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Working of Ideology in History Writing


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#1 Sumir Sharma

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Posted 09 January 2005 - 10:10 PM

John

This is a response to your post titled “What makes a good historian?”

Apropos, first, I am adamant to come to this section of the Forum while responding to your post even when we have exchanged PM on the issue that where your write up should be located. I may sound adamant but I am interested in discussing something else than mere JFK. I understand the core of your activity but you have simultaneously trudged on a path which, I have reason to believe, that every person with a scientific bent of mind when delves into to huge mounts of historic sources always faces a dilemma, that is, if he has to remain scientific and continue with the faith and believe that history is also a mental exercise worthy of any human endevaour and a course worthy of human life then how a historic bent of mind should work.

Well, it is right that historian is like a detective. He is a detective who never believes his own findings as final and keeps on evaluating what actually he has found. May be it is so, because, in case of a historian, his subject matter is a human being as that human being has lived over time and place. The scientists of physical sciences still believe like Greek philosophers that if the fact is not fixed and universal than you can not have scientific study of such a fact. You may have only opinions but not the actual fact. You may not like to read the works of Carr, (I myself have not read that small book by E. H. Carr, What is History with spiral on its title as the first pages begun where in he discussed that how he went about writing of history. Such a beginning never attracts me. My understanding of philosophy of history is built around the book by B. Sheik Ali, an Indian writer and Idea of History by Collingwood and a third book by some American writer whose name I have forgotten. The book of Carr is lying somewhere in the stacks of books which I do not look at for a long time and it continues to remain there untouched because a big layer of dust has settled on it and I am allergic to dust.) but I borrow his observation that there is always a need to establish a dialogue between present and past. But how that dialogue can be undertaken? How to lay the bait? How to learn about the site where you can have the right kind of fish? Is not the Ideology that right kind of angler and the bait both combined in one? Whenever I think on such questions, I always stop at passing a judgement that if there is no ideology, then there can be never be any study in history.

“Ideology”, Yes this is the word to which I was exposed to, in a very dramatic manner. How Ideology plays its role, became more clear to me after that, by some incidences when the issue of contents of the history in the textbooks of history at Secondary level Schools in India was taken up. It started during the reign of the BJP rule at the Center in India. They started with the demand for the need of re-writing the history of India. I was very happy. There was need to re-write the history of India because, to borrow Romila Thapar verdict, the Indian historians have never studied the history of their country scientifically and they have only reacted to what others have said about India. I remember that I had felt a peculiar agitation in me when I read that once Lord Curzon spoke during a convocation in Calcutta University that “My dear friends, believe me, that India as a nation…” Then, there came the demand that there should by Saraswati Vandana at Schools. What was that? I did not know. Then an accusation followed that the Marxist scholars dominated the Indian history scenario and some changes were made at University level, in NCERT and CBSE.


It was soon followed by the demand of re-framing the chapters of Indian History. The ruling party at that argued that the Indian history had never been presented as per the Indian view point and independent India was still following what J. S. Mills had decided for them. Very Right and I admired their judgement. Then came the thud, a thud quite loud at that but devoid of any stuff. They said that there was no Harappa Culture to begin with. May the Archeologist be damned! Then what should be the first chapter of Indian history? It should be Saraswati Civilization? Hay, What was that? They explained that the Aryans lived here since the beginning and it was from here that they had gone out to other countries. (Imagine How Bismarck and Hitler would have reacted to that version.) Very fine, What is the proof? They came up with a very scientific proof! They had exploded the next nuclear bomb at Pokran (Pokhran II). They were undertaking a search that how far the nuclear radiation had polluted the ground water. While exploring the ground water, they had dug out the earth from below and the sediments resembled those which had been discovered near Pehowa and along the course of River Saraswati. (There is not geographical proofs of River Saraswati. It is a mythological River till this day.) It was what they claimed. That showed that the Aryan civilization was flourishing in that region. Well, Does such arguments make sense? I do not know what was the reaction of Shereen Ratnagar, an archeologist of Protohistory of India and ancient Mesopotamia.

