The production of histories of India has become very frequent in recent years and may well call for some explanation. Why so many and why this one in particular? The reason is a twofold one: changes in the Indian scene requiring a re-interpretation of the facts and changes in attitudes of historians about the essential elements of Indian history. These two considerations are in addition to the normal fact of fresh information, whether in the form of archeological discoveries throwing fresh light on an obscure period or culture, or the revelations caused by the opening of archives or the release of private papers. The changes in the Indian scene are too obvious to need emphasis. Only two generations ago British rule seemed to most Indian as well as British observers likely to extend into an indefinite future; now there is a teenage generation which knows nothing of it. Changes in the attitudes of historians have occurred everywhere, changes in attitudes to the content of the subject as well as to particular countries, but in India there have been some special features. Prior to the British, Indian historiographers were mostly Muslims, who relied, as in the case of Sayyid Ghulam Hussain, on their own recollection of events and on information from friends and men of affairs. Only a few like Abu’l Fazl had access to official papers. These were personal narratives of events, varying in value with the nature of the writer. The early British writers were officials. In the eighteenth century they were concerned with some aspect of Company policy, or, like Robert Orme in his Military Transactions, gave a straight narrative in what was essentially a continuation of the Muslim tradition. In the early nineteenth century the writers were still, with two notable exceptions, officials, but they were now engaged in chronicling, in varying moods of zest, pride, and awe, the rise of the British power in India to supremacy. The two exceptions were James Mill, with his critical attitude to the Company and John Marchman, the Baptist missionary. But they, like the officials, were anglo-centric in their attitude, so that the history of modern India in their hands came to be the history of the rise of the British in India.
The official school dominated the writing of Indian history until we get the first professional historian’s approach, Ramsay Muir and P.E. Roberts in England and H. H. Dodwell in India. Then Indian historians trained in the English school joined in, of whom the most distinguished was Sir Jadunath Sarkar and the other notable writers: Surendranath Sen, Dr Radhakumud Mukerji, and Professor Nilakanta Sastri. They, it may be said, restored India to Indian history, but their bias was mainly political. Finally have come the nationalists who range from those who can find nothing good or true in the British to sophisticated historical philosophers like
Along with types of historians with their varying bias have gone changes in the attitude to the content of Indian history. Here Indian historians have been influenced both by their local situation and by changes of thought elsewhere. It is in this field that this work can claim some attention since it seeks to break new ground, or perhaps to deepen a freshly turned furrow in the field of Indian history. The early official historians were content with the glamour and drama of political history from Plassey to the Mutiny, from Duplex to the Sikhs. But when the raj was settled down, glamour departed from politics, and they turned to the less glorious but more solid ground of administration. Not how India was conquered but how it was governed was the theme of this school of historians. It found its archpriest in H.H. Dodwell, its priestess in Dame Lilian Penson, and its chief shrine in the Volume VI of the Cambridge History of India. Meanwhile in Britain other currents were moving, which led historical study into the economic and social fields. R.C. Dutt entered the first of these currents with his Economic History of India to be followed more recently by the whole group of Indian economic historians. W.E. Moreland extended these studies to the Mughal Period. Social history is now being increasingly studied and there is also of course a school of nationalist historians who see moderm Indian history in terms of the rise and the fulfillment of the national movement.
All these approaches have value, but all share in the quality of being compartmental. It is not enough to remove political history from its pedestal of being the only kind of history worth having if it is merely to put other types of history in its place. Too exclusive an attention to economic, social, or administrative history can be as sterile and misleading as too much concentration on politics. A whole subject needs a whole treatment for understanding. A historian must dissect his subject into its elements and then fuse them together again into an integrated whole. The true history of a country must contain all the features just cited but must present them as parts of a single consistent theme.
Historians moved from writing political history to writing administrative history because: