Introduction to History and History of India | Part one

What is History?

The word ‘History’ is derived from the Greek word ‘Historia’ which means inquiry or knowledge acquired by investigation. History is the systematic study of the past. It can be termed as the series of all the events happened in the past that is connected with somebody or something. It studies about the people, their actions, decisions, interactions and behaviors as well. History studies about what happened when, where, why and how. The scope of history includes political system, economic system and social system of each of the ages.

History can be divided into 6 types viz. –

1.       Political History

2.       Cultural History

3.       Economic History

4.       Social History

5.       Diplomatic History

6.       Intellectual  History

Political History

Political history is the study of the evolution of political matters of the past. In this type of history, the analysis of political leaders, events, ideas, movements, activities, making of government policies, constitutions etc. are studied.

Cultural History

Cultural history is the study of the traditions and cultural interpretation of the past. This kind of history study is about the various traditions and cultures, behavioural norms, literature, sports, entertainment etc. of human beings of different ages of the past.

Economic History

Economic history is that type of history which focuses on the study of economies as well as economical phenomena of various ages in the past. It studies about the different patterns of the production, consumption along with different industries, market systems, and historical events of the economical processes.

Social History

Social history study is about the sole societal norms, behavior rules and regulations of various societies of the different ages of the past. It focuses on the study of the ways of living, standard, customs, disciplines, status, demography of the past.

Diplomatic History

Diplomatic history is considered to be started in the 19th century. This type of history focuses on the study of international relations between nations or between states also. This type of history is more concerned with the history of diplomacy and ideas of diplomacy and much more.

Intellectual History

Intellectual history is aimed at understanding the ideas for ideology and philosophy by understanding the cultural, intellectual, political and social context of the past. It is about the human actions and how humans helped in the development of the history.

Historical Periods

According to time and sources of studying History, it is divided into three parts –

  1. Pre-history – Events that occurred before the invention of writing are considered pre-history. Pre-history is represented by the three stone ages.
  2. Proto-history – It refers to the period between pre-history and history, during which a culture or organisation had not developed yet but has its mention in the written records of a contemporary literate civilisation. For example, the scripts of the Harappan civilization remains undeciphered, however since its existence is noted in Mesopotamian writing, it is considered part of proto-history. Similarly, Vedic civilisation from 1500-600 BCE is considered part of proto-history as well. Neolithic and Chalcolithic cultures are also considered part of proto-history by archaeologists.
  3. History – The study of the past after the invention of writing and the study of literate societies based on written records and archaeological sources constitute history.

Periods of Indian History

In different countries the periodization of history is different. Here, we are going to discuss about the historical periods of India.

In chronological order, the history of India can be divided into three basic periods –

1.       Ancient India (Pre-historic to AD 700)

2.       Medieval India (AD 700 – AD 1857)

3.       Modern India (AD 1857 +)

Ancient India (Pre-historic to AD 700)

History of ancient India starts from the pre-historic period. Pre-historic period of India began 2.6 million years ago. Prehistoric period refers to a time frame when reading and writing were far away from being discovered. Therefore, there is no written proof of its existence. In India, the prehistoric culture is studied through the existing artworks, pottery, tools and other physical things found at archaeological sites.

There are three ages in total in pre-history – Stone Age, Bronze or Copper Age and Iron Age. The Stone Age started 2.6 million years ago and lasted till 3300 BC the Bronze and the Iron Age eventually followed the Stone Age.

These three stages were almost 8000 years long in total. They have their own characteristics and tools which makes them different from each other.

Period / Age Timeline
The Stone Age 30.000 BCE – 3000 BCE
The Copper Age3000 BCE – 1050 BCE
The Iron Age1050 BCE – 500 CE

Pre-historic cultures in India are divided into five parts viz. Paleolithic Period, Mesolithic Period, Neolithic Period, Chalcolithic Period, and Iron Age. The first three parts are the part of the Stone Age while Chalcolithic is another name for the Bronze Age. These periods are considered as the first part of Ancient Indian History.

Paleolithic Period (2 million BC – 10,000 BC)

According to Prof. Basham, India’s Pre-historic age had also passed through Ice Ages like Europe. After the second Ice Age, a hundred thousand years before Christ, men left traces of their stone tools, discovered in the bed of the river Soan or Sohan in the Punjab. These were Paleolithic Stones, rough, blunt and crude. The stones used were quartzite, hence the Paleolithic men in India were also known as Quartzite men. This period was the earliest of human evolution in India. Men used to hunt at this age. They were completely dependent on hunting with a view to fill their stomachs. They used sharp tools for hunting and for other activities as well. Agriculture was not invented till then. A man meant a hunter and a food gatherer at that period. According to archeologists, at the Paleolithic period, human lived in the caves, ate fruits and roots and did hunting. It is a part of the Stone Age.

This age is again divided into three parts. They are –

1.       Lower Paleolithic Period

2.       Middle Paleolithic Period

3.       Upper Paleolithic Period.

Lower Paleolithic Period – up to 100,000 BC

The earliest lower Paleolithic site in India is Bori in Maharashtra. Humans mainly lived there in the caves and rock shelters. A prominent example of their habitat is Bhimbetka rock shelters in Madhya Pradesh which became a world heritage in the year 2003. Living by the sides of the water bodies such as lakes, rivers was another characteristic of this period. That was because stones were accessible there.

Most of the hunting tools used by humans at this age like axes were made of limestone and were used for skinning, digging, and cutting of animals. Belan Valley of Mirzapur, Didwana in Rajasthan, Narmada Valley, and Soan Valley are some of the important Lower Paleolithic Sites in India.

To be continued…

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