Ainslie T. Embree
In 1813, as James Mill finished his great work on India, the first attempt in any language to give a comprehensive account of Indian history and culture, he wrote of the difficulties that confronted him as he struggled to make a coherent story from the confusing mass of materials that he had discovered. His conclusion was that there were only two possibilities for the historian: "Either he must resolve to observe minutely a part; or he must resolve to make a cursory review of the whole. Life is insufficient for more." 1
Many teachers of Indian history will have somewhat the same response, and they may be inclined to Mill's first option of concentrating on some small fragment of the rich complexity of the Indian mosaic, on the ground that it is better to have firm control of a small area of history than to attempt to cover a vast range of material in a superficial manner. Without some knowledge of how the fragment fits into the whole, however, this method of concentrating on one's area of specialization will not lead toward an understanding of Indian civilization. One is driven, then, not just by the necessities of a curriculum requirement, but by the nature of the historical process, to the second option, a cursory review of Indian history. Such a review demands selection, that is, emphasizing some aspects of history while ignoring others, and, at the same time, identifying recurring patterns and themes. Properly speaking, one should use the term "South Asia" to take into account modern political divisions, but in referring to the period before 1947 it is simpler to use the older and more familiar designation for the subcontinent.
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Publication information: Book title: Asia in Western and World History: A Guide for Teaching. Contributors: Ainslie T. Embree - Editor, Carol Gluck - Editor. Publisher: M. E. Sharpe. Place of publication: Armonk, NY. Publication year: 1997. Page number: 631.
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