Historiography

What are the Approaches of History?

Art of writing History

“The fact that is past in history varies from the present, rests upon the present and is present. What really happened must be replaced by what evidence obliges us to believe.”

Have you ever wonder are the approaches of the history? It is true that the attitude of man is flexible there has always been changes in it, the approach of History has also altered from time to time. In the beginning people adopted theological approach of history which was later on replaced by several new approaches and each one has its own significance in history.

  1. Theological Attitude of History

In the beginning writing of history was greatly influenced by religion which gave rise to different religious concepts of history according to the principles and briefs of the own religion of writer.

Parsi religious concept, there is constant conflict between truth and false and the victory of truth is the main aim of history. This is also the need of society. Everything is guided by a supreme power in the world.

In the Jewish concept of history, man considers himself to be the most dear of God as he has seen the light of the day by his grace Jewish religious scriptures relate that history is not only the study of the past events, but also the expression of the will of God because he is the make of this universe. Hence the nature of history is not manly but Godly.

Ibn Khaldun is Islamic historian and expressed Islamic concept that history is the description of rise and fall of human society, world culture, social changes, conflicts, revolutions and of the consequences of revolt. 18th century is considered an age of awakening when the concept of history came in Islam. After expansion of their territory, the Muslim rulers stressed to the journey of Macca at least once in the life of man, therefore it is said that history is a conflict or march of man from darkness to light.

In Christian mythology the will of God is considered supreme and it is believed that all the activities in the world take place because of His will. St. Augustine the greatest saint and thinker of Christian world has also indicated that to follow the command of God is the pious duty to man. According to him history is description of the deeds of God. In fact in the Christian concept of history all the traditions of the East and tendencies of the Roman Empire have been amalgamated. Hence God is considered supreme in the making of History. Modern historian Ranke has also pointed out that God lives in history and great men are the representative of God who play a significant role in the making of history.

Indian concept of history stressed on the role of great man. Hindu mythology when the significance of religion reduces. God takes birth to prop the decaying structure of society and makes the human being able to get rid of pain and torture. Religion is also considered supreme in Indian culture and it is said to be path for the attainment of salvation.

Some of the scholars praise history based on religion.

Hegal is also of the opinion that all history is logical and there is supremacy of religion in it.

Toynbee also emphasizes in his religious concept of history that religion and culture are co-traveler and the decline of one leads to the downfall of the other.

Gibbon, Macauley and Hume also wrote their histories on the basis of religion.

The period of Renaissance and Reformation is considered a golden age of history writing. No doubt man and religion are closely related to each other but it, is essential that a scholar must be secular while writing history otherwise bias and partiality will be clearly visible in his writings.

A historian is the representative of his age and in case he writes history with colored glasses, he will become a representative of a particular class instead of whole society. It will mar the actual aim of history writing.

According to Hegal, history is a march towards moral development, hence its nature is aimful but Marxist historians have altogether rejected the theological approach of history and emphasized on the economic aspect of history. They do not seem to be impressed by religion as the basis of their thinking is not religion but economy.

So the significance of theological approach of history is decreasing day by day and the historians began to think about new approaches of history

2. Orientalist Attitude of History

With the decline of the theological approach of history some new concepts emerged which influenced the society and man to a great extent. Like that of Greek, Roman and Chinese concept of history, there seems to be no pact of West on Ancient Indian historiography.

What were the basis of ancient history writing in India?

  1. Based on the Vedas, the Puranas, inscriptions and folklore which affected their view.
  2. not very conscious about chronology also and generally used to describe historical characters in literary style.
  3. Exaggerated account of the achievement of the rulers is also available in their inscriptions and plates.

Due to above reasons, the Western scholars are of the opinioned that the Indian writers have no interest in history writing. Various significantly works were produced in Ancient India from time to time which affirm that they had interest and felt responsibility in writing history of their according to time, period and importance to circumstances.

Now question is did scholars of oriental countries adopted any new styles other then the Ancient Indian writers?

  1. The scholars of oriental countries adopted styles other then the Ancient Indian writers and described their views with slight modification in the Western style.
  2. Endeavored to introduce their logic, thinking and critical analytical views in order to produce a new type of history.
  3. based on the principle of universal brotherhood and sovereignty.

Who were the prominent modern orientalist writers?

= Dr. Bhandarkar, Jayaswal, Kumar Swami, Kosambi, Sarkar, Majumdar and Pt. J.L. Nehru.

Kumar Swami mentions that the traditional word indicates to something very significant but D.D. Kosambi is of the opinion that history is the study of methodically changes which emerged in the means of production and relations. He also mentions that history is not a leader or great man but an ordinary man.

Sir J.N. Sarkar is an impartial historian who considers history to be meaningless in the absence of original Sources and he praised by Dr. A.L. Srivastava who was one among the great historians of his time and the greatest among the historians of the world. Some scholars have called him an Indian edition of the scholars of Europe but his writing was completely based on Indian thinking.

Scholars like Kumar Swami, Nand Lal, and Ravindra Nath Tagore established Indian society of Oriental Art, with a view to establish harmony between the cultures of West and East.