Then it was followed by other controversies. The government of the time tried to place the portrait of V. D. Savarkar in the Parliament House. How far did I know about Savarkar? I knew that they were revolutionaries. Savarkar brothers had organised associations of Indian youth. Savarkar Senior had written a book in 1902 titled The First War of Independence – 1857 (something like that). They had undertaken some activities in Indian House in London. They were also associated with K S Verma who had promoted such revolutionary Indian youths in London. For me, he was a revolutionary. But I never knew that at any time, he had sought pardon from the British government. I never knew that he died an unknown death in an independent India. It surprised me that other parties, Congress as well Marxists, were totally against projecting Savarkar as a freedom fighter. May be, as a student of history, I have grown to a level, where I do not now belong to any nation. Or I do not have any fixed ideology.

Apart from that, the next controversy was that Nathuram Godse was not an ideologue. He was a simple man and a pure nationalist. I stop here and do not dilate further. I know that you have written a book on Gandhi and American press had declared that Indian Nationalists still eulogize the assassin who killed the father of the nation when such attempts were being made. I also remember that Americans were moving nearer to Atal Bihari government before 9/11.

Now I come to my first exposure to the Ideology controversy.

I was attending a refresher course at Punjab University Chandigarh. Those were the days, when I had studied Guru Nanak in History by J. S. Garewal and was highly satisfied with the addition to my knowledge at that time. I was also satisfied because, the reading of that book had assured me about my own thought about the syllabus of History of Punjab which was being taught at undergraduate level. I have never enjoyed teaching that course. It is to me mainly biographies of Sikh Gurus and in no way can be termed as History of Punjab. I do not know how History of Punjab is taught in Pakistan. What would be the course structure and contents of History of Punjab in Pakistan?

Once I met J. S. Garewal. He is an established historian. He had written for Oxford University Press. He has also written for Encyclopedia Britannica. I asked him a question about the structure of subject matter of New Cambridge History. I asked him that I have read Kenith Jones and John F. Richards. They claim to be writing history of South Asia but all the titles are about India. Why do they not call it the history of India and insist on calling it as a history of South Asia. He gave an answer. I persisted with some more queries. He does not give much time but with a smiling face he gave an answer which I hold back for now.

I had listen about the strong disliking among the University professors against each other. I had never witnessed that. I also did not know about the groupism of Punjab University. We had a lecture on Punjab history by G. S. Dhillon. I have read his name and also read some of his articles. For me, any person from University and who has written some article or research paper, is worthy of admiration. In that group there were some scholars from Punjabi University Patiala who had better knowledge. they also knew about some conflict among different scholars writing on Punjab history especially on Sikh Gurus.

The episode started when one gentleman scholar from Punjabi University raised the question that Garewal version of Sikhs gurus are more balanced than that of other scholars. I never knew that it was some kind of a trigger. There went off that explosion. Outburst of Dr. Dhillon was such that no narration of incidence could make that day alive again. But, the scholar had a class. He ended his session on one note that without ideology there can never be any history. If a historian does not have ideology, he could never analyze the source material.

I was not able to understand what he had said. But, on last lines as mentioned above remained with me. I started troubling my mind again and again. It has raised so many issues in my mind.

Before continuing with it, I will like that I should to also come up with my understanding of history.

I understand that there are no laws in History. The day, the history would start enunciating laws, then it will transformed into a new subject and may not remain what it is today. Secondly, Be clear, that you should not have any value judgement about your subject of reading. Remain Impartial. Do not put your topic in the category of right and wrong. Just see that how the change and continuity had taken place and what was the response of human beings.

Now, for nearly four to five years, whenever I read history, or try to ask any question about history, I read history with a theme which can be put in following words.

The three main Engines or gears are Power, Wealth and Knowledge. If these three words are put in different manner, then It can be also be said that this trinity is Power, Money and Technology. These three measures have increased value of reading of history for me. Now whenever I read, I question, how power, money and knowledge had played its role at a given time on a given place.

But, the issues which have come up is, that what should be analytical tools of a historian. How can he identify a fact? Should he use statistical methods more? What is that faculty which identifies that some thing is fact of history? How far the value and cultural background can possibly be kept out of history bent of mind? What is history trying to give to the society? Is it not mere a slave to political bosses?

There are so many questions and the answer is not coming out. Every time, the assessment moves to the conclusion that “Ideology” is required to make a study of history meaningful for TODAY.

