Read The Calling of History: Sir Jadunath Sarkar and His Empire of Truth by Dipesh Chakrabarty Online

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A leading scholar in early twentieth-century India, Sir Jadunath Sarkar (1870–1958) was knighted in 1929 and became the first Indian historian to gain honorary membership in the American Historical Association. By the end of his lifetime, however, he had been marginalized by the Indian history establishment, as postcolonial historians embraced alternative approaches in theA leading scholar in early twentieth-century India, Sir Jadunath Sarkar (1870–1958) was knighted in 1929 and became the first Indian historian to gain honorary membership in the American Historical Association. By the end of his lifetime, however, he had been marginalized by the Indian history establishment, as postcolonial historians embraced alternative approaches in the name of democracy and anti-colonialism. The Calling of History examines Sarkar’s career—and poignant obsolescence—as a way into larger questions about the discipline of history and its public life. Through close readings of more than twelve hundred letters to and from Sarkar along with other archival documents, Dipesh Chakrabarty demonstrates that historians in colonial India formulated the basic concepts and practices of the field via vigorous—and at times bitter and hurtful—debates in the public sphere. He furthermore shows that because of its non-technical nature, the discipline as a whole remains susceptible to pressure from both the public and the academy even today. Methodological debates and the changing reputations of scholars like Sarkar, he argues, must therefore be understood within the specific contexts in which particular histories are written. Insightful and with far-reaching implications for all historians, The Calling of History offers a valuable look at the double life of history and how tensions between its public and private sides played out in a major scholar’s career....

Title : The Calling of History: Sir Jadunath Sarkar and His Empire of Truth
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ISBN : 9780226100456
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 320 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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The Calling of History: Sir Jadunath Sarkar and His Empire of Truth Reviews

  • P
    2019-04-25 03:15

    Seemed more like notes towards a monograph than a proper scholarly monograph about the historian Jadunath Sarkar. Endless summaries, an erratic profusion of redundant sub-headings, tedious quotations followed by a lazy "Let us hear from so-and-so again:" while abjuring a scholarly responsibility to analyze what is being said and why it is significant for the argument.This was especially disappointing to those of us eager to read about the formation of our discipline as it emerged in the subcontinent. The stakes were high. Would precolonial modes of memory-keeping be dismissed as worthless for the historian? If so, then all that came before the British arrived would be lost and the history of a largely unlettered subaltern population would be treated as so much gibberish. Who would have access to institutions that kept surviving records? Who would be in charge of said institutions and what would be the abiding concern of newly minted archives? Jadunath Sarkar weighed in on nearly all of these questions. His views were staunchly pro-colonial government, conservative, contemptuous of indigenous, subaltern historical modes like bakhars and determined to bar access to records for all but a chosen few. Today, the discipline of history is inundated with Bengali historians (mostly working on Calcutta) and their fetishization of all things Bangla. Tanika Sarkar characterizes Chakrabarty as a "cultural nationalist" and that charge seems justified by his latest work. Quoting liberally from Tagore and trying to fit Jadunath within a niche of European historiography, Chakrabarty strains the reader's patience. It is when the author steps gingerly out of his Bangla-centric comfort zone that potentially more interesting details emerge. Specifically, bitter rivalries and clashing perspectives held by proponents of the two strands, Bengali and Marathi, are fascinating. Unfortunately, Chakrabarty gives the latter short shrift. Although modern Bangla historians often operate as if Bengal were a satellite of Europe, an earlier generation from which Jadunath Sarkar hailed was actively engaged with other regions--especially Maharashtra. During the late nineteenth century-early 20th c, Marathi historians and archivists were busy collecting manuscripts from remote villages, fighting with ordinary people who were hostile to a project that involved handing over their family letters, personal effects, et cetera. These texts are priceless because they provide historians of South Asia with indigenous forms of history writing that conformed to protocols radically distinct from Rankean historical methods. Without them, we have little way of understanding the life-worlds of the millions of peasants who never appeared on the pages of court chroniclers. Instead of wholesale dismissal of those methods like Sarkar, Chakrabarty might have explored how those modes enrich historical scholarship. He could have relied on his friend Ashis Nandy's article "History's Forgotten Doubles" and taken up where Prachi Deshpande left off in her chapter on bakhar historiography in Creative Pasts, noting Jadunath Sarkar's disgust with them as worthless for historians. Or even simpler--take seriously the claims made in Partha Chatterjee's introduction to his edited anthology History and the Vernacular. But that would have been draft 10 and what we are reading in Calling of History is draft 2. Not a Marathi speaker himself, Chakrabarty leans heavily on Sarkar's English correspondence and traces his European literary influences. Unlike the current lot of modern US-based Bengali historians, Sarkar spoke many languages. His friendships may not have extended to Australia and US like Chakrabarty. However, his lifelong friendship with a Marathi historian named Sardesai attest that these were deeper intellectual engagements than the ones his biographer draws upon (largely male like Sarkar, upper-caste and Bengali). Sarkar was the more dominating personality who critiqued his colleague's writing and modes of historical scholarship. At some points, Sardesai would offer a defence by saying to his friend: "I am just a writer of kaifiyats."Kaifiyats were form of historical records kept by village accountants and passed down through generations. The author notes this but then does not give Sardesai's rebuttal its due, characterizing Sardesai and his contemporary Marathi historians as "regional chauvinists." While we can agree that there was a vein of regional zealotry amongst the latter, there was a much larger contest being waged about forms of history writing. What would it have meant for an Indian writing under colonialism to make that claim, as against Sarkar's effort to mimic Europeans like Ranke? To be a kaifiyat was to be a locally rooted guardian of popular memory, accountable to the community in which one lived. It was a position prior to the professionalization of the discipline. While Sarkar was gushing over Gibbon and reading Macaulay, Sardesai was representing himself as a historian oriented towards a vernacular music, hard to detect for ears only accustomed to English. The mimic man enjoyed patronage from the colonial authorities, his work is receiving a reappraisal from Western historians and now a respectful invitation into the canon from no less than a Toynbee-awarded professor. Meanwhile, the aspiring kaifiyat writer languishes in obscurity. All the time Chakrabarty is excavating the Anglo-European etymology of 'tragedy' and how Sarkar used it, it is this other tragedy that goes unremarked.