The contribution of E.B. Havell in this regard is also praiseworthy. The greatest difference between the writers of the West and East is that like orientalist historians their writings are not only limited within society, individual and time period, but they also throw light on the other aspects of history. In modern time this difference is fading day in and day out and the scope of history is widening in the Indian traditions. Modern Western writers also affirm this view, which enhanced the significance of the orientalist concept of history.


3. Marxist Attitude of History

Historical interpret Karl Marx thought as Marxist approach to history. Style: Instead of laying stress on the society and her achievements he directed his attention to the economic reasons and has also affirmed the theory of class struggle on the same basis.

He argued that economy is responsible for friendly and enemical relations between the two nations. At present the process of division which is visible in the world also has the economic reasons behind it.

Marx is of the opinion that the capitalist misuse their ownership on the economic resources and exploit the labourers which creates discontentment and dejection among the working class which ultimately leads to class struggle. In this conflict between the exploiter and the exploited the labourers succeed. Hence it is quite clear that the chief reasons of this conflict is economic mismanagement of the resources. As a result of Marxism, revolution emerged in different countries, which ultimately impressed Russia very much and the inhabitants of Russia began to pay great importance to the theory of Marxism.


In materialistic attitude of Karl Marx, materialism has been given great emphasis and other concepts like religion, philosophy etc. have been rejected altogether. Though D.D. Kosambi is.a Marxist historian but he has used it with a different view and his principles are completely different from that of Marx, Angelois, Dange ctc. Kosambi writes that history is an account of the changes with regards to means and relation of production. He also mentions that the basis of materialistic interpretation of society is economic development. On account of which several classes emerged in the society and contributed to the enhancement of efficiency. Hence the Marxism of Kosambi is quite different from that of Karl Marx. In fact it is new achievement on the earth.


4. Imperialistic Approach of History
In the 19th century on account of the tendency of establishing economic and political supremacy over the developing countries by the developed nations, gave rise to the imperialistic attitude of history.

Some scholars of this period told that chief reason of imperialistic attitude of history was the establishment of military and cultural supremacy.

In the beginning European countries especially like England, France, Portugal, Spain introduced their imperialist tendency by establishing their supremacy over different parts of Asia and America. As a result of this tendency the historians also developed their interest in imperialism and expressed this view point in their writings.


There are many references of rise and fall of the tendency of imperialism. It does not mean that the tendency of imperialism was not in existence during Ancient and Medieval period. At that time Chandra Gupta Maurya, Ashoka, Harsha, Kanishka, Allauddin Khalji and Akbar adopted the policy of imperialism so it is clear that the tendency of imperialism has always been prevalent in history from the earliest to the present day.

The period between 1815 to 1870 A.D. is considered an age of downfall of imperialism. However, after 1870’s, countries like Italy, Germany and Japan also participated in the race of imperialism and established their sway over small and weak countries.

Gradually European imperialism began to establish itself in Africa and China, Russia was extremely busy in the expansion of his empire in Northern Asia. As a result his boundaries began to touch the territory of China.

In the same way Samurai dynasty of Japan also indulged in the expansion of his territory in China like the countries of West for the satisfaction of his tendency of imperialism.

In the beginning though people had no knowledge about the dark continent of Africa but later on they tried to establish their rule in Africa in order to exploit her economic resources and almost all the countries of Europe took part in the scramble of Africa. Actually tendency of imperialism was the root cause of two world wars and it has always been in existence during various revolutions which emerged in the countries of Asia from time to time.

Therefore the history of this period also did not remain untouched with the tendency of imperialism and scholars began to write histories on the basis of imperialism which gave rise to various wars and terrible consequences.

5. Nationalist Attitude of History

A historian is considered a mirror of society and he throws light on the society in which he lives and which influences him. This tendency is clearly visible in his history writing. When the religious attitude of man was gaining ground in the society, historians had a theological approach to history. Similarly when an individual was given importance, individualism ushered in the society.

How did nationalist attitude of history developed?

When the position of the state got supremacy in comparison to a man in society and scholars began to write histories based on the nationalist feelings.

The feeling of nationalism was given great importance during 19th century and many wars were waged among several nations on the basis of nationalism.

From past to the present day the feeling of nationalism is always found in history.

Earlier its nature was not so militant as it is seen in the present time. Really the feeling of nationalism is good in the interest of history and nations but its militant nature has shaken the country much and a number of wars took place among the countries of Europe, America and others.

The failing of militant nationalism made Germany and France terrible rivals of each other and changes occurred in the political set up of a number of countries which gave rise to the dictators like Hitler and Mussolini who exploited the feeling of the public for their own interest and gained supremacy.

In order to establish their control over the weak nations, the militant nationalist countries raised their weapons against them and minimizing their political significance, exploited them economically.

Germany resorted to treaties to make France a weak and isolated country. Russia also endeavored to get an outlet in the Baltic reason for her development and England organized a powerful Navy in the interest of her trade and commerce.

