History & Culture

Flip to the past

IN PERSPECTIVE: Journal of Indian History, April 1947 edition, published by the Department of History, University of Kerala   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Suresh Jnaneswaran is dealing with a 92-year-legacy that is the “pride” of the Department of History, University of Kerala. Editor of the Journal of Indian History, which features landmark papers by the who’s who of historians in India and abroad, Suresh is eager to ensure that the journal brings history to the masses instead of being stored in the archives.

In the non-descript library of the Department at Karyavattom campus, a few of the 90 editions of the journal are currently on display. Musty, tattered, stained and dog-eared they might be, but each journal is a treasure trove for those who want to discover the past.

In fact, the journal itself has in interesting past that is as riveting as any of the topics it has tackled. More so because no other historical research journal published by Universities in the country can perhaps trace its origins to 1922.

The city’s tryst with the journal begins in 1946. Sir C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar, Dewan of erstwhile Travancore, and first Vice-Chancellor of the University of Travancore (which became the University of Kerala in 1957) purchased the journal from the University of Madras. “The Dewan bought the journal to the city to boost the stature of the University of Travancore, est. 1937, as a premiere institution,” says Dr. Ravindran, former Professor of History and Head of the Department, who edited the journal from 1971 to 1989.

In the foreword to Vol. 25 (April 1947), the first edition of the journal that was published by the University of Travancore, Sir C.P. confirms this. It was a happy idea on the part of the University of Travancore to purchase the goodwill of the Journal of Indian History... During these years the Journal has sought to maintain the highest standards of research and specialized study and has rendered valuable service in every branch of Indian History and has at the same time been not only of high cultural but popular value. It has given hospitality to varying views and has thus secured the ventilation of all opinions on matters on which differences of outlook and view were inevitable and indeed essential in the case of true research. This volume was edited by V. Rangacharya, a history professor of the H.H. Maharaja’s University College (now University College).

The story of the Journal of Indian History begins in 1921-22 with Sir Shafaat Ahmad Khan, Professor of Modern History, University of Allahabad, roundabout the time the Harappan civilisation was ‘discovered’. “At the time Indians were only beginning to discover that we actually had a history, after centuries of the Colonialists telling us otherwise. Sir Shafaat started the journal because there was no historical research journal of an international standard in the country then. Besides, much of whatever was known about Indian history was through Western scholarship. Sir Shafaat wanted to present Indian perspectives on Indian history,” says Dr. Ravindran.

However, Sir Shafaat could edit only the first three volumes. Apparently, certain financial constraints forced him to hand over the journal to the University of Madras in 1924. Dr. Sakkottai Krishnaswamy Aiyangar, a Professor in History in the University and member of the Asiatic Society, edited volumes four to 24.

Flip through the editions and you’ll find information on just about every aspect of ancient, medieval and modern history of the country. Government functioning in ancient India, feudalism in the Mughal times, the partition of Bengal, feudalism in India, royal contribution and patronage of Indian music, Tibetans in North West India during the 8th century, Anglo-Burmese diplomacy, Netaji and the Nazis... few are the topics, it seems, that have not been covered in the journal in its 90 editions thus far. There are also special editions of the journal such as a 1,000 page one for the Golden Jubilee of the University, edited by Dr. Ravindran.

“We never really had to search for articles. They would just pour in from across the country. When I took editorship of the journal in 1972, it hadn’t been published for a couple of years. We had a backlog of 500 articles!” recalls Dr. Ravindran. What drew researchers to the journal was apparently its punctiliousness in choosing only papers of the highest standard.

“Well before peer review became the norm for academic journals, each paper was put through the paces for the journal. It became sort of a prestige issue for historians to have their papers published in it. For example, even though it was published from Kerala, only a handful of Malayalis could clear the exacting standards of the editorial boards until the 60s,” explains Dr. Suresh, who is Professor and Head, Department of History and Dean, Faculty of Social Sciences.

Most of the volumes, particularly the ones published after 1947, are to be found in fairly good condition in the Department of History itself – there’s even a fragile edition of the very first volume in storage, and the journals continue to be used by research students. Some of the earlier editions have been digitalised by the University Library, while the rest are to be found in the Raja Rammohan Roy National Library, Kolkata. “We are trying to retrieve all the editions and hope to digitalise each edition. We have also started work on a compilation of all the editions thus far into a single volume,” says Dr. Suresh.

The best of the best

Over the years, almost every eminent scholar of Indian history has written articles for the journal or have been part of its consulting editorial board. Scholars of the likes of Rev. H. Heras of Bombay University, who first suggested solutions to the script of the Indus civilisation, Oxford-educated Mohammad Habib, professor emeritus of Aligarh Muslim University and father of veteran historian Irfan Habib, eminent Indologist R.C. Majumdar, whose 11-volume The History And Culture Of The Indian People is still the Bible for students of history, German historian Julius Jolly, Noboru Karushima of the University of Tokyo who was awarded a Padma Shri for his research on medieval South India, Marxist historian D.D. Kosambi, and ancient India historian Romila Thapar, to name but a few, have contributed articles.

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Printable version | Apr 20, 2021 4:00:44 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/history-and-culture/flip-to-the-past/article5609616.ece

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