TRACING CHANGES THROUGH A THOUSAND YEARS
Map 1 A section of the world map drawn by the geographer al-Idrisi in the twelfth century showing the Indian subcontinent.
ake a look at Maps 1 and 2. Map 1 was made in 1154 CE. by the Arab geographer al-Idrisi. The section reproduced here is a detail of the Indian subcontinent from his larger map of the world. Map 2 was made in the 1720s by a French cartographer The cartographer. two maps are quite different even though they are of the same area. In al-Idrisi’s map, south India is where we would expect to find north India and Sri Lanka is the island at the top. Place-names are marked in Arabic,
Cartographer A person who makes ...view middle of the document...
Medieval Persian, for example, is different from modern Persian. The difference is not just with regard to grammar and vocabulary; the meanings of words also change over time. Take the term “Hindustan”, for example. Today we understand it as “India”, the modern nation state. When the term was used in the thirteenth century by Minhaj-i Siraj, a chronicler who wrote in Persian, he meant the areas of Punjab, Haryana and the lands between the Ganga and Yamuna. He used the term in a political sense for lands that were a part of the dominions of the Delhi Sultan. The areas included in this term shifted with the extent of the Sultanate but the term never included south India within it. By contrast, in the early sixteenth century Babur used Hindustan to describe the geography, the fauna and the culture of the inhabitants of the subcontinent. As we will see later in the chapter, this was somewhat similar to the way the fourteenth-century poet Amir Khusrau used the word “Hind”. While the idea of a geographical and cultural entity like “India” did exist, the term Hindustan did not carry the political and national meanings which we associate with it today. Historians have to be careful about the terms they use because they meant different things in the past. Take, for example, a simple term like “foreigner”. It is used today to mean someone who is not an Indian. In
Can you think of any other words whose meanings change in different contexts?
the medieval period a “foreigner” was any stranger who appeared say in a given village, someone who was not a part of that society or culture. (In Hindi the term pardesi might be used to describe such a person and in Persian, ajnabi.) A city-dweller, therefore, might have regarded a forest-dweller as a “foreigner”, but two peasants living in the same village were not foreigners to each other, even though they may have had different religious or caste backgrounds.
Historians and their sources
Historians use different types of sources to learn about the past depending upon the period of their study and the nature of their investigation. Last year, for example, you read about rulers of the Gupta dynasty and Harshavardhana. In this book we will read about the following thousand years, from roughly 700 to 1750 CE. You will notice some continuity in the sources used by historians for the study of this period. They still rely upon coins, inscriptions, architecture and textual records for information. But there is also considerable discontinuity. The number and variety of textual records increased dramatically during this period. They slowly displaced other types of available information. Through this period paper gradually became cheaper and more
The value of paper
Compare the following (1) In the middle of the thirteenth century a scholar wanted to copy a book. He did not have enough paper. So he washed the writing off a manuscript he did not want, dried the paper and used it. (2) A...