Hence it is quite clear that feeling of nationalism played a significant role for the satisfaction of the imperialistic design of big nation. Historians of contemporary period were also influenced by the feeling of nationalism, as a result the historians belonging to different countries began to praise their countries and opposed the other nations in their writings. This is the main reason that now-a-days scholars do not pay any attention to the feeling of militant nationalism and consider it to be a great menace for society and individual.

As it is evident that the British tried to justify their rule in post 1857 period through the study of Indian culture and started the tradition of history writing under their own imperialistic design. When they undertook this study, they virtually criticized the Indian rulers and their glories of past and claimed that Indians were having no sense of governance and whatever sense is existing in this regard is basically a contribution of the aliens to Indian civilization and culture.

As regards the above notion of the British, the Indians started glorifying their past rule and heritage of Indian culture through their writings, hence nationalist school of history writings emerged in India.

With the, passage of time and developments over the years, there developed many more branches of history writing in India i.e., Economics, History, Communal trends of Indian History and also the Subaltern school of Indian History writing.

The historians of this school were primarily concerned with Indian history therefore, they focused their attention mainly towards Indian history and different school of writings.

When they undertook this study, they first of all underwent a close analysis of the different approaches more particularly the approaches of nationalist historians and Marxist historians and came to the conclusion that whatever is written by them as regards to Indian in defense is not sufficient and to them much is left untouched by the historians needs close attention. In this approach the historians who took initiative are Sumit Sarkar, R. P. Dutt, Ranjeet Guha, Shahid Amin, David Hardiman, Gyan Pandey etc. These writers with the above assumptions started the study of condition of Indian people under British rule.

In their study they basically confined themselves to this section of Indian society and their grievances who can be termed as the lower stratum of downtrodden section of Indian society and this started a new branch of Indian history, what is called as history from below.

Main Focus of Subaltern Historian

The main emphasis was on Indian National Movement but focus is shifted towards lower segment of the society. Because to them whatever is written regarding Indian National Movement, focus was mainly upon the upper segment of the society.

For example according to the opinion of Subaltern writers, the nationalist historian saw the national movement through the eye of its gigantic leadership and their role against British government. Further these nationalist leaders usurped the anguish of the common people for their own selfish gain.

These writers (Subaltern writers) therefore, have studied the Indian mass and their feelings against British government by imposing blame upon the nationalist heros.

Figures of Subaltern Histor

  1. Judith Brown her work ‘Gandhi’s Rise to Power” argues that the mobilization of peasant by Gandhi was not deep enough and was for the most part superficial. According to her Gandhi mobilized the peasants not by reaching down to the peasants but by wooing the village leadership like Raj Kumar Shukla of Champaran. She, therefore, through her writings propounded the patron client theory and says that landlords were the Patrons’ of the peasants, and naturally then peasant went by their calls in all the so called peasant agitations. According to her, Gandhi or Congress carried no influence whatsoever on the general masses, the peasantry.

2. Shahid Amin, in his work Gandhi as Mahatma, Gorakhpur District 1921-22,’ an important piece of Subaltern writings where peasant movements are seen as ‘independent and autonomous’ which were usurped’ by the Congress for narrow constitutional gains. The tenor of argument is that the Congress being a bourgeois party, did not work to protect the interest of the peasant. Instead, it functioned as an instrument to strangle the revolutionary potential of peasant’s resistance in colonial India.

In short having gone through the discussion about the Subaltern approach, the inferences, that can be drawn is that, the Subaltern historians have been arguing more recently in their writings that the peasant, labour, working class and tribal movements in India were basically ‘autonomous and independent’. The Congress and nationalist leaders practically did not create these movements as had been claimed so far but usurped them for constitutional gains and for the loavas and fishes of power.

In taking this position the historians of Subaltern school first challenge, the classical Marxist view that saw the bourgeois leadership as inevitable for peasants mobilization whereas they also challenges the typical nationalist approach of risings the sentiments of mass by the nationalist leaders. They saw these movements as independent and autonomous but these historians have failed to find out the convincing evidence for an autonomous leadership for the above mentioned movements. However they must have studied these movements as a separate entity.


6. Post-Modernist Attitude of History
1. The nature of post-Modernist history can be said to be completely scientific and analytical.

2. At present history is accepted as a secular and impartial subject and the feeling of bias has been completely discarded from it.

3. Teachings and philosophical thinking included in it keeping in view the 4. changes in the world, the scholars and historians have directed their attention to think in the context of environment and history writing has been given new directions.

4. significance is no more given to the religious feeling and militant nationalism and

5. the nature of history has become objective in place of subjective.

6. the feeling of universal brotherhood, swing towards internationalism, being given significant, the liberty of man, his progress and comforts. As a result of it various new theories emerged in history.

Modern Historians

H.G. Wells, Rankec, Spanglar and Toynbee made history completely modern in nature. No doubt with the passage of time changes emerged in history but its soul always remained unchanged.

However Indian historians played the most significant role to enrich history writing. The works of these scholars will Later on prove to be a significant source material for the future historians.

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