Essays in Ancient Indian Economic History is part of a three-volume set focusing on the developments in the economic history of India during the last millennium.
The essays in this volume provide an outline of the change in the status and orientation of early Indian economic history and in the approach to the economic features of ancient Indian history. The essays traverse diverse subjects such as the function of property, family and caste, the origin of the state in early India; agriculture, surplus appropriation and distribution, and labour; the role of crafts and craftsmen in the economy of early India; and trade and trade organizations, and coinage. In doing so, the volume attempts to provide a chronological and spatial view of early Indian economy.
Re-issued in a revised form to synchronize with the Platinum Jubilee celebrations of the Indian History Congress, the essays are accompanied by a new Preface and a Introduction that highlight the changing contours of emphases, shifting focus and methodologies and projections of research both encouraged and documented under the aegis of the Indian History Congress.
B.D. Chattopadhyaya was formerly Professor, Centre of Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University. His publications include The Making of Early Medieval India; Representing the Other?; Studying Early India: Archaeology, Texts, and Historical Issues; Recent Perspectives of Early Indian History and; an edited volume Combined Methods inIndology and Other Writings.
THE INDIAN History Congress has emerged as a representative organization for a large section of historians in India, providing its members with a forum to present their unpublished research work, using data from across the country. The annual sessions of the Indian History Congress are invariably attended by senior historians, who provide guidance to young researchers in their endeavours. In its multi-pronged activities, the Congress is perhaps one of the few organizations in India to provide a research and publication forum. To this end, it brings out an edited volume containing selection of the research articles presented at various sessions. In fact, it is the meticulous selection of essays and rigorous editing of the volumes that has given cause for the University Grants Commission to recognize these Proceedings to the level of a referred journal for the purposes of granting Promotion to college and university teachers under the Career Advancement scheme.
During its Golden Jubilee Celebrations in 1987, the Indian History Congress decided to publish three thematic volumes focusing on the Economic history of India. This three-volume set, entitled Indian History Congress golden Jubilee Year Publication Series together contained over a hundred essays, with an introduction by eminent historians. The series met with much success, as it provided a panoramic view of 50 years of changing focuses and emphases of scholars on art, religion, and society and issues related to the historical roots of economic backwardness and the resultant economic under-development in India's colonial past.
These volumes on economic history were also important from another perspective. While inaugurating the first session of the Indian History Congress 1935, Sir Shafa'at Ahmad Khan remarked that, 'economic history is almost virgin field: In the years following 1935, research in this area gathered depth and pace. In the subsequent decade and, in particular after Independence, considerable literature too was produced on the various aspects of the economic history of India. A nationalistic critique of colonialism during the process of decolonization was a major factor in developing interest in this topic. Meanwhile, since the mid-1950s the Marxist approach too gathered acceptance in the academic world of historians as an important factor in the explication of Historical development. Together, the twin discourses of nationalist critique and Marxist approach became important contributory factors for a heightened interest in the economic aspects of India's historical past.
In challenging the imperialist historiography, Indian historians evolved Considerable interest in studying society, religion, and art. They posited that Indian cultural past was essentially composite in nature and different communities lived side by side in a spirit of syncretism. In doing so, historians also examined the nature of religious identities and their role in shaping the contours of societal developments in our past.
Prints of the 1987 three-volume set were soon exhausted. Keeping in view their usefulness and steady demand among scholars as well as students, the Executive Committee of the 71st Session of the Indian History Congress, at University of Gour Banga, Malda, West Bengal, decided to reprint the three volumes, possibly with a new introduction by their respective editors. To this end, I am grateful to Professor Satish Chandra, Professor Sabyasachi Bhattacharya, and Professor B.D. Chattopadhyaya for contributing substantial pieces for the new editions. And, it is indeed a pleasure to have these volumes released as a part of the preparations for the celebrations of the Platinum Jubilee Session of the Congress.
THE ESSAYS in this collection on different aspects of the economic history of ancient India were, originally presented at the annual sessions of the Indian History Congress and have been published in the Proceedings of the Congress. The volume was put together by scrutinizing carefully the Proceedings of the Congress during the first fifty years of its existence. The publication of this four-volume series in 1987 of which Essays in Ancient Indian Economic History was the first, was intended to mark the Golden Jubilee Anniversary of the Congress, in 1987.
It is little more than two and a half decades since. By now, this collection and its companion volumes have all gone out of print, but it seems there is still a demand for them. Ideally, this new edition should have been updated by including new essays published in the Proceedings of the Congress in the last twenty-five years, and by locating them within the global trend of economic history writing during this period. It would indeed have been interesting to have considered the general state of economic history after its heyday in the sixties and seventies of the last century and the nature of historiographical drifts towards social formation oriented studies, and further, to examine how these drifts are reflected in the contributions at the Congress. That task, one hopes, will be taken up soon, at least in the centenary year or Platinum Jubilee of the Congress. All that needs to be stated here is that all the issues which are represented in this collection continue to be of relevance to serious historical studies.
I thank the secretary of the Indian History Congress for asking me for a new Introduction to the re-issue of the collection, and I shall look forward to its post publication reception.
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