The past is not just, as has been famously said, another country
with foreign customs: it is a contested and colonized terrain.
Indigenous histories have been expropriated, eclipsed, sometimes
even wholly eradicated, in the service of imperialist aims
buttressed by a distinctly Western philosophy of history. Ranajit
Guha, perhaps the most influential figure in postcolonial and
subaltern studies at work today, offers a critique of such
historiography by taking issue with the Hegelian concept of
World-history. That concept, he contends, reduces the course of
human history to the amoral record of states and empires, great men
and clashing civilizations. It renders invisible the quotidian
experience of ordinary people and casts off all that came before it
into the nether-existence known as "Prehistory."
On the Indian subcontinent, Guha believes, this Western way of
looking at the past was so successfully insinuated by British
colonization that few today can see clearly its ongoing and
pernicious influence. He argues that to break out of this habit of
mind and go beyond the Eurocentric and statist limit of
World-history historians should learn from literature to make their
narratives doubly inclusive: to extend them in scope not only to
make room for the pasts of the so-called peoples without history
but to address the historicality of everyday life as well. Only
then, as Guha demonstrates through an examination of Rabindranath
Tagore's critique of historiography, can we recapture a more fully
human past of "experience and wonder."
Subjects: History, Political Science
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