May 15, 2016

Hardship of A Historian

On November 21, 1764, Orme wrote the following lines to Robert Clive when Clive was deputed to India for the second time.

Orme wrote, “I have had permission to poke into the records of the India House, and have discovered excellent materials for the exordium of my second volume; but the difficulty of getting them away is immense, for every scrap of an extract that I desire is submitted to the consideration of the Court of Directors; so that in three months, and after making twenty-five journeys to the House, I have not got half what I want. All because they won't lend me old books, of which not a soul in England suspected the existence until my rummages discovered them. I am afraid, my Lord, that these gentlemen suspect that I shall make a fortune by my book; and therefore think all the trouble and impediments I meet with to be what I have no reason to complain of, as it is in the way of trade.

You, my Lord, have treated me differently; and pray continue to do so. Make me a vast map of Bengal, in which not only the outlines of the province, but also the different subdivision of Burdwan, Beerboom, &c. may be justly marked. Get me a clear idea of the different officer and duties of Duan (probably he meant Diwan), Bukhshee (probably he meant Buxshee), Cadgee (probably he meant a Qazi), Cutwall (probably he meant a Kotwal), and all other great posts in the government. Take astronomical observations of longitude, if you have any body capable of doing it. I send you a skeleton of Bengal map I intend for my second volume, and I will hereafter send you the first sheets of the book itself; which will contain matter entirely new, even to us East Indians; but that cruel India House, and my paper constitution, keep me back most terribly.”

The above lines have been picked from “The Life of Robert, Lord Clive: Collected from the family paper”, by Sir John Malcolm, completed by Charles Malcom in three volumes. The lines are from the second volume, pages 260-61.

Some Observations:

1. The lines are reported to have been written in 1762. This was the year when the Americans colonies were celebrating the accession of George III.

2. The efforts of a historian are depicted in the lines. The craft of collections is well demonstrated. It had been when “Wealth of Nation” by Adam Smith and Marx's Das Capita had not been published or even conceived. The idea is that there was no stress on economic determinism formula as emphasized by Marxian historians. Even then the book which Orme had authored had emphasized on different financial angles of the company. The Parliament of England had yet to debate the cost of running the colonies in America.

3. The historian had sought the help of the chief administrator for acquiring some valid information and facts about India. It shows that the administration in India was not well defined at that time. It can be proved from other references. The Nationalist Historians attributes imperialistic designs of the British Company. But in light of the above fact, it seems, that there inferences and interpretations are not true.

4. James Mills six volumes came in 1817. He had referred to work of Orme in order to criticize many of the observations of the officers of the company who were called Nabobs or East Indians in Britain. His claim in the preface of the first volume of his work is also stands to scrutiny. It is proved wrong that there was no good work on India. He was biased against a group of the Company officials. It seems that the work of Mills was a part of a wider game of the British parliamentarians and members of the company who were divided on the issue spending the wealth of the Empire on raising colonies outside their own territory.

No doubt, the above lines are quite important for the scholars who are in the field of research, working of research methodology and history.

May 01, 2016

Defining Historicism – An Example

The following lines are plucked out from a preface to a book of a highly quoted author named Lane-Poole. He was a Professor of Arabic at Trinity College, Dublin and book was published in 1903 from New York and introduced in England.

“History is always continuous; there can be no ‘fresh start’; and each new period carries on much of what preceded it.” (Preface pp.iv.; Lane-Pool, Stanely, Medieval India under Mohammedan Rule 712 – 1764, 1903, New York.

The lines conceptualize the intrinsic meaning of the term “Historicism” if the term claim any right to existence. I am ready to accept and in recognizing it, I feel no shame that I struggle to learn, understand and perceive the real import of the term ‘historicism’. As I learn that I know it, and the very next pulse of the time, I lose it.

History is a knowledge about past. Among the group of the world of knowledge, the humanity gives preference to those fields of knowledge which provide solutions or to be more specific, working solutions to the problems in present.

History is not past as such. History is about change and continuity. A person asks a question in present, may be when he has a problem. He seeks a solution, which will prove its efficacy in future. Now, where should he look? Can he peep into the future? Which science has that capability? If such a science comes, History will die.

History stipulates that you have to learn about your present to fully understand your problem. You will then find the right solution. The quotation tells that your present has its foundation in past.

However, History is never regarded as such. There is a truth, which a thinking man refuses to recognise. He is troubled by his problem. The answer is in seeking the product which is called ‘Historicism’. But, where is it? What is it?

The above sentiment, the quotation, was recorded in 1903. I, the post writer, was born in latter part of 60s of the same century. Today in 2016, India, the country, which is seeking FDI from everywhere and technology from all over, is making yoga an international movement. Ochre clad Swami is rewriting the theories on marketing and production the field of FMCG picking threads and sinews from pre-medieval India. The country is invaded by ethics and values from outside through information technology. What is changing? What is continuing? I am still unable to get hold of the meaning of historicism. Which is continuing? Pizza or Puri or Prantdha.

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