In this far-ranging and erudite exploration of the South Asian past, Sumit Guha discusses the shaping of social and historical memory in world-historical context. He presents memory as the result of both remembering and forgetting and of the preservation, recovery, and decay of records. By describing how these processes work through sociopolitical organizations, Guha delineates the historiographic legacy acquired by the British in colonial India; the creation of the centralized educational system and mass production of textbooks that led to unification of historical discourses under colonial auspices; and the divergence of these discourses in the twentieth century under the impact of nationalism and decolonization.
Guha brings together sources from a range of languages and regions to provide the first intellectual history of the ways in which socially recognized historical memory has been made across the subcontinent. This thoughtful study contributes to debates beyond the field of history that complicate the understanding of objectivity and documentation in a seemingly post-truth world.
Guha charts the rise of historical memory in South Asia in a way that moves past literary affect or philosophical predisposition, refusing to reduce his subject to a reconfiguration of Western historiography even while he traces parallels in colonial institutions. Instead, Guha engages everything from family lineages and modes of accounting, to grand memorial narratives of the rise and fall of dynasties, to give us a comprehensive study how social memory, wedded to evidence-based reasoning, transformed into the historical arts of South Asia, and finally how history matters even now in a ‘post-truth’ age.
Christian Novetzke, author of The Quotidian Revolution: Vernacularization, Religion, and the Premodern Public Sphere in India
Much of this rich and exciting material has not been discussed in published form before. The subject of how South Asians have constructed the past has been an increasingly important one in the field; this book will become one of the most original and substantial contributions to this literature.
Douglas E. Haynes, author of Small-Town Capitalism in Western India: Artisans, Merchants, and the Making of the Informal Economy, 1870–1960
Not only does Guha possess a mastery of a staggering diversity of historical practices in South Asia, his analysis extends to a thoughtful discussion of (and argument about) the origins and development of European history writing.
William R. Pinch, author of Warrior Ascetics and Indian Empires
Amid the acrimony and pessimism of our current 'post-truth' era, Professor Guha takes us on a wonderfully refreshing journey through the myriad ways in which human societies have approached the interface between specialist history writing and popular memory. Combining remarkable breadth of learning with vivid insights derived from South Asian experience, Guha offers us a new sense of the possibilities of balance between older disciplinary norms of evidence-based history writing, and the dynamic world of public and popular argumentation as it settles and acquires the status of collective memory.
Rosalind O'Hanlon, author of Caste, Conflict and Ideology: Mahatma Jotirao Phule and Low Caste Protest in Nineteenth-Century Western India
Guha reminds us that the now-standard Western method of history writing, as practiced and taught in university departments, is of fairly recent vintage. This book should go well beyond the usual circles of South Asia specialists to general readers interested in comparative historiography and epistemology.
Samira Sheikh, author of After Timur Left: Culture and Circulation in Fifteenth-Century North India