The Centre for Historical Studies is one of the oldest centres in the School of Social Sciences. It runs a prestigious programme of post-graduate studies which was launched in 1970 under the guidance of eminent historians Professors S Gopal, Romila Thapar, Bipan Chandra and Satish Chandra. This group envisaged a departure from conventional history programmes in India at the time, with emphasis laid on the importance of theory and analytical concepts in reconstructing the past, along with a thorough understanding and command of relevant primary sources in languages ranging from Sanskrit and Persian to modern Indian languages. The Centre also pioneered the study of Contemporary History, a specialisation that emerged for the first time in this country.
The CHS took the lead in shifting focus from politico-administrative history to socio-economic history while such approaches were still at an incipient stage in other parts of India. Within the wider rubric of socio-economic history, the courses and research themes have broadened and deepened the relatively neglected areas of popular protest movements, and “history from below”, histories, in short, of the mass of Indian people, such as peasants, artisans, workers and other marginal groups. In addition, there were courses which branched out into the history of ideas, and of art, architecture and literature.
Since the 1980s and especially since the 1990s, the challenges posed by feminism, communalism and caste to conventional periodisations and themes, and indeed the very methods of professional historical research, have reshaped the kinds of courses that are taught at CHS. As during its founding moment, the CHS faculty’s own research interests and engagements have fashioned new research agendas and course contents. New themes, courses, and research concerns have been joined to an already unique institutional space: they relate to religious and regional histories, to questions of power or aspects of migration, and to histories of law, the city, language, tribe and caste, as well as the methodological approaches of archaeology.
The rich array of faculty research publications, and ongoing MPhil /PhD research by students reveal these existing and emerging interests, while also reflecting the concerns and interests of the changing student body. One of the objectives of JNU has been that research should be inter-disciplinary in nature, and the CHS too has generally followed the principle that historians must learn from other related disciplines and methodologies such as economics, sociology, anthropology or ethnography. An explicit thrust was provided in the first two decades to the interdisciplinary study of history through the inclusion of sociology as a discipline within the centre. Students now exercise the option of taking courses in several other departments and disciplines, such as economics, political science, sociology, international relations, women’s studies, or in arts and aesthetics, though only according to the relevance of the courses to chosen specialisations in the CHS.
By adhering to the system of tutorials, which involves intense discussions of student papers in small groups with the teacher concerned, CHS has nurtured a high quality of student preparedness for independent research and writing. The faculty of CHS also organizes and participates in a wide range of conferences, workshops and seminars, in order to acquaint themselves, and students, with new approaches and themes in the study of history and archaeology.
Today recognised as a Centre for Advanced Studies by the UGC, the Centre for Historical Studies is by far one of the most influential centres of history teaching and research within India.
Centre for Historical Studies
School of Social Sciences III
Jawaharlal Nehru University
New Delhi 110067