Schools of Indian Historiography – Approaches used to study Early Indian History


Ever since the commencement of history writing in India, a number of schools emerged in the context of the reconstruction of Indian history. These schools and scholars of associated schools used different approaches as per circumstances in which they emerged and the objective they trying to accomplish through history writing.

In India, there have been four major Schools of Historiography:

  1. Colonial/imperialist Historiography in India
  2. Nationalist Historiography in India
  3. Marxist Historiography in India
  4. Multidisciplinary Approaches

Colonial/Imperialist Historiography in India

  1. The Colonial schools of Historiography emerged during the opening decade of the 19th-century.
  2. Companies officials and western Scholars were associated with this school. They interpreted Indian history to suit the needs of British colonial rule.
  3. Colonial Scholars like V.A. Smith, HH Wilson, and James mill were associated with this school colonial.
  4. Colonial historians presented a distorted picture of early Indian history to justify the establishment of British rule.
    • They focused on highlighting the limitations of Indian life. The achievements were deliberately neglected.
    • Everything bad was credited to Indians and every good element was portrayed as the contribution of foreigners.
  5. This school focus on political history primary, and that to the history of the elite class.
  6. Phases of Indian history were divided along the religious line in Hindu period, Muslim period, and British period.
  7. Certain periods of Indian history were portrayed as dark age to shatter Indian pride and self-esteem.
    • The dark age refers to a phase of human history during which progress was completely absent.
    • The post-Mauryan period, early Medieval age, and 18 century were presented as dark ages of Indian history. It was emphasized that India was invaded by foreigners during this period. Political unification was absent. No progress of any kind was there in political, social, cultural, or economic life.
    • This idea of the dark age was used to justify the slogan of “Providential Mission” and “White man’s burden”. It was emphasized that the British came to India to uplift natives from prevailing darkness.
  8. Communal Outlook was dominant in historical interpretation put forward by colonial Scholars. Their objective was to put one Indian community against another so that the policy of divide and rule could be used successfully.

Nationalist Historiography in India

  1. Nationalist school of Historiography in Indian history emerged during the 1840-60s.
  2. Nationalist Historians of India are as follows:
    • R.C. Majumdar,
    • HC Roy Chaudhari
    • K Neelkanth Shastri
    • K. M. Panikkar
    • Prasenjit Duara
    • Romesh Chunder Dutt
    • Tapan Raychaudhary
  3. The Nationalist School of Indian history emerged as a reaction to negative propaganda being unleashed by colonial historians.
    • They were motivated by the desire to interpret Indian history in a positive light so that the spirit of national Pride could be infused among Indians.
    • Their interpretation was aimed at strengthening the foundation of Indian nationalism and providing positive ideas to the Indian struggle against British rule.
  4. To counter the concept of the dark age, the Nationalist historian put forward the idea of the Golden age.
    • Golden age refers to the phase of human history during which all-around progress of very high order was witnessed.
    • Gupta period was presented as a golden age.
  5. The Nationalist historian also suffered from many limitations. The picture of ancient Indian history presented by them was distorted towards positive.
    • Nationalist historians deliberately neglected limitations and failures.
    • They also focused on political dimensions and elite class like their colonial part.
    • Religion-based classification/periodization was continued by them.

Marxist Historiography in India

  1. Marxist school of Indian history emerged during the 1960s.
  2. Scholars associated with Marxist Historiography are:
    • R.S. Sharma
    • Irfan Habib
    • Sumit Sarkar
    • DD Kaushambi and etc.
  3. These historians focused on economic factors shaping human history.
  4. They focus and socio-economic dimensions in the reconstruction of history and neglected political dimensions.
  5. Greater significance was attached to the role of common masses (peasant workers) in the making of Indian history. This approach is also known as history from below. The subaltern approach was also associated with Marxist School. It was originated by Ranjit Guha.
  6. Like earlier schools, Marxist School also suffered from presenting an incomplete picture of Indian history.

Multidisciplinary Approach in Indian History

  1. This approach emerged during the 1990s and is being followed by most historians at present.
  2. This approach endeavors to reconstruct Indian history in a balanced manner without getting affected by any particular ideology.
  3. This approach focuses upon elements of changes in continuity in Indian history. On basis of these elements, the periodization of Indian history was carried out.
  4. Instead of following religion-based classification of Indian history in three phases, it follows 5-base approaches:
    • Ancient Indian – up to 750
    • Early Medieval India – from 750 to 1200 AD.
    • Medieval India from – 1200 to 1700 AD.
    • Early Modern India from – 1700 to 1800 AD
    • Modern India – from 1800 AD onwards.
  5. This approach relies more on archaeological and other evidence gathered from scientific examinations of the past so that history could be reconstructed in the most truthful manner.

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