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How Can Literature Expand Archival Arenas and Help Us in Writing 'recalcitrant Histories' of Colonial India?

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How can literature expand archival arenas and help us in writing 'recalcitrant histories' of colonial India?

Submitted to:

Dr. Charu Gupta



Writing 'recalcitrant' histories is interesting not only in the ways it involved a different historical methodology but also because it requires an enquiry into the epistemological constitution of official archives. There are 'hidden histories' which only gets visible by unpacking of the colonial archives and moving out of the archives itself. Essay by highlighting such histories will make an attempt to enter into the debate of objective history knowledge versus narrative turn or the so-called post-modernist challenge of history. The site of the inquiry of this essay is limited to colonial and post-colonial India boundaries. Reading the elided sources- popular literature, folklore, and oral sources, lying out the spatial boundaries of official archives presents different narratives. Doing 'alternative history' requires hunching over 'alternative archive'- that is to look for different sources. Gyanendra Pandey's brilliant analysis is that the very process of archiving is accompanied by a process of "un-archiving": rendering many aspects of social, cultural, political relations in the past and the present as incidental, chaotic, trivial, inconsequential, and therefore unhistorical. In a word, the archive, as a site of remembrance, doing the work of remembering, is also at the same time a project of forgetting. One needs to ask, out of what archive, are we to write a history of these practices (prejudices against dalits), which are not events, not datable, sometimes not nameable either; just routine, everyday - the very stuff of life and, we must insist, of history. The disciplinary historian, like the judge, seeks verifiable evidence, identity, determination, motivated authorship - in this case, through what might be classified as an official (cognisable) archive. A critical history needs to be a little more historical: aware of the location (and fallibility) of both historian and archive, and of the fact that it is never an autonomous, self-generated, sovereign, rational, and wholly articulate, human subject who lies at the heart of human endeavour and human foible.

For the reconstruction of any history, historians move to 'primary sources' as handy material and the conventional idea regarding them relates them with the Official Archives; seen as a necessary and precarious repository of meaning. They are associated with the concept of 'fixed and finite, authentic and real'. In Colonial India also, colonial archives have been privileged as the most reliable source of knowledge. Historians' tribe have learned to move beyond such defined regulated boundaries and providing newer perspectives of writing history. The constitution of archive involves a process of "purification" of data, recorded materials and statics. The process of categorisation and classification occurred at two levels, firstly at the time of making of record itself (census, gazetteer, ethnographic survey, etc.) which Bernard Cohn and Nicholas Dirks brilliantly points out in their works respectively, secondly, the categorisation and classification- purification process in making of colonial archive. "Hybridity" which underlies at the ground level, gets neglected deliberately in this purification drive.

There are a lot many things which are 'absent' in the state sponsored records such as issues around women, sexuality, resistance histories of Dalits, Meos2. Therefore we need to broaden the traditional definition of archive through the inclusion of oral histories, ethnographic data, popular culture and performances. In recent times several feminist scholars, like Antoinette Burton and Betty Joseph, post structuralists like Foucault, Derrida, scholars like Thomas Richard, and Nicholas Dirks, have acknowledged the importance of archives but at the same time they caution against the 'panoptical' reading of the archive. That is to recognize the archive as the total site of colonial knowledge is still to succumb to a certain dangerous territoriality.3They pointed to the limited nature of archives; archive as a site of power marked by silences and erases at various levels. Further, Anjali Arondekar describes archives as open secret4 i.e. an archive contains a good amount of information along many secrets which a historian have to unlock and unpack creatively. And therefore we must expand our gaze looking archives as permeable which can be moulded to include alternative accounts. Talking of alternative sources my focus is literature, both elite and popular in nature.

There has been a debate amongst historians over the use of literature as historical source. Various scholars have made a clear distinction between the two disciplines and Marxist understanding has sharpened this division. However Post structuralist historian Hayden White attempts to blur the distinction between 'fact and fiction'. Rejecting the Ranke's idea of objectivity, he stressed the active, inventive aspect of historians putative "inquiry" into "what had really happened in the past".5 He traces the four major 19th century theorists-Hegel, Croce, Droysen, and Nietzsche- who viewed the interpretation as the very soul of historiography. They saw historian's art attached to literature-the work of interpretation made a historian similar to that of a literary writer. At the same time we should understand that the two disciplines are not the same and the gaps present in colonial archive can be filled by using literature, especially in tracing the histories of protests.

Looking at sexuality and homo sexuality specifically, Anjali uses both the literary and archival sources in interesting ways. She tries to capture erasures and silences, to modify archives and re-interpret them. She uses colonial archive to show that views of colonial govt. and the local indigenous elites seem to overlap about the suppression of sexuality. Other scholars who further complicates



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