How reliable are British Raj-era sources for studying history?

Jan 2019
198
Valencia
#1
So I recently found out that on Wikipedia, Raj-era sources are not accepted if better sources are available and even if they are accepted they should be “taken with a pinch of salt”. The reasoning behind this policy is that many of these sources are supposedly motivated by notions of “scientific racism”. It is also important to note that most senior Wiki admins covering Indian history are British academics so they are generally knowledgeable in this area and won’t be trying to push some misguided anti-colonial agenda.

For me personally, I find them to be a good starting point to follow up with wider reading but I recognise that they aren’t entirely accurate. What do you guys think?

I find that the best books/articles on Indian history are always published by Oxford/Cambridge University Press followed by the Proceedings of the Indian History Congress.
 
Mar 2019
1,535
KL
#2
indian wikipedia area is totally hijacked by the british/american and atleast one of whom i know is an afghani/ pakistan pashtun nationalist and some iranian nationalists as well.

indians who want to enforce their own agenda are completely rejected by this ''mafia'', their indian sources are always rejected in favour of western sources which are normally towing the line of colonial era academics.

lets take for instance subsection 'dravidian origin' in the article of 'history of india', i tried to remove it because that notion is itself contested argument contested by many indian even western scholars, and i can also name them, but that edit was rejected simply because the dominant colonial as well as modern western scholarship favours this fairytale even though it has never been proven based on aryan theories.

same happened with bhirrana which i wanted to include in indus valley civilization article, but was not tolerated and immediately removed by the same mafia who want to keep mehrgarh as the prime focus of the civilziation's origin because it agrees with eurocentric/western POV of western origin of IVC.

im not surprised that their are even indians like kautilya and other indian users who back this mafia and aid them in distorting indian history articles in wikipedia.

one shameless indian user i knew was making every indian history article grecocentric, inserting every indian article with greeks and persians. indian coinage article was changed into greek and persian origin of indian coinage.

most indians do seem to love their western eurocentric history even defend it, there are some few rational indians who take pride in their history and dont back this eurocentrism, and ofcourse indians who back hindutva narrative, but are not seen in wikipedia.

regards
 
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Mar 2016
1,222
Australia
#3
indian wikipedia area is totally hijacked by the british/american and atleast one of whom i know is an afghani/ pakistan pashtun nationalist and some iranian nationalists as well.

indians who want to enforce their own agenda are completely rejected by this ''mafia'', their indian sources are always rejected in favour of western sources which are normally towing the line of colonial era academics.

lets take for instance subsection 'dravidian origin' in the article of 'history of india', i tried to remove it because that notion is itself contested argument contested by mny indian even westrn scholars, and i can also name them, but that editing wa rejected simply because the dominant colonial as well as modern western scholarship favours this fairytale even thouh it has never been proven based on aryan theories.

same happened with bhirrana which i wanted to include in indus valley civilization article, but was not tolerated and immediately removed by the same mafia.

im not surprised that their are even indians like kautilya and other indian users which back this mafia and aid them in distorting indian history articles in wikipedia.

one shameless indian user i knew was making every indian history article grecocentric, inserting every indian article with greeks and persians.

most indians do seem to love their western eurocentric history even defend it, there are some few rational indians who take pride in their history and dont back this eurocentrism, and ofcourse indians who back hindutva narrative, but are not seen in wikipedia.

regards
Oh boy, here we go again.... :rolleyes:
 
Likes: Swamp Booger

tornada

Ad Honoris
Mar 2013
15,385
India
#4
So I recently found out that on Wikipedia, Raj-era sources are not accepted if better sources are available and even if they are accepted they should be “taken with a pinch of salt”.
For what purpose? When you say "study of history" what do you mean? The study of history isn't a monolithic exercise. As with all research, the idea is to explore, evaluate and analyze, in this case our past.