The turmoil has not reached any conclusion. I have just laid out bare what goes on in my mind. I have not written any research paper. But I claim that I am sincere reader. I am convinced that history is a subject with a stuff. I have grown up to a level where I now just say that History is a philosophy taught be examples. I believe that Chinese has recorded history as their religious activity because that have learnt that this is the only scientific manner to learn about the real goal of human beings.

I just stop here abruptly because I just wanted to share it. I have no one around me with whom I can undertake such talks. I have found forum a place where I can undertake such talks on the issue of philosophy of history. That is other thing, your list of definitions of History under topic Philosophy of history Quotations had just left me more confused and amused. But here I am before you, with a sincere and serious discussion and wait for your comment and views.

#2 Sumir Sharma

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Posted 04 May 2005 - 03:54 PM

There is a comment placed by me on my blog on an article by Dr. V. N. Datta, Professor Emeritus, which has relevance to this topic. This topic was again a response to one article of John Simkin in History debate. I am giving a link HERE.

I hope that those interested in it may find it relevant.

#3 Linda Minor

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Posted 19 June 2010 - 04:43 PM

John,
I am fascinated by your statement in a previous post:

Well, it is right that historian is like a detective. He is a detective who never believes his own findings as final and keeps on evaluating what actually he has found. May be it is so, because, in case of a historian, his subject matter is a human being as that human being has lived over time and place.


That is an idea that has long occurred to me when thinking about historical "conspiracies." How can we say they are plots cooked up by people over long periods of time when the players are constantly changing, some dying off while new ones come on the scene? I have tried, while researching a subject, to insert myself back in time amongst the known conspirators in order to "get into their minds." The only way I know how to do that is to follow the money in their lives.

From my own experience I realize that people have as much freedom as their family station and ability to earn money allow them to have. Therefore, I find it essential to know the background and financial status of each person in a particular event; I do genealogical charts on them, trace their educational endeavors, friends, associations and then compare that with what they may have said in public or what has been written about them. It's a time-consuming way to evaluate their true role in history.

Since I live in Texas, I have found Texans to be most intriguing, and that is where my research began almost 20 years ago. Why have Texans played such an inordinantly significant place in American history? Beginning with the innocuous Colonel House on down to two Bush presidents? That is the primary focus of my work, including of course the assassination of John Kennedy on Texas soil. What motivated these men (and women) and how can we analyze them in terms of how it happened and why?

I recently posted one of my articles on my website, which I entitled "Tilting at Oil Wells." I liked the combined imagery of two overweight Texas oil men, Clint Murchison and Sid Richardson, riding broken-down steeds, attempting to destroy communism, financed by their own luck at striking oil in their East Texas backyards.

I have long wanted to write a book, but after working as a researcher for another author, I realized the impossibility of tying myself down to one philosophy of a person. People are living human beings, who change from day to day. All we can do sometimes is just relate the facts as they happened--all the facts--in order to get some type of grasp over the why.

#4 Sumir Sharma

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Posted 28 June 2010 - 06:59 PM

John,
I am fascinated by your statement in a previous post:

Well, it is right that historian is like a detective. He is a detective who never believes his own findings as final and keeps on evaluating what actually he has found. May be it is so, because, in case of a historian, his subject matter is a human being as that human being has lived over time and place.


That is an idea that has long occurred to me when thinking about historical "conspiracies." How can we say they are plots cooked up by people over long periods of time when the players are constantly changing, some dying off while new ones come on the scene? I have tried, while researching a subject, to insert myself back in time amongst the known conspirators in order to "get into their minds." The only way I know how to do that is to follow the money in their lives.

From my own experience I realize that people have as much freedom as their family station and ability to earn money allow them to have. Therefore, I find it essential to know the background and financial status of each person in a particular event; I do genealogical charts on them, trace their educational endeavors, friends, associations and then compare that with what they may have said in public or what has been written about them. It's a time-consuming way to evaluate their true role in history.

Since I live in Texas, I have found Texans to be most intriguing, and that is where my research began almost 20 years ago. Why have Texans played such an inordinantly significant place in American history? Beginning with the innocuous Colonel House on down to two Bush presidents? That is the primary focus of my work, including of course the assassination of John Kennedy on Texas soil. What motivated these men (and women) and how can we analyze them in terms of how it happened and why?

