How, When and Where

How Important are Dates?

  • History is about finding out how things were in the past and how things have changed.
  • Earlier, history was synonymous with dates.
  • History was an account of battles and big events such as:
    The year a king was crowned.
    The year he was married and had a child.
    The year he fought a particular war or battle.
    The year he died.
    The year the next ruler succeeded to the throne etc.
  • Now, historians look more towards why and how events happen and not entirely focussing on when events happened.

How do we periodise?

  • We divide history into different periods in an attempt to capture the characteristics of  time, its central features as and when they appear to us.

British classification of Indian History

  • In 1817, James Mill, a Scottish economist and political philosopher, in his book ‘A History of British India’ divided Indian history into three periods:


  • According to Mill, all Asian societies were at a lower level of civilisation when compared to Europe.

Another Classification of Indian history

Historians have usually divided Indian history into :


->medieval and 


 This division too has its problems.

Since this periodisation is borrowed from the West where the modern period was associated with the growth of all the forces of modernity such as science, reason, democracy, liberty and equality.

Medieval was a term used to describe a society where these features of modern society did not exist.

  • Many historians refers British rule period as ‘colonial’ since during this rule:

People did not have equality, freedom or liberty.
No economic growth and progress took place.

What is colonial?

  • The British came to conquer the country and establish their rule, subjugating the local nawabs and rajas.
  • British established control over the economy and society, collected revenue to meet all their expenses, bought the goods they wanted at low prices, and produced crops only that they needed for export.
  • British rule brought in values and tastes, customs and practices.
  • When the subjugation of one country by another leads to these kinds of political, economic, social and cultural changes, we refer to the process as colonisation.
  • Historians have used various sources in writing about modern Indian history of the last 250 years.

Administration produces records

  • The official records of the British administration are one of the important sources.
  • Every instruction, plan, policy decision, agreement, investigation was written since British believed that the act of writing was important.
  • British set up record rooms attached to all administrative institutions as they felt that all important documents and letters needed to be carefully preserved.

Surveys become important

  • The British believed that a country had to be properly known before it could be effectively administered, therefore, the practice of surveying became common under the colonial administration.
  • By the early nineteenth century detailed surveys were being carried out to map the entire country.
  • In  villages, revenue surveys were conducted to know the topography, the soil quality, the flora and fauna, the local histories and the cropping pattern  they followed.
  • From the end of the nineteenth century, Census was held every ten years which provided detailed records of the number of people in all the provinces of India, noting information on castes,religions and occupation.
  • Other surveys such as botanical surveys, zoological surveys, archaeological surveys, anthropological surveys, forest surveys were also done.

What official records do not tell

  • Official records do not tell what other people in the country felt, and the reasons behind their actions.
  • We need to look at these things in unofficial records which are more difficult to get than official records.
  • Sources of the Unofficial records are:
    Diaries of people
    Accounts of pilgrims and travellers
    Autobiographies of important personalities
    Popular booklets in the local bazaars
    Written ideas of  Leaders and reformers
    Written records of poets and novelists.

Limitation of Unofficial records

  • They were produced by those who were literate.
  • From these records, we can not clearly understand how history was experienced and lived by the tribals and the peasants, the workers in the mines or the poor on the streets.