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The History Debate and School Textbooks in India: a Personal Memoir

by Romila Thapar, 26 July 2009

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History Workshop Journal Volume 67, Number 1, Spring 2009 : 87-98


The article is a brief overview of a project initiated by the Government of India in the early 1960s to draw on the expertise of professional historians and involve them in writing textbooks for Middle and High School, in an effort to improve the quality of textbooks. The attempt to distance the books from religious and nationalist biases did not however protect the project from interference by political parties and the governments these formed. Historiographical approaches came under discussion as also the questioning of the kind of historical interpretation that went into the making of national identities. The enterprise has come up against two problems, one relating to the teaching of history and the other to the control over the contents of history textbooks by successive governments supporting variant political ideologies. Textbooks have to reflect the changes in historical interpretation which means in turn that those teaching history in schools have to be made familiar with these changes and why they have occurred. Textbooks used in state schools and published and subsidized by the state, even if they form a small fraction of the pedagogy involved, will inevitably be mauled each time that drastic changes in political ideology result from a change of government. Institutions established for the preparation of textbooks have to be autonomous and free from governmental interference.

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© The Author 2009. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of History Workshop Journal