Dr Kumkum Roy, Historian and Associate Professor, Social Sciences, JNU, puts in picture the endless possibilities for would-be historians.
Pre-requisites for studying History
What is desirable is curiosity, a willingness to explore the past, and an ability to read about and understand different perspectives on a variety of issues--social, economic, political, religious and cultural, as well as an ability to express oneself clearly. It does help if a student has studied History in school, and many colleges prefer such candidates. However anybody who has cleared the Class XII board examination is eligible to study History in college. It is worth remembering that some of the most outstanding historians of our country, such as D.D. Kosambi, had no formal training in the subject.
Nature of History
History involves an exploration of the past. The nature of the subject as it has been taught and as it is currently being taught has changed considerably over the last few decades. While earlier the focus was on dynastic history, on the lives and achievements of kings and occasionally queens but now there is a concern with issues such as environmental history, histories of medicine, science and technology, social issues, histories of hitherto marginalized groups including tribes, histories of art and literature. It is likely that the next decade will see a further widening of the scope of history as newer areas are opened up for investigation.
There are several alternatives open to students who do History. Some may choose to go in for research and teaching in India as well as in foreign universities. Knowledge of History is also an asset for those opting for careers in the media (both print and audio-visual) as it provides them with analytical skills and allows them to investigate current affairs and trends in depth. Science students can head for competitive examinations for government services. There is also a growing demand for personnel versed in history in the tourism industry at a variety of levels.
Skills that History teaches you
History helps in developing a variety of skills. Students learn to compare and contrast the past with the present, as well as different situations in the past. They develop parameters of comparison that help in strengthening powers of analysis. Acquiring the ability to explore and understand diverse situations increases the adaptability of the learner when faced with a rapidly changing global environment.
Antagonism with other courses
The popularity of subjects often tends to fluctuate according to what is perceived by parents and learner as the immediate market value of the subject. This is evident in the present tendency to gravitate towards the Commerce stream. However, History has succeeded in attracting serious students for decades, and for those who are not satisfied with immediate, run-of-the-mill options, it remains an attractive proposition.
Suggestion for aspiring historians
History is one of the most exciting subjects that you can choose, because it helps you connect the past with the present and understand the world around you. In order to be a good student of History you need to be alert, read as much as you can and try and understand how and why they depict things the way they do, talk with people and find out about their lives and histories.
Find out about the skills you may need to acquire if you want to become a historian--do you need to know other languages? How do scholars handle manuscripts or inscriptions? How do specialists study coins? How do they write histories of buildings? There are endless possibilities.
(As told to Srishti Jha)