outcomes
  4. The year he died and who succeeded the throne

Now days, historians write about various significant events of the past. To describe such events, we categorize them based on time. The time may be represented as specific dates or a period.

For example

  1. The adoption of tea as a drink would have taken multiple years. This can be represented only as a time period
  2. The first flight of airplane built by Wright Brother can be represented as a specific date

1.1.1      Choosing the time period

There can be various perspectives when describing the history of a time period. For example

  1. One way of describing the British Rule in India is to talk about the various Administrative Heads, their activities, policies and achievements in a chronological (in sequence of dates) order. These historical accounts have a chapter on each head starting with first Governor General of India – Warren Hasting till last Viceroy – Lord Mountbatten
  2. Another way of describing the history of that time was done in 1817 in a three volume work – “A History of British India”. In this book, James Mill, a Scottish economist & political philosopher, divided Indian History into three periods
    • Hindu
    • Muslim
    • British

This is not an ideal representation, because at any point of time, both Hindu and Muslim cultures co-existed in India. At the same time, the time period of British influence is over-rated based on the historian’s perception.

James Mill told in his book that all Asian Societies were much less civilized than Europe.

  • Before British came to India, Hindu & Muslim despots ruled the country.
  • Religious intolerance, caste taboos & superstitious practices dominated social life.
  • British rule, could civilize India as European manners, arts, institutions & laws were introduced.
  1. Another set of historians have divided Indian History into three time periods
  • Ancient
  • Medieval
  • Modern

This classification is also not an ideal representation. The modern society under the British Rule did not have growth of science, reason, democracy, liberty & equality which are the main characteristics of this period.

Therefore, many historians refer to this period as ‘Colonial’

1.1.2      What is ‘Colonial’?

When British came to rule the country, conquering local nawabs & rajas, they changed everything according to them – they established control over the economy & society revenue to meet their expenses, bought goods at low cost, brought changes in values & tastes, customs & practices.

The process of subjugation (conquering) of one country by another, which leads to political, economic, social & cultural changes, is called ‘Colonization’

The British established control over India in the following ways

  1. Established control over economy and society
  2. Collected revenue to meet all their expenses
  3. Bought the goods/crops they needed for export at cheaper prices

1.2      Sources of Information

The following are used as sources of historical information

1.2.1      Administrative records

The British believed in documenting every instruction, plan, policy, decisions, agreement & investigation. This conviction produced an administrative culture of memos, notings and reports.

The British also felt the importance of preserving all the documents & letters, so they set up record rooms attached to all administrative institutions. Specialized institutions like archives & museums were also established to preserve important records.

In early nineteenth century, documents were beautifully written by calligraphists. After the spread of printing, copies of the records were printed as proceedings of each govt. department.

1.2.2      Surveys

The British believed that a country had to properly known before it could be effectively administered. So, the British carried out details surveys to map the entire country.

The following types of surveys were conducted

  1. Revenue survey to identify the economic potential of a place
  2. Census to identify the number of people living in a place and their characteristics like caste, religion and occupation
  3. Botanical and Zoological surveys to identify the Fauna and Flora of that place
  4. Archaeological surveys to identify ancient monuments

These surveys provided detailed information about the region, so that it could be administered effectively. For example, the revenue survey identified the following

  1. The topography of the place
  2. The soil quality and what could be produced in that soil
  3. The fauna and flora (animals and plants) of that region
  4. The local history of the place
  5. The cropping pattern

1.2.3      What official records do not tell?

All the sources of information are written from the perspective of the author. What we get to understand from the official records is what the officials thought, what they were interested in or how they wanted to represent those facts. For example, the mutiny by the soldiers was represented as an act of greed by the soldiers rather than a fight for freedom.

For that, we need to look for other sources, which are there in plenty, like diaries of people, accounts of pilgrims & travelers, autobiographies of important personalities, also newspapers once printing spread.

From all these sources, we can understand how the literate felt, but not how tribal & peasants who were illiterate, felt. Finding out this information is an even difficult task.