R. C. MAJUMDAR (1888–1980), A LEADING HISTORIAN OF THE NATIONALIST SCHOOL

 Indian scholars of the late 19th and first half of the 20th centuries made major contributions towards constructing a connected narrative of ancient India. Writing against the background of an emergent, and later increasingly strong, national movement, these historians are generally referred to as Nationalist historians. They were responsible for meticulously weaving together data from texts, inscriptions, coins, and other material remains to amplify the contours of the ancient Indian past. Especially important contributions were made in the field of political history. South India was brought into the narrative and the study of regional polities progressed. The nationalist tinge in the writings of these scholars can be seen in their insistence on the indigenous roots of all major

cultural developments. It is also reflected in their search for golden ages, which led to their exalting the age of the Vedas and the Gupta empire. Non-monarchical polities were discovered and were celebrated to counter the idea that India had never known anything but despotic rule. The periodization of the Indian past into the Hindu, Muslim, and British periods was, however, retained. It coalesced with a communal tendency to valorize the ‘Hindu period’ and to project the advent of the Turks and Islam as a calamity and tragedy. The 1950s saw the emergence of Marxist historiography, which went on to play an extremely influential role in the construction of the history of ancient and early medieval India. In the long run, the major achievement of Marxist historians was to shift the focus from an event-centred history dominated by political narrative to the delineation of social and economic structures and processes, especially those related to class stratification and agrarian relations. Marxist historiography also contributed towards uncovering the history of non-elite groups, some of whom had suffered centuries of subordination and marginalization. While making these valuable interventions and contributions, Marxist writings

often tended to work with unilinear historical models derived from Western historical and anthropological writings. Texts were sometimes read uncritically, with insufficient attention paid to their problematic chronology and peculiarities of genre. Archaeological data was included, but the basic framework of the historical narrative remained text centric. Initially, the focus on class meant less attention to other bases of social stratification such as caste and gender. Religion and culture were often sidelined or mechanically presented as reflections of socio-economic structures.

Despite their important differences, the major historiographical schools also shared some similarities, for instance, in their emphasis on Brahmanical Sanskrit texts and their tendency to marginalize archaeological evidence. Certain tenets of all these schools continue to thrive in the present. Some of the fundamental premises and methods of Orientalist

historiography continue to hold their ground and histories of Third World countries such as India remain Eurocentric in many respects. Appeals to the ancient and early medieval past are still often dictated by nationalist or communalist agendas. Marxist historiography continues to be an influential force in early Indian historiography.