There is no such thing as a good or a bad source without a context. A source can be good for one thing, and bad for another. For example, lets take the Iskandarnameh . This is a Persian chronicle of Alexander. Written many centuries after the fact. It is not, on its own, a bad or a good source. It is a terrible source if you're looking to attempt an accurate study of Alexanderian battle formations in any of his conflicts. It is an excellent source if you wish to study Persian ideas or attitudes towards Alexander or the Ancient Greeks.

The reasoning behind this policy is that many of these sources are supposedly motivated by notions of “scientific racism”. It is also important to note that most senior Wiki admins covering Indian history are British academics so they are generally knowledgeable in this area and won’t be trying to push some misguided anti-colonial agenda.
I won't comment on Wikipedia editing guidelines, though for the most part they're quite reasonable. A source is simply a tool in historical research. How it is used, and its value, is contingent on the historian using it. On the issue of Indian History, you would use sources for two primary purposes
1. To ascertain facts
2. To analyze facts

For 1. A Colonial source can sometimes be the ONLY source for a fact. For example - British Casualties in an engagement in 1857. You might only have the British source material.
Thus for facts, its simply about ascertaining what material exists corroborating or proving said facts. Facts can certainly be influenced by bias. And so, you analyze your sources. Attempt to deconstruct them to check for bias. But the British sources will not be unilateral in their bias. Other sources can also be biased, and the British can have multiple biases.

Thus for example, in the Mutiny of 1857, British sources frequently allude to the massacres of Kanpur to explain British motivations. These sources invariably demonize Indian actors such as Nana Saheb. Indian scholars however have pointed to other evidence, such as Neill's massacres of civilians in Allahabad to provide context for the events in Kanpur. Thus you have some facts, but you also add to these facts with other facts. And thus you enter the realm of point 2. Analysis

For the purposes of Analysis, we return to the issue of context. A source can be good. Or bad. But it depends on the argument, the historian, and the issue being studied. Raj era sources cannot be ignored. But depending on context, they should neither be unduly privileged nor ignored. Thus, if you're going to study Indian Colonial Constitutional History, you cannot only cite modern sources. The ideas of Keith or Ilbert are just as important to the issue of framing questions. Are they right? On most issues there is no right or wrong. As with anything, there will be a need to contextualize Keith and Ilbert who operated with loyalties and prejudices relative to their politics. But you also have sources such as Nehru or Ambedkar. These aren't impartial sources either. They too have biases and prejudices in the way they act, in their interpretations of constitutional ideas or mandates.

Simply put - there is no gospel here.

The Raj era sources are important. They are however products of their time. You cannot term them bad or good sources in Indian history unless you have the appropriate context. Even within that context, they aren't necessarily bad. They often represent one side of an argument. With most arguments of historical analyses, biases can be found on any side, and there are invariably no fixed correct answers.
 

kandal

Ad Honorem
Aug 2015
2,767
USA
#5
Europeans discovered the history of most of the world. They retain the best disciple, scholarship and critical inquiry on this subject, and the necessary checks and balances. Indians are highly susceptible to their petty agendas of various kinds, when it comes to their own history, unless they are properly trained in western approaches.

I read Indian history books by western scholars first to orient myself, and get my critical mind going. Later I may delve into other books and wiki. If I see conflicts, I usually sort it out since by then I have already read multiple sources. I am not a historian, but one with an interest in history.
 
Oct 2015
1,133
India
#6
Wikipedia:

It is a good starting point on almost all history topics - because it says (i) no original research of writer should be included and (ii) different points of views should be presented. It is quick & easy to access, gives multiple perspectives, has vast amount of content, latest scholarship is often updated.

On the negatives mentioned by you: I do not find any problem with updating it, but my updates are invariably minor changes. There would be any problem if you present a contrary view point from an Indian book, provided it does not delete the other viewpoints, is put briefly, and is properly referenced.

So, on the whole, Wikipedia is a good place to start familiarizing oneself with any topics. It is also worthy of contributing to if one has the time.