I recently posted one of my articles on my website, which I entitled "Tilting at Oil Wells." I liked the combined imagery of two overweight Texas oil men, Clint Murchison and Sid Richardson, riding broken-down steeds, attempting to destroy communism, financed by their own luck at striking oil in their East Texas backyards.

I have long wanted to write a book, but after working as a researcher for another author, I realized the impossibility of tying myself down to one philosophy of a person. People are living human beings, who change from day to day. All we can do sometimes is just relate the facts as they happened--all the facts--in order to get some type of grasp over the why.


Linda,

The 'follow the money' is a major tool to get to core of the past activity around a person and group. I fully agree with you. I consider it as a tool to get back into the right flow of forces in order to understand the activities of man. It helped me to understand many topics in a better manner. I was able to recollect the war of succession among the princes of Shahjahan more when I read about the finances of Aurangzeb. Well, the same matrix can help to understand more about the role of East India company in India. I believe that this factor does not remain confine to a single person. It effects the nation. I believe and many South Asian historians also approve this interpretation that actual force to National Struggle for Freedom in India took birth when they developed the economic understanding of the British rule in India. It started with Poverty and Un-British Rule in India by Dada Bhai Naoroji. It was followed by India Today by R P Dutt. What I mean to say, this rule of 'follow the money' squeeze out the sense out of the insipid documents. Recently, I was studying the role of Indigo Revolt on the development of the Indian Nationalist thought among the young Bengalis like Surendra Nath Banerjea. Therein, the fact which emerged was that it was organized by the villagers around the revenue collection and actual output of the harvest. It is not clear how had they concluded that in order to pressurize the planters, they had to hold back the revenue first. It is shown by some scholars that this revolt helped to frame the ideology of young Bengalis.

However, I am gradually developing shift in perspective. I am afraid that John may not like it but this money based evaluation or to be exact the Marxist economic determinism theory in explaining the development in history is bit restricted approach. A man is just not a struggling machine for 'food, shelter and cloth'. Well, I may be doomed in saying this but when I read Indian history, I feel like saying that India had not remained under subjugation for 200 hundred years only. She had suffered subjugation for 2000 years. See, Darius was followed by Alexander, Then came Sakas and the Parthians, Then came Kushans, and Huns. Then, after a brief gap, came the Arabs, then the Turks. The Turks continued for full eight hundred years. Now the question comes, If the money factor was bringing the invaders to India, then why was not India able to counter the invaders. Why did India not develop invaders mind set. I see it different way. The work of ruling and defending was the responsibility of Kashtriyas. Neminath, a distant cousin of Krishna, the master strategist, was a Prince, but he renowned the world and became a Nirgranthi. Then Parashavnath, followed the same course. Mahavira, left his throne to became Jain. Similarly, Sidhartha abandoned the royalty became Buddha. Then, Chandragupta, left the throne to became a Jain. Even Kautilya, the strategist who is considered by many scholars a step ahead than Mechieaveli, became an Aajivika along with Emperor Bindusara. Asoka adopted the invaders mind set but changed the course and became Buddhist follower. When the Grecian attack took place, there was no one in India to stop them, Then a continuous wave of invaders came and one of the reason was the fertility of the India soil or the Indian money and trade. Now, herein the story does not ends here. I am unable to understand that why the house of Ambar gave their daughter to the family of Akbar. (Recently many honour killings had taken place here in India and in many of them, Rajputs were involved.) Was it the money or some conspiracy? I doubt, that the revolt of Prince Kuarau was not a simple episode. Prince Khurram, the future Shahjahan, the younger brother of Kusrau, killed Kusrau and his nephew and Jahangir did not raise a voice. Was there a conspiracy?

Now in above two paragraphs, the money factors can be traced. But there is some more set of factor of Human existence which have directed the course of history. I can bring out similar examples in American history also. I keep on reading about Civil War of 1860 and till this day I am not able to convince myself of actual process in history that caused 1860 December 'Declaration of Secession'. Read that event with the events of 1789. You will find the difference.

Well, following the money device helps to understand some forces as they work out themselves to draw the canvas of Human History. But there are some more factors. It is the play of Three Factors: POWER, MONEY AND KNOWLEDGE' but there is Human factor over and above the genome mapping of this species and the supreme above them is the time. If you are a Hegelian, then Thought and Time have yet to reveal themselves.

I really like history.



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