Know ‘Historiography’ before you judge post-colonial Indian History

If we take an example of Indian history, it is usually categorised into three periods ancient, medieval and modern, each having its own historiography.

Before studying Indian historiography, one has to know the meaning of the term ‘historiography’ that comes from history + iography (field of study) or history of history or study of historical perspectives.

The readers need to be aware of the past in the present to make it better for the future, where history plays a prominent role, and historiography reflects methods of historians in the construction of history by using specific sources, methodology, and theoretical perspectives.

Thus it refers to ‘investigation of historical methodology’ and ‘body of scholarly debate about the past.

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E. H. Carr stated, “Historiography is a progressive science, in the sense that it seeks to provide constantly expanding and deepening insights into a course of events which is itself progressive. This is what I should mean by saying that we need a constructive outlook over the past”.

The old historiographical interpretations are not discarded but instead included and superseded by the new historiography to understand the event with new techniques and sources presented by reinterpretation by old or new historians.

If we take an example of Indian history, it is usually categorised into three periods ancient, medieval and modern, each having its own historiography. These periodizations have also been challenged by future historians.

Historiography is divided based on the subject matter to give details of historical voices of that subject, these historical voices come together to formulate schools of historiography e.g. in the Indian context is studied in the historiography of Cambridge, Nationalist, Marxist, Subaltern and many more schools of thoughts. Different schools of thoughts have historians who agree with each other and present a similar approach in their methodology.

What is Historiography?

In simple terms, the historiography of a theme comprehensively includes the previous and present historians’ interpretation of a certain issue. For example the historiography of ancient, medieval, and modern historiography identified by the historians based on sources available at the time and space.

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General the term is explained as  “the study of the methods of historians in developing history as an academic discipline, and by extension is any body of historical work on a particular subject. The historiography of a specific topic covers how historians have studied that topic using particular sources, techniques, and theoretical approaches.”

Historiography identifies the prominent thinkers and explains the structure of scholarly debate on a certain topic. Thus it is meant to convey the scholarship of other historians rather than interpretation of the subject on its own.

This is ‘history of historical writing’, as “When you study ‘historiography’ you do not study the events of the past directly, but the changing interpretations of those events in the works of individual historians” (Furay & Salevouris, 1988). This includes the manner in which historians have defined or written about history; historians different approaches, theories, and methods to interpret and write the history.

Overall, this is the studying the changes that emerged in the interpretations of those events as perceived by the narratives of different historians. Therefore, it can be stated, historiography is not a past in itself but the study of historical interpretation of the past over specified events.

Usually, historiography may serve as an introduction to a research paper, that highlights the major papers and books that are written on the specific theme or field of study. It also identifies the academics that were more successful in justifying their argument in the debate. This equips the researcher to understand the past interpretations and present their analysis to the current historiography. It helps to comprehend the value of historical works.

E.H. Carr (1964) wrote, “The facts of history never come to us ‘pure’ since they do not and cannot exist in a pure form: they are always refracted through the mind of the recorder. It follows that when we take up a work of history, our first concern should not be with the facts which it contains but with the historian who wrote it.”

The interpretations of the past arguments over an event put forward by the historians are studied in historiography. It explains how historical events are reinterpreted by historians across history. The objective historiography justifies the past ‘facts’ and places them in the wider context or narrative.


Historiography is important to understand what is known about the past and how historians have attempted to comprehend it; it explains the changing interpretations of those events by the different historians.

Every scholar studying any history initially examines the historiography of the theme to develop understandings of what are historical arguments about that period, event or subject. Thus, it becomes pivotal to understand historiography to put forward own interpretation that will contribute to the existing literature.

Author: Dr Sakul Kundra, A.HOD Department of Social Science, College of Humanities and Education, Fiji National University.

Dr Sakul Kundra; Picture Source: Supplied
Dr Sakul Kundra; Picture Source: Supplied

Disclaimer: The views expressed are his own and not of The Australia Today or his employer. For comments or suggestions, email. dr.sakulkundra@gmail.com