History has to be inclusive of culture and traditions of the local people, not merely a chronicle of the lives of kings and emperors, Member of Parliament Kanimozhi said here on Wednesday.

She was speaking after releasing the book The Madras School of Orientalism: Producing Knowledge in Colonial South India edited by Thomas R. Trautmann, at a function organised by the Madras Book Club jointly with Oxford University Press.

Ms. Kanimozhi said it is unfortunate that history as we know it has very little or no references to the lives of the local people. It must include insights into the cultures, systems and practices of the people living in the era that is being chronicled, she added. The advantage with Professor Trautmanns book was that it provided this perspective, giving an insight into society.

Echoing this perspective, Nirmala Lakshman, Joint Editor, The Hindu, said it was fitting that such a book was released during the Madras Week celebrations which brought a bright new spirit to the city. The celebrations had become a large and participative movement bringing the tradition and culture of Madras to its people.

Ms. Lakshman said parts of the book were stimulating and it was sure to trigger interest in academic circles. Additionally, it was a significant contribution to the literature of Madras.

Professor Trautmann, who is the Marshall D. Sahlins Collegiate Professor of History and Anthropology, University of Michigan, U.S., has put in a decade of scholarship and a lot of interesting titbits into the book.

A.R.Venkatachalapathy, Professor, Madras Institute of Development Studies, by way of introducing the book, said much of our knowledge about our ancient past is from conversations between orientalists and Indian scholars. There was an explosion of Oriental scholars in the late 18th and early 19th-century Madras. Notable among them were Colim Mackenzie and F.W. Ellis, the key figures of the Madras School of Orientalism, an intellectual formation patterned on the Asiatic Society of Calcutta. The fundamental contribution of Professor Trautmann was to have resurrected Ellis, who was nearly lost to the world because of the destruction of his manuscripts.

S. Muthiah of the Madras Book Club urged Ms. Kanimozhi to remember Ellis with a memorial of sorts in Chennai. Theodore Bhaskaran, also of the Madras Book Club, spoke of how Professor Trautmann came to write the book, priced at Rs.875 and published by Oxford University Press.

Keywords: MadrasHistoryculture


Culture & HeritageMay 14, 2012