The Cultural Connotation of History

I’ve been reading a book. It has captured my imagination and helped me understand a context of viewing history. I’ve not finished reading the book; by number of content pages, I am somewhere 17% in the book.

1200: Vishalgad Milestone

Conventional and contemporary formulation of a war plan is based on “game-theory (numerically based, conflict analysis.) The author of the book, that I’m reading, uses the phrase, “Contemporary cultural arrogance of strategic assumption.” Some of us may find the phrase familiar.

Early, in The Anglo-Maratha Campaigns and the Contest for India, by Randolf G. S. Cooper, there is context-setting for the book. Or, at least that is how I look at it.

What role does cultural conditioning and cultural perception play in the formulation of war plans and the prosecution of war?

[ … ]

In other words, linking your military response to assumptions about your enemy’s action’s (i.e. strategy and tactics) is dangerous if you come from a different cultural background than that of your opponent.

[ … ]

If you wage war against an opponent from a different culture, it is never safe to assume that the ‘givens’ that govern your behaviour also govern those of your enemy.

In a cross-cultural conflict, the assumption that the opponent will respond in a way that you would expect (in a similar situation) is dangerous, to say the least. When we adopt the line of this thought, we tend to ignore the cultural upbringing and therefore the compulsions of the opponent. Risk-perception and other similar qualities aren’t predictable, more-so because of disparate cultural, historical, and even geographical considerations.

Distorted notions, or invalid assumptions of cultural comprehension of the opponent comes from dealing with “large blocks of time” that enables easier and, perhaps, faster analysis. These simplified explanations are easily peddled, comfortably absorbed, and lubricated without resistance, down generations. (As is obvious this process runs the further risk of over-simplification over time). Each side does this unfailingly and attempts (with varying degrees of success) to propagate and insert their version within the world view.

Some of the recent and ongoing conflicts in the world today are a case in point. While the physical conflict continues, in such instances, a parallel conflict of continuous cultural conflict and misrepresentation continues to compete.

When one side has complete dominion (e.g. the colonisation of India) over the other, the description and definition of the cultural ethos is owned by the oppressor. The oppressor works on it in two ways: one, to systematically put to death the original cultural ethos; two, by laying a thick shroud of a permanent propaganda of an artificial, oppressor-oriented identity. The oppressed then start believing, over generations, in the oppressor’s version of the cultural ethos of the oppressed.

Generations pass by.

The reclaiming starts. The oppressor is long gone. But it is not always easy to reclaim reality from the rotting corpses of yesterday.

History suffers, and becomes a victim of hollow chest-beating and rhetoric.

How to Write (and Read) About History (via OpenCulture)

History books are usually fun. Not all books, but most of them who tell stories well, and who tell them right. The more interesting books are about the history of history or the science of history, if I can call them that. And then there are books about the writing of history.

In a nutshell, the book argues that historians have lost their public relevance by writing histories of the ‘short term’ — essentially ‘micro-scale’ histories — when they could be writing bigger, deeper histories, covering longer periods of time, that help readers put our world into perspective. What Guldi and Armitage are calling for is a return to long, meaningful narratives and big-picture thinking — the kind of thinking that could perhaps pull the historical profession out of crisis. As someone who got his PhD in History during the ‘micro-scale’ era, all I can say is — amen to that.”

Free Download of The History Manifesto: Historians New Call for Big-Picture Thinking | Open Culture: (Via. Open Culture)

History manifesto

I believe the short-term or the micro-history is interesting because of the specifics in the story. The big-picture histories are loftier, abstract to an extent, and perhaps not-so-interesting. It does not however mean that “big-picture histories aren’t important. The context of a micro-scale histories are equally important as the specific in it.

In my study of the Maratha Confederacy  I’ve been studying the histories of various confederacies around the world, and have been curious about the nature of how confederacies come in to existence, their character, and their eventual demise.

While I don’t intend to write a book on history, it seems that the book may help me find a better direction to the manner in which I study history. I am looking forward to reading this book.

History’s Coin

In my opinion, this would undoubtedly be the most impressive project ever undertaken in the realm of History. Especially because the project does not attempt to create a singular view of history, rather, it just places them alongside each other for you, the student, to evaluate the two views.

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History as a concept as well as a subject has been subject to much maligning. This project and similar such projects (if they come up in the future) will help history reclaim its deserving position, not just in academia, but also for the curious mind.

