Sunday, March 7, 2010

PM's daughter is changing the way we read history

Like so many of us, Upinder Singh hadn’t decided on her calling while she was in school, or even in college. "I was interested in literature but was also keen on ancient history. It was something I enjoyed reading about," she recounts. But she ended up with a bachelor’s and master’s degree in history, joined her alma mater, St Stephen’s College in Delhi, as a teacher and began researching ancient and early medieval India.
It was only while interacting with her students, however, that Ms Singh realised she wanted to do something different. After intensive research — at Delhi University, Instituut Kern, Leiden in the Netherlands and McGill University in Canada, she began writing books. Her latest, A History of Ancient and Early Medieval India: From the Stone Age to the 12th Century (2008), questions existing theories, notions and conventional periodisations of history.
By treating people from history as actors shaping the idea of India, she also wants to change the way we see our past. "I wasn’t re-envisioning the idea of India," says the 50-year old professor, with a bashful smile. "All I was trying to do is make history interesting to students; make them question what’s written in books and make them participate in the subject rather than follow the routine." In the process, she got accolades and brickbats in equal proportion.
Some colleagues thought she wanted to challenge the Marxist view of ancient Indian history—which she denies—but students gave her book a thumbs-up, as did other readers. Little wonder then that earlier this year, the Infosys Science Foundation bestowed her with The Infosys Prize in Social Sciences (History) in recognition of her contribution as an outstanding historian of ancient and early medieval Indian history.
The citation read: "...The depth and breadth of her scholarly research are matched by a rare ability to communicate her findings to a broad audience of students and intellectually curious non-specialists... Equally impressive is the geographical spread of her research, covering all the diverse regions of India. Attentive to regional distinctions, Singh is able to offer an overarching and subtle interpretation of Indian history and culture."

Full report here The Economic Times

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