Medieval India: Periodisation

Learning Goals:

For historians; ‘time’ does not have a relation with clock or calendar only. In other words, it is not just the passing of hours, days or years. It also reflects;

The study of time is made simpler by dividing the past into large segments called periods. These large segments of time shared some common characteristics.

Period classification by the British

The British historians in the mid-nineteenth century divided India’s history into three periods, namely ‘Hindu’, ‘Muslim’, and ‘British’. The premise of dividing it this way was that the religion of rulers was the only important historical change, and there was no change in the social, economic and cultural aspects. Such classification also ignored the rich diversity of the subcontinent.

Classification based on social and economic factors

Few historians follow the classification based on religion of ruler mentioned above. They consider the major developments in the economic and social front for the purpose of periodisation. The histories you studied last year included a wide range of early societies i.e. it included people as primitive as hunters-gatherers and early farmers; and also people who were more developed like those living in the cities and towns as well as early empires and kingdoms. The history you will be studying this year is often described as ‘medieval’ which is ‘between the ancient and the modern’. This period has witnessed the following:

Wide spectrum of the medieval period

There were dramatic changes in this period. This is quite expected because the scenario in the eighth or eleventh century will definitely be very different from those of the sixteenth or eighteenth century. Therefore, describing the entire period as one historical unit does not give a clear picture of the period. Moreover often the ‘medieval’ period is contrasted with the ‘modern’ period. The term modernity refers to material and intellectual progress. But this does not mean that the medieval period lacked in advancement or was quite static without any changes. It was definitely a dynamic period having a lot of advancement and transformation.

The economies and the societies underwent a lot of progress and development during these thousand years. Many regions also reached a level of prosperity to the extent that it attracted the interest of European trading companies.


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