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“Romila Thapar changed the way India’s past is understood”

Special Correspondent

CHENNAI: While announcing the 2008 Kluge Prize for Lifetime Achievement in the Study of Humanity to historian Romila Thapar, Librarian of Congress James H. Billington commended her use of a wide variety of ancient sources and of languages, and introduction of modern social science perspectives “to help us better understand the richness and diversity of traditional Indian culture.”

Dr. Thapar’s prolific writings have set a new course for scholarship on the Indian subcontinent and for the writing of history textbooks in India. According to a media release of the Library of Congress, one scholarly reviewer said that “Thapar’s rigorous professional standards are cast against a background of her implicit appreciation of an India that accommodates civilisational diversity.”

Another said: “Thapar’s relentless striving for historical truth — independent of the superimposition of vacillating, fashionable theories of current sociopolitical conditions — is a landmark in the global writing of history.”

The Library noted that her iconoclastic approach was not without controversy, “but the cutting-edge research that she and like-minded colleagues advanced has profoundly changed the way India’s past is understood both at home and across the world.” However future generations ultimately evaluate her conclusions, her opening up of an era and her intellectual integrity in humanistic study have had a great impact in and beyond India, it said.

At the beginning of her career, Dr. Thapar challenged the conventional historiography. In her ‘History of India’ (1966), she broke from the prominently held view of an unchanging India characterised by a past and static Golden Age. This work accelerated the adaptation of the social sciences in Indian universities and quickly became a teaching text in Indian schools, the media release added. First awarded in 2003, the Kluge Prize is international.

The recipient may be of any nationality, writing in any language.

The main criterion is deep and sustained intellectual accomplishment in the study of humanity that has an impact beyond narrow academic disciplines.

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