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EDITORIAL ANALYSIS : The limited role of textbooks in history

 

Source: The Hindu

  • Prelims: Freedom struggle, Mughal era, Great Man Theory etc
  • Mains GS Paper I & II: Freedom struggle(significant events), Medieval India, Mughal emperors, The British conquest in India etc

ARTICLE HIGHLIGHTS

  • The National Council of Educational and Research Training (NCERT) omitted certain details about the Mughals, among others, from the Class 12 text book.
    • The NCERT: portions overlapped with the material covered in previous classes and were omitted for brevity.

 

INSIGHTS ON THE ISSUE

Context

Mughal Empire:

  • Babur was the founder of the Mughal empire.
  • It was established in 1526 after Babur defeated Ibrahim Lodi in the first battle of Panipat.
  • It lasted for nearly three centuries beginning from 1526 to 1857.
  • Six major rulers of this dynasty: Babur, Humayun, Akbar, Jahangir, Shah Jahan and Aurangzeb, known as the “Great Mughals”, left their mark on Indian history.
  • The empire declined after the death of Aurangzeb in 1707.

 

Knowledge of history comes from:

  • What we read in fiction or nonfiction or from the Internet
  • what we watch on television or cinema
  • what we are told by our friends and family either in person or via social media
  • what we see of history in our daily experience in the form of monuments or ruins
  • Material objects we interact with such as heirloom jewelry or clothes or food.

 

The role of the textbook in history:

  • It is powerful but limited.
  • Classrooms give us a framework which we can use to view the events of the world.
  • Classroom instruction provides us with a sequence of events.
    • For instance, a school student of history will broadly know that the rule of the Delhi Sultanate was followed by the rule of the Mughals and then the British in Delhi.
  • If someone were to change the facts around, the student would have learned enough to know better than to trust them.
  • Textbooks provide a framework of factual information in a sequence.
  • Most children would find it impossible to name the British Governor Generals of India, but all of them would know that the Governor General was the highest authority for the British Raj.

 

Great Man Theory

  • Thomas Carlyle posited a theory of the study of history called the Great Man Theory.
  • He wrote that great men or influential and charismatic individuals, through intellect or force, bend the course of history and the narrative of history needs to be studied through their acts.
  • History has always been viewed through the prism of individual ‘doers’ who more often than not happen to be royalty.
  • For one, the importance attached to dynasties and kings is often overstated.
  • The use of battles as milestones on a chronological roadmap also diminishes the power of other ways of looking at history.
  • Too much importance is attached to the military in history
  • The pain and brutality that would have accompanied battles and invasions are often couched in terms like ‘bravery’, and ‘glory’ to distract readers from the destruction and loss of lives.

 

Historical narratives:

  • People’s history(In the 20th century(mostly from left-leaning historians):
    • This sought to focus on the view of the common people and on larger social and economic forces rather than on leaders.
  • ‘History from below:
    • It tells the stories of the disenfranchised, the oppressed, the poor and weak (often referred to as subalterns) who have historically outnumbered those in power.

 

Way Forward

  • The amount of curiosity the school curriculum generates about history in students can be seen by the many complaints one hears about how history is never taught in an interesting way in school.
  • A more sensitive view of the past needs to be one where battles are viewed negatively in the scheme of historical narrative and more information communicated on the loss from conflict.
  • History from below: Applying an approach like this to communicate history both in classrooms and outside will have a number of effects.
    • It would prise open the narrow prisms through which we have been forced to view history.
  • Instead of Studying about the wars and campaigns of kings or the arcs of dynasties:
    • learn about their social and administrative policies, the conditions of the subaltern, and the daily routines of the people
    • We may learn history that is less glamorous but far more true to its purpose.
  • The goal of communicating history should be to have a citizenry that is aware that the past is nuanced and complex.
    • With this realization, people will stop being aggravated by history.
    • Students should be taught about history from a perspective that takes the focus off individuals or dynasties and treats the subject as an evolving chronology of events.
  • NCERT has the onerous duty of prioritizing and re-prioritising what history needs to be compressed into the 300 odd pages of a textbook.
  • Omitting information on the Mughals can be seen as a way to erase the factual retelling of an important epoch of Indian history even if the erasure might not make the greatest difference to public perception of them.

 

QUESTION FOR PRACTICE

Why did the armies of the British East India Company – mostly composed of Indian soldiers – win consistently against the more numerous and better-equipped armies of the then Indian rulers? Give reasons.(UPSC 2022) (200 WORDS, 10 MARKS)