Reflections on State-Making and History-Making in South India, 1500-1800

in Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient
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Abstract

This paper is concerned with early modern southern India, and in particular, the areas ruled over by Vijayanagara, the Nayakas of Senji and the Nawwabs of Arcot. Its primary intention is to point out that states as diverse as these produced important narratives that served as points of self-definition. Positivist historians have often struggled to understand what to do with these texts, asking in effect whether they are “truths” or “lies,” and often rejecting them wholsesale for the ostensibly more “reliable” stone and copper-plate based inscriptions.The paper argues against the divide in south Indian history between “textualists,” who read narrative texts, and “epigraphers,” who prefer the “hard” evidence of inscriptions, and contends that any general historical analysis must of necessity be based on a reading of both forms of materials. In this context, the paper develops the argument for the emergence of a certain historical self-consciousness in early modern south India, both in the Perso-Islamic and the vernacular traditions, and in their interface. It would naturally be tempting to see matters in terms of a succession of expressive forms, each one successfully and finally displacing its predecessors, but it is proposed that the realities one encounters are rather more complex than this model would suggest.

Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient

Journal d'Histoire Economique et Sociale de l'Orient

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