History by Colonial (British Raj) Historians & Administrators:

Obviously a bias or a typical view point exists which fall in two main streams. One is the victor /superior-race syndrome. Second is rooted in evangelical mindset which generally is unable to see any good in Hinduism and equates it exclusively with Sati and Caste system. Period. The fact is that similar or worse discriminations have existed in western societies (slavery, witch-hunting etc). Such biases need correction.

However, more important fact is the great amount of labour / effort colonial historians & administrators have put in writing our history. Look at the thousands of books they have written or even Gazettes. All are written in clear & crisp language, with first hand knowledge, based on careful study of primary/secondary sources, duly referenced. They have done a good job of even the study of Sanskrit Literature. In my view Indians have put in far less labour / effort. Islamic people have also taken pains to record history, but the Hindus have been pretty lazy.

Personally, I like reading books authored by colonial historians and administrators and hold them in high regards. Attitudinal error which crept-in will get corrected with time with 'historical revisionism'. They can not be junked, but only re-interpreted with greater care.

Regards

Rajeev

PS:

Why do I feel that Cambridge is better than Oxford?

Sometimes thought crosses the mind that because of their long-tradition of scholarship, academics have also developed deep-rooted views and are unable to look at past afresh. They are stuck in the morass of old paradigms.
 
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Devdas

Ad Honorem
Apr 2015
4,702
India
#7
Many British historians were honest to deciphering history of India, but other historical narrative were merely for propaganda purpose to justify and strengthen British rule in India.
 
Likes: Kamayani
Apr 2019
406
India
#8
Many British historians were honest to deciphering history of India, but other historical narrative were merely for propaganda purpose to justify and strengthen British rule in India.
I agree and those who were honest were often sidelined and ridiculed.
Even if British era sources might not be completely reliable but they are still very important source for learning our history.
 

Devdas

Ad Honorem
Apr 2015
4,702
India
#9
I agree and those who were honest were often sidelined and ridiculed.
Even if British era sources might not be completely reliable but they are still very important source for learning our history.
In modern time, study of history is ideologically driven and many even don't want to give up the colonial era theory for modern era discoveries.
 
Oct 2015
1,133
India
#10
Histories written during British colonial period were not spontaneous. They are akin to histories written by Mughal court historians for their patron king-emperor.

General impression:

I have downloads of more than a hundred histories or memoirs written during British period (available free on the net). Not that I have read them all from cover to cover, but have read portions of interest in most of them. The general impression is this:
  • Many of these were often written by colonial officers or ex-officers.
  • They were funded by East India Company or British Government.
  • Source documents were often made available to authors by colonial government or were under his charge.
  • Histories were dedicated to Governors or King Emperor and the like,
  • With the author calling himself as their ‘most humble servant.’


Here is a random example:

Book: A History of the Mahrattas by James Grant Duff. Published 1826.

Employment of author: Captain in the first, or Grenadier, Regiment of Bombay Native Infantry, and Late Political Resident of Satara

Dedication: To The Honourable Mountstuart Elphinstone, Governor, &c. &c. of Bombay

Dedication by: His Most Obedient, Humble Servant, THE AUTHOR.

Sources enabled by Colonial Government by: (i) Elphinstone under orders of Marquis of Hastings [ = Francis Rawdon-Hastings, 1st Marquess of Hastings, Governor General of India 1813-1823]. (ii) Captain Henry Dundas Robertsen, Collector and Magistrate of Poona. (iii) Records of Satara Government under author's own charge.


Looking behind the Curtain (or Under the Carpet) - Purpose of Histories:

Colonial histories are for most part official records of colonial government. They could not have spoken any negative thing about the colonial government or rule; let alone criticizing its failures or condemning misdeeds.

Some of these historians remind me of Abul Fazl standing in the Akbar the Great's court. Could they be different from Abul Fazl?

The purpose of many of the histories seems to have been to understand the population and their past ; so that one can rule them better. And more revenue extracted because often revenue / land-tax / financial matters were noted.

Buyer, Be Aware:

In short, there need to be cautious about accepting the Colonial histories on face value. But they do have a lot of value, as other sources for history are limited. This emphasizes need for research to uncover newer / additional sources of history.
 

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