Babur [right] and Humayun with Courtiers (Detail), Late Shahjahan Period, ca. 1650.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Emergence of a new periodisation?

The last post and its comments clearly point out that the present students of Presidency
College are fully aware of the politics and drawbacks of the tripartite periodisation of the
history of the Indian subcontinent. As you all know, these drawbacks began to be
apparent during the later decades of the last century and simultaneously there began a
search for alternative periodisation schemes for a better analysis of the Indian case. 

During the 1980s and 90s, B.D. Chattopadhyay and a few others strongly argued a case for an 'early medieval' period, following the breakdown of the centralised Gupta administration in north India in the 6th century and preceding the formation of the Turkish sultanate in Delhi in the 13th century. They point out that in contrast to the earlier and following periods, this period has a structural homogeneity of its own, characterised by emergence of various regional political dynasties, economies, culture and religion. 

During the last 10-15 years, Sanjay Subrahmanyam and J.F. Richards have identified the 16th and 17th centuries as the 'early modern' period in India, as a part of a global period which is known by the same name. They identify a trend of formation of absolutist, centralised, fiscal-military states in India at this time, moderated by an informed contact with global affairs, which was also the trend in other parts of the world during this period.

Do you think that the emergence of such new periods in Indian historiography, more informed by the peculiarities of the Indian scenario will nullify the drawbacks of the traditional tripartite division? How, if at all, can they help us think about Indian history in new ways?

Pratyay Nath.


Aman said...

This is surely right to point out that Indian cannot be bound by the tripartite division. The diversity shown by Indian subcontinent is too broad to be bound by a tripartite system. But it needs a broad system of periodisation. The same period which is mentioned here as the Early Modern have been marked by some as Later Medieval too. Therefore as mentioned in the previous post that different regions have shown different characteristics at the same time therefore it surely a difficult job to slice and dice the Indian history into only three parts.
And I am not a Presidency University student.

santanu sengupta said...

The lingering of the tripartite scheme of periodisation in the craft of history writing needs to be understood in a number of contexts even before we try think alternatives. The political, social, economic, cultural (technical/scientific) condition of the context in which the concerned periodisation is constructed holds the key to the understanding of historicity(historical need) of peridisation schemes. It is perhaps only with this understanding of how one derives a knowledge(epistemology)that we can fully derive 'why was it so'...Therefore these basic root studies are not only essential to appreciate the contributions of Kosambi or Chattopadhyay but to derive fuller and multiple periodisation schemes as per the historical needs of the discipline.