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On Constructing History

William Dalrymple (born William Hamilton-Dalrymple on March 20, 1965), the New Delhi-based Scottish historian, curator, photographer, broadcaster and critic, believes that it is sometimes important to re-examine history, but with a sense of responsibility.

Dalrymple, currently working on his new book on the spread of Hinduism in Southeast Asia, has said that he is not against looking back at history, as it is an important task. “I have worked on the history of the East India Company. However, when you look at the history of companies in the era of Apple, Google and Twitter; it will have a different meaning,” he added.

When a big organisation starts working, there is a worldwide response, and people tend to notice various changes in the course of history, explained the historian. It used to happen during the time of the East India Company, and is still in existence. The activities of big companies usually change the world, at least a little bit. Dalrymple is of the opinion that the meaning of history, too, changed at different periods of time because of this.

Meanwhile, the Scot historian has stressed that history should not be made. Dalrymple, who has penned several books on Mughal History, also believes that there is a difference between re-examining the past events and changing them. The author of ‘Nine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India‘ (2009) and ‘The Last Mughal, The Fall of a Dynasty‘ (2006) recently told a Bengali-language Indian daily: “The main condition of Historiography is to conduct research works on the basis of original words. It should not be influenced by any particular political ideology.

Dalrymple has admitted that he has always been attracted by the history of the Partition of the Indian Subcontinent (in 1947). Once History used to deal only with Politics. However, this trend started changing later, he added. Seventy-five years after the Partition, various pieces of information related to the birth of India and Pakistan have surfaced. “There is a place for different stories in the study of history. However, it is important to remain objective or be neutral. Everyone should be heard, and allowed to say,” stated Dalrymple.

When asked whether it is possible to remain fully neutral, Dalrymple replied that it is possible, but difficult. “Trying to be neutral is not tough. At least one should give it a try. Everyone has their own preferences. One would have to learn from it,” he told the daily. He admitted that he had difficulties in writing the history of India. “There are a lot of gray areas between black and white, and it must be taken care of during the study of history. It was an advantage for me that I was not born in England. I am from Scotland. Hence, we, too, had to fight against the British,” said Dalrymple. Well, it has been possible for the author of ‘White Mughals‘ (2002) to remain somewhat neutral, while writing the history of India.

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