The Past Before Us: Historical Traditions and Practices in Early Times

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Romila Thapar on
The Past Before Us: Historical Traditions and Practices in Early Times
Co-Sponsored by the Department of History

Thursday, May 1, 2014 11am – 1pm
208N | North House Munk School of Global Affairs 1 Devonshire Place

Chair: Christoph Emmrich, Associate Professor in Department of Religion, University of Toronto
Moderator: Stella Sandahl, Professor Emeritus in Department of East Asian Studies, University of Toronto

HOW MIGHT EARLY SOCIETIES EXPRESS HISTORY DIFFERENTLY FROM PRESENT TIMES? According to distinguished historian, Romila Thapar, India is a particularly significant site through which to pose this question. For this celebrated scholar of ancient India, the claim that ancient Indian civilization lacked a sense of history opens a broader and more pertinent question: how to recognize the historical sense of societies whose past is recorded in ways very different from European conventions. Elaborating on her recent book, The Past Before Us, Professor Thapar will address the many genres of writing in early India that bear evidence of a historical tradition and later of historical writing. Interested in the practices as well as narratives of recording time and social change, Professor Thapar delves into Vedic corpus, the epics, the Buddhist canon and monastic chronicles, inscriptions, regional accounts, and royal biographies and dramas afresh?not as sources to be mined for factual data but as genres that disclose how Indians of ancient times represented their own past to themselves.

Romila Thapar is the pre-eminent historian of ancient India. A prominent public intellectual and voice on the politics and mechanics of historical interpretation and writing, she held the Chair in Ancient Indian History at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, where she is now Emeritus Professor in History. She has been Visiting Professor at Cornell University and the University of Pennsylvania as well as the Collège de France. In 1983 she was elected General President of the Indian History Congress and in 1999 a Corresponding Fellow of the British Academy. Professor Thapar is an Honorary Fellow at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, and at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London. She holds honorary doctorates from the University of Chicago, the Institut National des Langues et Civilisations Orientales in Paris, the University of Oxford, the University of Edinburgh (2004) the University of Calcutta (2002) and recently (in 2009) from the University of Hyderabad. In 2004 the U.S. Library of Congress appointed her as the first holder of the Kluge Chair in Countries and Cultures of the South in 2008 she received the prestigious Kluge Prize for the Study of Humanity. She was Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2009. Among her extensive publications are Ashoka and the Decline of the Mauryas (Oxford 1961, 1988); The History of India volume 1 (Penguin 1966); Ancient Indian Social History: Some Interpretations (Orient Longman 1978), From Lineage to State: Social Formations in the First Millenium BC (Oxford 1985); Early India (Penguin 2002); Somnath: The Many Voices of History (Verso 2005), and India: Historical Beginnings and the Concept of the Aryan (National Book Trust 2006).

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