Monday, May 31, 2010

History through Textbooks

The holiday homework for my elder son included learning two poems- one in English and another in Hindi. I searched the web and found him some poems to choose from. And he said he found the Hindi poem a bit too difficult. It was the weekend before the school reopening. The kids and I had gone to my parents place for the weekend. With no net connection, I had no choice but search the bookshelves. Being an old house, there were many books to look through. And I came upon this book on geography published in 1916 and used by my grandfather in Form II.

Hardbound, it was published Longman. The pages were smooth. The book had changed many hands. Grandpa’s younger sisters had read it and so had my dad’s elder brother. My curiosity of how they wrote about regions and people then made me read it here and there. It was a simpler world then on the map. Large unified regions were marked as British Empire, Chinese Empire, Japanese Empire, Persia and Africa. Europe looked different, Middle east and Africa were totally unrecognizable. India looked different with Madras presidency, Bombay Presidency, Calcutta Presidency, Gwalior, Travancore Cochin etc. So much had happened in the last 100 years.

Somewhere between the pages, it was written that the Zulus of south Africa were war like earlier and now( around 1911 when the book was edited) had become law abiding peaceful people( Does that mean some bad leadership allowed the tribe to lose its identity to British occupation?). And that the British had difficulty to control slave trade( human trafficking) done by Arabs off the coast of Africa(Can you believe that?). Another important factor while describing a country was the fact whether it had trains. Maybe trains were the symbol then that modern age had arrived in that country.

The written word, a textbook can so mould a person’s thinking. No wonder governments try to frame minds through these. What are the text books of future going to look like? How will be the world after another 100 years?


  1. How do you keep such old books?..I am asking because I have many books..old and their pages have started turning yellow and brittle.

  2. Wow!! Its a treasure, please take care of the book. The words in the book does influence a thought process. I read it somewhere how the social science text books in Pakistan propagate that Indian is their staunch enemy. So what the children are taught is what they believe isn't it?

    Talking of trains, yes the connectivity to transport both humans and roads did play an important role in deciding whether the country was modern or old.

  3. I am impressed. I really dont know how the current books will look like 100 yrs hence, but history will not be very kind to Indian political class.

  4. WOWOW.. you know here there is a program caleld "WHO you are " or something like that .. where they go and choose a celebrity then dig theier roots ancestors .. ITS quiet an eyeopener what they find sometimes .. recently a Black person found his ancestors were actually white and had been into slave marketing in those days ..

    So yeah old books tell a different story and sometimes astonishing facts...

    BTW that book would be a lot expensive you might be sitting on a treasure he he he he :)

  5. The book is priceless. I hope you preserve it well.
    History is so fascinating. The facts remain the same over the years yet the viewpoints make them different.
    Every time my mother draws a map of India, she draws it with both Pakistan and Bangladesh because when she learned to draw the map as a small child, India was undivided!

  6. oh I know how you must have felt..I have a 105 year old book at my is a treasure for us. I have not read it as it looks so delicate; but my family members have..:)

  7. Phew, can't imagine what history of this century would read like...

    The cold-to-hot wars among neighbouring countries, Israel Vs Palestine, Obama's Nobel Prize before even starting work, Osama living happily ever after in his permanent hideout, No-food-just-guns in Somalia, Chinese turning English, Lalu's successful stint as Railway Minister (since trains are a sign of progress!) and what not.

    You are sitting on a treasure mine honey, with such books! And I loved your place. Next time, I'm coming with a pro camera:)

  8. Samvedna
    Usually the pages in a old book get brittle, but this one had smooth white pages, ever so light.

    Peculiar when you come to think of it. Thoughts , boundaries all seem to be changing each year.

    BK Chowla
    YOu never know. The cosmic way of things, each second a minut part of the drama as it unfolds. The Gods are watching a mega serial they directed

    Searching roots is real fun. I have a story to relate there..later. BUt the blacks continuing with the white family surname who owned them was normal. In Kerala, we have many lower castes having the same family name as their feudal lords albeit in a different way like Puthen Madathil or Madathilppadi(New Madathil or Madathil gate)

  9. woaaa thats really a treasure... antique treasure :D ... yeah world was simple... and students would have found it so easy to remember... :)

  10. shudder to think about the content of our text books 100 years from now.
    and they wont be in the form of a book. maybe some chip or will be fed into human brain.
    aiyo depressing. hope this doesnt happen.
    I now feel like checking my old text books :)

  11. Dont know about new age but old books are sure a precious treasure..history can be misleadind as its not made up of facts and I totally agree with you on the fact that,"governments try to frame minds through these".Hope some old authentic stuff is well preserved so that people can get a first hand account of the eras gone by.
    Thanks for such an interesting post RGB!!

  12. Aparna
    Wish India was unified agan as under the British.

    Old books fascinate me. There are some older books too. The script of Malayalam has changed since and it makes it difficult to read. Try reading the book you have at home.

    I sure would like to a time machine ride to future read about Obama's Nobel Prize and lalu's railways:D

    Only countries were bigger. They still had study the regions within. Still, it was simpler.

    Please do. It is fun. better if of older generation

    A New Beginning
    Sana, You got so carried away by the post that you took me for RGB:)

  13. Wow! I remember the day you told me about the wonderful furniture your ancestral home contained. Dig out more of such treasures....:)

  14. gud find!
    n after 100years..
    ..groups virtual gatherin'n wonderin' on a 100 year old blog n oldage ebooks..
    ..india announce its 100th state after prolonged riots..
    ..kerala hartal on mullapperiyar issue..
    .. :)

  15. 1916..This book is a real treasure.

    Sometimes are really wonder if there are going to be any text books in future....computers are taking over so fast .Just last week my regular book store keeper complained that i am not buying reading stuff the way i used to buy was a wake up call .

  16. Destinys Child
    Alas! We have lost many books and period furniture to poor maintenance and 'gifting away of old furniture to poor' attitude. I wish I could buy back some at least.

    NIce ruminations. Could be more optimistic though.

    True. Textbooks as we know might become a thing of past. Kids in future might wonder at the effort chilren of this age took by carrying loadfuls to school.

  17. after 100 years... well, while i am eager to know that, i am equally shit scared! may be we ll find people carrying super computers in their pockets, who are dying for a drop of water!

  18. The joy of holding books and flipping through the pages..looks like the future generations will be denied such joy , considering the increasingly digitalizing world.

  19. $$
    Scary, but possible. High Tech but difficult to sustain.

    But books may remain as our romance with virtual always ends in yearning for actual.

  20. I feel books will survive, even hundred years later. However, while for people of our generation the joy of holding a physical book in our hands may be the incomparable, for the future it will be ebooks or even audio books. But then the nature of narration will change too. For a generation conditioned to skimming the surface for information rather than for introspection and knowledge, books will have to be more entertaining rather than ennobling.

  21. Neena Sharma
    Yeah nothing like holding a book and reading it. I think books may survive. Many young children like to read books.

  22. That is a treasure priceless!
    The printed word be it in a book form or the written word on the papayrus and our old "thaliyolla"are perhaps the best heirloom one can get.You are lucky indeed!

  23. Oh this is quite an established that education has been used by governments to train the people the way they want to. Bible has been one of the most discussed example in this case....But still the very best part is : How will it look after 100 years :)

  24. Anil Kurup
    There some of thaliyolla kind too there at home. One of them is about the tantric rituals.

    Pratik Gupta
    Yeah. Just visualize someone from 2110 AD reading our texts.