A leading scholar in early-twentieth-century India, Sir Jadunath Sarkar (1870–1958) was knighted in 1929 and became the first Indian historian to gain honorary membership in the American Historical Association. By the end of his lifetime, however, he had been marginalized by the Indian history establishment, as postcolonial historians embraced alternative approaches in the name of democracy and anti-colonialism. The Calling of History examines Sarkar’s career—and poignant obsolescence—as a way into larger questions about the discipline of history and its public life.
Through close readings of more than twelve hundred letters to and from Sarkar, along with other archival documents, Chakrabarty demonstrates that historians in colonial India formulated the basic concepts and practices of the field via vigorous—and at times bitter and hurtful—debates in the public sphere. He shows that because of its non-technical nature the discipline as a whole remains susceptible to pressure from both the public and the academy even today. Methodological debates and the changing reputations of scholars like Sarkar, he argues, must therefore be understood within the specific contexts in which particular histories are written.
Insightful and with far-reaching implications for all historians, The Calling of Historyoffers a valuable look at the double life of history and how tensions between its public and private sides played out in a major scholar’s career.
Dipesh Chakrabarty is the Lawrence A. Kimpton Distinguished Service Professor of History and South Asian Languages and Civilizations at the University of Chicago. He is the recipient of the 2014 Toynbee Prize, which is given to a distinguished practitioner of global history.
writings are always a delight, wide-ranging and unfailingly original.
Here, with a focus on Sir Jadunath Sarkar and his interlocutor, G.S.
Sardesai, Chakrabarty brilliantly probes the creation of academic
history as a discipline and its dialectic with popular conceptions of
the past. This is a book that invites specialist and nonspecialist
alike to fresh ways of understanding the discipline of history, not
only in India but everywhere.”
Barbara D. Metcalf
brilliant and fascinating study. What is particularly impressive is
the humanity of Chakrabarty’s approach to Sarkar, who fell rapidly
out of public favour after his death and was virtually ignored or
even disliked by several generations of younger, more nationalistic
historians thereafter. Elegant, accessible, and nuanced, The
Calling of History
will stand as the key text for the understanding of Indian historical
writing between the late nineteenth and mid-twentieth centuries.”
is a wonderful book: at once a deep study of what modernity meant to
some complex and fascinating Indian intellectuals, a rich analysis of
a major scholar’s assumptions and practices, and a compelling read.
Meeting Sarkar will be an unforgettable experience for anyone who
shares his, and Chakrabarty’s, interest in historical research and