The Idea of India—the third annual conference on Teaching History

CONCEPT NOTE                                                                                  PROGRAMME DETAILS

In 2015, at the annual conference that launched the History for Peace project, Dr Barbara Christophe delivered a powerful keynote that has since served as a prism—refracting ideas that strengthen our objectives. Speaking about memory, history and history textbooks and the ambivalences inherent in these, she elaborated on the advantages and disadvantages of different approaches to the use of history teaching as a resource for reconciliation and thereby ‘teaching history for peace’.

Traditionally, history has been defined as the study of the past as it is written in documents. However, in recent years, Memory Studies has become an integral part of the historiographical landscape. Urvashi Butalia, also speaking at the same conference, discussed how marginalized histories emerge when we record oral histories. Thus, textual, visual and oral representations of the past have gradually gained equal importance among historians as source and evidence.

This year, as we complete 70 years of Independence, the History for Peace annual conference looks at India’s engagement or its lack thereof with institutionalized, collective and individual histories that make up the ‘Idea of India’.

The conference explores the Idea of India as represented in textbooks in the subcontinent. Seven decades after Independence, most of the history textbooks in India up to the secondary level still end with the Independence Movement, save a mention of 1971 in a few NCERT volumes. Nations across the world are including recent histories, even recent conflict histories and difficult pasts into their curriculum. But not so in India.

So the questions we are hoping to ask and explore at this conference are:

  • When does a current event become ‘history’ and qualify to be institutionalized?
  • In the sphere of public memory, what is the impetus that guides the choice of what the nation needs to ‘remember’?
  • What are the areas and issues that we seem to gloss over and why?
  • Is the chosen ‘historical amnesia’ strengthening divisive forces within the country and the subcontinent?
  • Or is there a possibility that collective memory in some cases can lead to more strife?

Much of our knowledge of the past that is not ‘institutionalized’ comes from sources outside the educational institutions—from collective and individual memories, from the arts, from conventional as well as social media.

This year’s conference also seeks to explore how history is narrated (texts and arts), memories are created and events are remembered.

Showcasing a few well-researched art projects, the conference will look at the role of art as a function of preserving memory.

‘Knowledge’ of the past comes easy in the highly technological, connected world we live in today—often without scholarly intervention. The concepts are not very different from what we know as traditional historical sources. Diaries have become blogs, letters and postcards have become emails, print newspapers have virtual presences that allow them to send out byte-sized news items round the clock through social media. And all of this data is stored for recall at a touch of our fingertips.

At this conference, we will aim to make an academic enquiry into the possibility or viability of social-media data as primary/secondary source for historians. What are the challenges?

This year, the conference goes beyond the debates, discussions and interactions over the three formal conference days. Throughout August 2017, we will be organizing talks, performances, exhibitions at multiple venues across the city to engage a much wider audience in the Idea of India.

Registration form—The Idea of India

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