“In school, we learn that History isn’t like Maths. It isn’t a ‘scoring subject’. A two plus two will yield the same result all over the world, but history is subjective. It’s written by people, after all. People are subjective too; people find it difficult to not pick sides, a fact borne out by those history textbooks of India and Pakistan.

In a way, this conflict led to a book that illuminates the biases and subjectivity inherent in history. The History Project — launched on April 30 — was born at the Seeds of Peace, an annual camp for teenagers from countries in conflict, held at Maine, in the U.S. Feruzan Mehta, then director of Seeds of Peace-India, came up with the idea in 2005. Six years later, The History Project was founded by three young Pakistanis: Qasim Aslam, Ayyaz Ahmad and Zoya Siddiqui. They brought together a team of editors and volunteers from both countries to produce the Project’s first history textbook.”

(Via One story, two sides – The Hindu.)

The project page is here and the “textbook” can be downloaded here. [18MB PDF]. If you are willing to appreciate history without embellishment, opinion or colour, this is a definite read.

A Dip in History | Sambar

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So here’s how a simple mistake or a turn of circumstances caused a great dish to become. Of all the happy accidents in history, I think I’ll peg this one as my favourite. As much as Sambar – my favourite dish! Of course, as accidents go, this discovery happened on one of my favourite blogs, Varnam, where he wrote of The Origin of Sambar. I couldn’t find the content the post had linked to, so some fun research led me to this:

“The Marathas were ruling Tanjore. Sambhoji was a great cook (the male clan members to note) and very fond of his amti with a handful of the tart kokum thrown in. In a particular season the kokum that was imported from the Maratha homeland did not reach the bare larder of the king’s kitchen. Sambhoji was cooking and the minions were shivering in their dhothis to tell him that his favourite dish could not be made that day. A smart Vidushak, who had been elected sous chef for the day, decided to solve the problem. He whispered in the king’s ears that the locals used very little tamarind pulp to gain a better sourness to the curry and that Sambhoji should experiment with this variation. Voila, the dish with the tuvar dal, vegetables, spices and the tamarind pulp was cooked and served by the king to his coterie. The court declared the dish an outstanding preparation (they had no choice with the king as Chef) and thus was born Sambhoji’s amti that in time became sambhar.”

(Via The Story of Sambhar by Padmini Natarajan.)

 

10 must-read books on Indian History | The Better India

Since the list does not talk about the books in any specific order, my recommendation would be #9 and #10. John Keay’s book is the perfect concise history of India, that I have come across. For a broad-based introduction to Indian History, this one is very good.

“In our quest to know what books to read to get a better understanding of India’s history, we turned to you, our readers. A few days ago we asked everyone on our Facebook and Twitter pages to recommend a book on Indian history. Many of you responded with some wonderful suggestions. We also received many e-mails suggesting books we had never heard of. Here then, is the list of 10 books (in no particular order) on Indian history that we have compiled based on your responses.”

(Via 10 must-read books on Indian History | The Better India.)

 

Powada & Lavni

Side by side with Bhakti movement of the traditional narrative poets dedicated to ‘spiritual democracy’, the Shāhīrs or the composers of historical ballads (Powāḍās) and lyrics of love (Lāvņīs) inspired the people with national spirit, as well as romantic love, the natural instinct in human life. […] The Powāḍās or ballads are much older than the Lāvņīs.

“Apart from their (ballads) value as a national poetry,” says H. A. Acworth. “their phraseology is well worthy of study as an example of the flexibility, the force, the richness, and capacity of the vernacular language of the Marāthā ryot.”

If the Powāḍā is masculine in its robust vigour, the Lāvņī is feminine in its tone and tenor. […] Although some of the Lāvņīs are pornographic, a great majority of them are undoubtedly poetic. Honājī’s Ghanashyām Sundarā Shridharā (an invocation to Lord Krishna at dawn) is a case in point.

~ from “Language and Literature in the Eighteenth Century – Marathi”, by R.V. Herwadkar; in “The History and Culture of the Indian People – Volume Eight, The Maratha Supremacy”, Bhartiya Vidya Bhavan, Mumbai.

Writing History

“You must never write history,” he said, “until you can hear the people speak.” He thought about that for years, and it came to feel like a valuable guiding principle for fiction as well. If you didn’t have a sense of how people spoke, you didn’t know them well enough, and so you couldn’t—you shouldn’t—tell their story.

~ Salman Rushdie, quoting Arthur Hibbert, in The Disappeared

Telling history as I see it – telling a story

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