The Right Approach to History?

I’m reading The Discovery of India by Jawaharlal Nehru. I have only read less than half of it so far, but nevertheless I find it fascinating. I remember how I used to hate History at school. Learning all those dates and events by heart had always been tiresome and irritating. The problem with History in the school curriculum is that undue importance is given to dates and other details, which you can never really connect with your life.

But actually, the main reason (the only reason, perhaps, except for historians and academicians) for learning about our past (History) is to understand our present, contradictory though it may seem to be. Our present day world didn’t just come to be. It is the result of thousands of years of events – wars, revolutions, reforms, expeditions – in which our ancestors took part with all their vitality . The problems which our society face today, have their roots in the past, and to solve them, we should relate our past with the modern world.

So I think, for being interested in History, one has to be first interested in the problems and challenges of the day. Only then can one savour the chapters of History to their fullest. I think that’s why I’m more interested in History now than I was, perhaps five years ago.

You can read a related post on Dinil’s blog.

3 thoughts on “The Right Approach to History?

  1. Good for you. Delhi is a great place to sprout an interest in history.

    Maybe we tend to despise history, because we basically have an inclination to favour fiction, rather than facts. This has something to do with human psyche, I suppose.

    The authors of ‘Freedom at Midnight’ knew this, and that’s why they used the craft of a novel to describe those eventful years.

    Right now, I am reading a book by Shashi Tharoor, “The Great Indian Novel” which takes this idea further. It is really fictionalised history, which makes it easier for the author to present sensitive facts. It is interesting reading, in the sense it gives you some insights.

  2. You’re probably right about our “basic inclination to favour fiction, rather than facts”. This is evident in our great epics and mythology, in which fact is indistinguishably interwoven with fiction. Perhaps this mixture of fact and fiction has a far greater appeal to our intellect than a collection of dead facts.

    But apart from the artistic and literary value of history, I feel that it opens a whole new horizon of possibilities when you look at history as a long, winding road along which humanity travelled, to reach where we are today. And with that knowledge, we can work for a better future than would otherwise have been possible.

  3. You are right. The importance of history is never realised while at school. Many horrible social problems that plague any country/society, like the “black/white” tensions in US or the “reservation” problems in our land gets clearly traced back to mistakes in the past and serves as a lesson on how to not repeat it in future !


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