Necessity for Construction of History: Selecting and Importance of Dates

The compilation of these How, When, and Where Notes makes students exam preparation simpler and organised.

Necessity for Construction of History

History is the study of past events. And studying the past is important to be able to know what to expect from the future. However, history is vast since human civilization has been around for centuries. Hence, it is important that the construction of history is done in a manner that makes it easier to understand and remember.

Importance of Dates

Until a few decades back, history was all about battles and important events; kings and their decisions. Hence, historians wrote about the important dates in the king’s life or dates when important events occurred in the kingdom like the date of crowning, marriage, the birth of an heir, dates of battles, etc. However, as kings and kingdoms started reducing around the world, other events starting gaining historical importance.

Have you ever wondered when did people begin drinking tea? Or, how did people travel long distances before trains were built? Or, when did people start eating chocolates?

If you research any of these questions, you will find that it is impossible to find a fixed date on which people started drinking tea or eating chocolate. It happened over a period of time. Such events cannot have a clear date but a period of time.

Selection of Dates

When historians write about events in the past, how do they select the dates? The answer is simple – they focus on certain events or series of events and select the dates/periods accordingly.

For e.g. If a historian was to write about Aurangzeb, then he would choose dates that were important in the life and rule of Aurangzeb. He will not tell you about the other political or economic influences in the country.

Selection of Dates

He will tell you about the Mughal-Maratha war but his focus will be on Aurangzeb. Another historian who writes about Shivaji will narrate a story about a similar period but with a focus on Shivaji and the Maratha Empire. Another thing to notice is that history is always written in chapters. Have you ever wondered why? The answer is simple again – chapters make it easier to understand. Else, it would be difficult to follow the entire story and learn from it.

Selection of Periods

You might have heard about different periods of history – the British or Colonial period, Mughal period, etc. Historians have attempted to periodize history to capture the characteristics of a period and its important features. However, the way we choose to periodize is important since it determines which characteristics we choose to focus on.

James Mill’s Periodization
James Mill, a Scottish economist, and political philosopher published a book called A History of British India in 1817. In this book, he divided Indian History into three parts – Hindu, Muslim and British. This was an acceptable periodization for a very long time. However, there was a problem with it.

James Mill’s Periodization

Mill believed that India, along with other Asian countries, was not as civilized as Europe. He also states that before the British came to India Hindu and Muslim despots ruled the country. Post their rule, the British introduced European manners, arts, institutions, and laws to India, which civilized our country. Further, he suggested that the British should conquer all territories of India since it was not capable of progress without their help.

This was not an acceptable periodization for a variety of reasons. One, the period before the British was that of religious intolerance, caste taboos, and superstitious practices. Second, it is not possible to call any period of Indian History as Hindu or Muslim. Simple because there were other faiths which existed simultaneously during these periods. By accepting this classification, we are denying the lives and the practice of all other faiths.

Another Periodization
Mill’s classification aside, historians have also created construction of the history of India as ‘ancient’, ‘medieval’ and ‘modern’. This periodization is also borrowed from the West, where modern is associated with the growth of science, democracy, liberty, and equality.

The medieval period was when none of the above-mentioned features existed in our society. Under British rule, people didn’t have liberty, equality, or freedom. Neither was it a period of economic growth and/or progress. This British period is called ‘colonial’ by many historians.

Colonial Period
When one country subjugates another and causes major political, economic, social, and cultural changes, then the process is called colonization. When the British came to India and subjugated the local Nawabs and Rajas, they:

  • Collected revenue to meet their expenses
  • Purchased the goods they wanted at low prices
  • Produced crops they needed for export
  • Brought about a change in values, tastes, customs, and practices

Construction of History of India

One of the most important sources that led to the construction of Indian history is the official records of the British Administration. The British used to document and record every instruction, plan, policy decision, agreement, and investigation. Further, they also set up record rooms with all administrative institutions like the village tahsildar’s office, the collectorate, the commissioner’s office, the provincial secretariats, the law courts, etc.

Furthermore, they established specialized institutions to preserve the most important records. In the early nineteenth century, calligraphists carefully created copies of these records. Eventually, when printing was invented, multiple copies of these records were printed.

Surveys During the Colonial Period
The British also believed that they should know a country well for the effective administration of the people. Hence, they carried out extensive surveys to map the entire country. The following information was collected:

  • Revenue
  • Topography
  • Soil quality
  • Flora
  • Fauna
  • Cropping pattern
  • Local history
  • Number of people in all provinces in India ( caste wise, occupation-wise etc)
  • Botanical details
  • Zoological details
  • Archaeological details
  • Anthropological details
  • Forest details, etc.

These records of these surveys were also instrumental in the construction of the history of India.

Other Sources
As is the case with any record, these official records told us what the officials thought and what they wanted to preserve for posterity. How about a different perspective?

  • Diaries of people
  • Accounts of pilgrims/travelers
  • Autobiographies of important personalities
  • Popular booklets sold in local bazaars
  • Newspapers and other dailies

These were of course created by the literate few. A major part of our country was still illiterate and understanding their lives was a difficult task.


What was the name of James Mill’s book?
a. Indian History
b. A History of British India
c. Construction of History
d. British in India
b. A History of British India