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OPTIONAL STRATEGY: History – by Gazal Bharadwaj, Rank – 40, CSE – 2015

History Optional Strategy

Gazal Bharadwaj

Rank – 40, CSE – 2015

In this post, I would like to outline my strategy for preparing history as my optional subject. Last year, my score was 245, and though break up differed it still remained the same this year, although I was expecting some rise:

2014: HISTORY1(125), HISTORY2(120)- TOTAL 245

2015: HISTORY1(114), HISTORY2(131)- TOTAL 245

Strategy: Most aspirants opt for history as an optional because its easy to start with and is one subject least dependent on coaching. Also, it has benefits in the general studies papers and in essay. However, approaching history as an optional requires a very technical and objective approach. All new ncerts and IGNOU BA and MA material is highly relevant.

My personal opinion is take history as an optional only if you are deeply interested in it and have zeal to go deeper. You’ll have to focus on understanding various perspectives on historiography, themes and archaeological and literary sources, rather than focussing on chronological details. You will be often told that it is not ‘scoring’, or it has ‘large syllabus’. So, take it based on interest.




  1. UPINDER SINGH- A history of ancient and early medieval India: : The most important book, according to the current trend of questions being asked on socio-economic aspects of history
  2. IGNOU B.A notes- very crisply written
  3. IGNOU M.A NOTES – helpful in understanding various political, economic and socio- cultural aspects
  4. Romila thapar- Early India( only a very selective reading)
  5. NCERT Class 6, NCERT Class 11


  1. I solely relied on IGNOU MA and BA NOTES
  2. Satish Chandra is another important source to compliment IGNOU.



  1. SHEKHAR BANDOPADHYAY- From Plassey to partition( My favourite book):
  2. SUMIT SARKAR- Modern India:
  4. IGNOU B.A and M.A


  1. IGNOU BA and MA
  2. RANJAN CHAKRABARTY- A history of modern world :
  4. DAVID THOMSON (Selective reading)-
  5. NCERT CLASS 9 and 10.


This is the most important part that how we integrate these various sources with our syllabus, based on studying the past question papers.  I would like to cite an example.

PART A- Modern world: In paper 2, French revolution and Russian revolution, both are important parts of the syllabus. If one integrates IGNOU, David thomson and Ranjan Chakraborty and prepare a list of questions in one’s mind like:

1. Why was the french revolution revolutionary in the understanding of itself?

2. What is the concept of revolution?

3. Exploring the causes of the french revolution

  1. What led to the overthrow of the ancient regime?
  2. What were the diverse social interests that kept supporting or opposing the revolution?
  3. What were the immediate causes?- focussing the economic reasons
  4. How the popular intervention of the people of france at crucial moments not only saved the revolution but also influenced its course? (On the question once asked in mains, as to was it a bourgeoise revolution?)

4. GEORGE LEFEBVE’S classification of revolution in four stages- aristocratic revolution, bourgeois revolution,, popular revolution and peasant revolution-

Eg questions like“The multiple contradictions that quickly undermined the new edifice, had been expressed even before the meeting of the Estates General in France. The internal conflict among Estates had manifested itself.” upsc 2015

5. What were the principles of legitimacy laid down by the democratic action of the third estate?

6. How crowd’s direct action in 1792 pushed the revolution towards a democratic republic?

7. Role of revolutionary ideology and politics in the formation of a rudimentary form of political parties?

8. Role of philosophers and enlightenment in triggering the revolution? Eg. Questions like “The connection between the philosophers’ ideas and the outbreak of the French Revolution (1789) is somewhat remote and indirect.” UPSC 2012

9. Role of women?

10. Critical analysis of the constitution of 1791, declaration of rights of man and citizen etc? Eg questions like “The Declaration of Rights was the death-warrant of the system of privilege, and so of the ancient regime … Yet in the history of ideas it belonged rather to the past than to the future.” Examine. UPSC 2014

11. Role of Napoleon and his reforms, how he reversed the principles of the revolution

12. The legacy of the revolution?

  1. On modern politics
  2. Of ideological parties- the concept of left and right
  3. On totally mobilised citizen bodies
  4. On concept of total war
  5. On rise of nationalism- the idea of nation changed (Nation is not just a territory that people belonging to it inhabit or where a centralised power exercises sovereign control, but the people themselves)
  6. On origin of socialism

Eg. Questions like  “The impact of the French Revolution (1789) was initially confined the Europe, but, that of the Russian Revolution (1917) was global.” – Critically review. UPSC 2012

I am attaching a pdf, to cite how I jotted down these points roughly, integrating various sources.

Download pdf

Similarly, I’ll try to upload my strategy towards exploring and interlinking various themes like imperialism, colonialism, world wars and total war, socialism, enlightenment etc slowly on My blog.

PART B- Modern india: Similar strategy of integrating above mentioned books and consolidating themes must be adopted. Eg

  1. linking imperialism and colonialism (world history) with drain theory (Indian national movement)

Download link for example


1. If you analyse past four year papers, you will realise the shift away from political history towards social and economic history.(This is equally true for GS). Plus there is a trend of asking questions based on sources.

Following is an example of how I approached a source based question:

Download link

2. Interlinkages, continuities and change being explored. EG.

Q1. Review critically the evolution of different schools of art in the Indian subcontinent between the second century BCE and the third century CE, and evaluate the socio-religious factors responsible for it. (UPSC 2014).

Following is an example of how I approached continuity and interlinkages kind of questions:

download link

3. Historiography being asked almost directly. This includes debates among various schools of historians EG.

Q1.To what extent is “segmentary State’ model relevant for defining the Vijayanagar State? Critically examine.(UPSC 2014)

Q2. Evaluating various theories regarding the Chola State, throw light on its village assemblies. (UPSC 2014)

Q3.  What kind of changes were visualised by historians on Indian feudalism? Examine critically. (UPSC 2012)

Q4.  Discuss different interpretations of historians about the nature of Asoka’s ‘Dhamma’. Did his principle of `Dhamma-vijaya’ render the Mauryan Empire militaristically weak?(UPSC 2014)

Q5.  discuss and evaluate critically various times in the historiography of Bhakti (UPSC 2013)

I am attaching an example as to how I approached historiography kind of questions:

Download link

4. Every year one question purely on culture and religion . Eg

Q1. “The Upanishadic principles embody the epitome of the Vedic thought.” Discuss. (UPSC 2014)

Q2. Give a brief account of the early medieval temple architecture of Katnmir. (UPSC 2015)

Q3. Why is Mamallapuram famous? (UPSC 2015)

Here is a link as to how I prepared architecture kind of questions:

Download link

5. Every year something on gender. Eg

Q1.Social norms for women in the Dharmasastra and Arthasashtra tradition where framed in accordance with the Varnashrama tradition. Evaluate critically. (UPSC 2013)

Q2.“Tantrism, if not in practice, at least on conceptual level challenged patriarchy;’ Examine Tantrism specially keeping in mind the above context.(UPSC 2015)- juxtaposing religion and gender

Q3. analyze the steps taken Razia Sultan by to strengthen our position as an independent ruler despite various obstacles. (UPSC 2013)

Q4. Bhakti and Mysticism of Lal Ded emerged as a social force in Kashmir. Comment. (UPSC 2013)

Here’s a link on how I approached women related questions in ancient and medieval India:

Download link

All the very best.