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  • Writer's pictureShruti Jain

History with a capital “H”

Updated: Apr 16, 2023

Following the removal of the Mughal Empire and Gujarat Riots from Class 12 History Books, several questions have been raised about the present regime's attempt to rewrite history. When questioned, NCERT Director Dinesh Prasad Saklani clarified that students are still studying the History of the Mughals in NCERT's class 7th book. Additionally, expert committees examined the books from standards 6-12 and recommended that "if this chapter is dropped, it won't affect the knowledge of the children, and an unnecessary burden can be removed". (Source: Mint)

Mad Mughal Memes
The Times of Medieval India. Source: Mad Mughal Memes

I do not intend to discuss the debate about the erasure of History in the syllabus patterns and the Indian education system here. However, I would like to share two short conversations that I recently had: one with my younger cousin, a 7th-grade student, and the other with an elder cousin, an engineer.

My younger cousin approached me and asked, "Why did you choose History as your core subject? It's so boring. Why do we have to remember those long and boring names of people from the past - auurognbezz - urgh!"

"Aurangzeb," I smiled and corrected her.

My elder cousin approached me and asked, "Why have we always been taught only Mughal and British History in schools when there are so many other dynasties and empires that have ruled in various parts of the subcontinent?"

"Do you mean you were not taught about the Indus Valley Civilization, the Vedic period, the Mahajanapadas, the Mauryas, the Guptas, the Cholas, the Pallavas, the Pandyas, the Vijayanagara empire, and the Rajput kingdom?"

"We have only read about the drainage system [of the Indus Valley Civilization] to see how advanced they were."

As for my elder cousin, my only hope was that his younger ones would read their textbooks right, and not "right."

But, to my younger cousin, I wanted to explain that the name she is finding difficult to learn still resonates in the "present" of her country. Aurangzeb may be history now, but he is also a part of History - History with a capital "H" - "an unending dialogue between the present and the past," as E.H. Carr would put it.

Aurangzeb may be history now, but he is also a History — History with a capital ‘H’.

What is the difference between [h]istory and [H]istory?

[h]istory vs. [H]istory

In simple words, [h]istory is everything that has happened in the past. One may refer to it as fact. Question is, whether it is important to remember all facts of the past? Is it important to remember what you had in your breakfast five days ago? The answer to this question should help you understand where we draw the line between [h]istory and [H]istory.

[H]istory is the study of that past, corroborated with evidence and constructed narratives. It is not merely bringing together facts that are related or unrelated to each other; it is the systematical, critical and analytical interpretation of those facts or past events according to a particular chronology, or a theme by a scholar who is not biased towards any form of ideology — political or religious.

"As a historian", writes Romila Thapar, "I am aware that I too am a part of the historiographical process, and that the paradigm will shift in the future."

[H]istory is the study of that past, corroborated with evidence and constructed narratives.

In order to understand how to successfully write such [H]istory, one should be clear about the meaning of history and fact. Not all that happened in the past is a ‘historical fact’. It is only when the historian decides to burden a fact with a particular context, that the fact acquires the importance of being historical.

E.H. Carr very clearly points out that “the facts speak only when the historian calls on them: it is he who decides to which facts to give the floor, and in what order or context.” However, the variability in determining the context is infinite; there is no clause for picking up a context and it can differ from person to person.

It is in this light that we can read Romila Thapar’s above statement. Historians writing History are also a part of this historiographical process, and each time another scholar comes up with a new question regarding the already known historical ‘facts’, we see the paradigmatic shifts in the ‘future’ of History.

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