Written Sources

Topics: History of India, Historiography, Primary source Pages: 35 (13656 words) Published: February 11, 2013


The Analysis-criticizing Method of Written Sources
(Through surveying Kautilya’s Arthashastra)

Department of South Asian Studies
Faculty of Oriental Studies
University of Social Sciences and Humanities
Vietnam National University
December, 2012


Historians have used different kinds of sources to reconstruct the narratives of the past or to create a complete and accurate picture of what happened in the past on such aspects as politics, economy, society, culture, religion and art. Their task is not easy and obviously, studying early Indian history also follows this principle. In fact, sources of ancient Indian history are complicated, especially in the case of the written sources, so they need to be examined carefully. In the scope of my study, I will focus on two groups which are as follows: the analyzing and criticizing of these sources by professional historians and students of history. My method is to inform, explain, and summarize written sources and survey one typical example of early Indian history. I hope to help readers partly understand more about the method of analyzing and criticizing written sources as well as the duty of historians and students in the course of studying this period in Indian history.


Part I. The analysis-criticizing method of written sources
Part II. Kautilya’s Arthashastra – a written source for the study of the Maurya period Conclusion

Sources of materials have played a crucial role in the study of histories or stories of the past. Historians’ job is to reconstruct the past through available information derived from these sources, and studying early history of India is no exception. Professor Romila Thapar, a pioneer in the interpretations of early India, has paid attention to exploring new evidences in her own work ‘Early India – from the Origins to AD 1300’(2002). The reason for this is that existing ways of looking at ancient Indian history were common or were typical of both colonial historians, European colonial historians. And more recently, nationalists within India itself has brought out many prejudices and raised questions that need to be re-examined. In her view, a new understanding of the past can be achieved with new evidences or fresh interpretations of existing evidences. Professor Upinder Singh, a preeminent historian of ancient and early medieval India, has such a similar idea as “historical analysis involves searching for fresh evidences, and devising creative, innovative ways of interpreting historical data” applied in her historical work ‘A History of Ancient and Early Medieval India – from the Stone Age to the 12th Century’ (2008). In fact, most historians have always formulated specific answers to the questions: What are sources of materials or historical documents?; How many ways are there to classify these sources?. Western historians have indicated that in a broad sense, sources of materials have been considered as everything which contains all the relevant information about the past which reflects human activities at concretely natural and social conditions. And the Poland historian, Jezry Topolski gave a sufficient definition: “Historical documents are all about information of human life as well as other channels”. There have been many ways to classify sources but a majority of scholars have often divided them into two types – direct and indirect sources or primary and secondary sources. While Professor Romila Thapar has centered on data of early India provided by archaeology, oral tradition, linguistics, text and recent discoveries of important inscriptions, coins and sculptures, Professor Upinder Singh presented in a more particular way that “All historical interpretations are ultimately based on evidences derived from the sources of history, conventionally divided into two categories – literary and archeological. Literary sources include all texts –...
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