Halloween party ideas 2015

By Prof Lal Dena*

It may sound paradoxical that the historian, who is concerned professionally with the study of the past, plays a crucial role in the building of a stable future society. The historian tries to understand the emergence and evolution of a society in an historical perspective. To him, the term society includes every aspect of a people’s life- social, economic, political, cultural, religious, scientific, etc. The historian tries to understand the mutual interaction of these different aspects and how the interaction of these forces contributes to the process of change of a society.

Historian is concerned not merely with events, but more with the processes of change of society. His main business is to study and understand these processes through which a society changes and evolves to its present stage. As the noted historian, R.G. Collingwood has aptly pointed out, “processes are things which do not begin and end but turn into one another. There are, in history, no beginnings and no endings. History books begin and end, but the processes they describe do not end”.

What we are today is the outcome of the continuous processes of what we were yesterday. Beneath the current of changes, we still carry within ourselves and within our societies innumerable relics of the past. We may carry with us many monumental follies of the past. The past cannot sanctify these follies, nor does the present. At the same time, every civilized society, however imperfect it may be, seeks to impose new values on the living generation. These new values, if found lasting, are sought to be carried forward for the new generations yet unborn.

The real test comes when the historian is to pin-point what are to be discarded and what are to be retained. It is for this reason that the role of an historian has become all the more crucial and important. One noted French historian has said that “Quand les societes revent I’ historien doit rester eveille (when societies dream historian must keep awake)”. This statement beautifully sums up the importance of historian in a society in which he is an inseparable part. The historian is supposed to be a thinker as well as a doer. He must preach and practices what he preaches.

It is true that the historian is concerned himself with the study of the past. But the past which the historian studies is not a dead past, but the past which is still living in the present. His interest is limited to the relevance of the past to the present and the future. Can we draw a dividing line between the past and the present; and for that matter, the present and the future? Can one be really involved in the past without being involved in the present? Can one make a worthwhile reconstruction of the past without in any way contributing to the construction of the present and then to the future? What is today becomes yesterday tomorrow and tomorrow becomes today. He who confines his thought to the present time only will not be able to understand present reality. For the origin of things present are to be found in things past. The past and the present are closely bound in the same causal sequence. The historian’s duty is to diagnose these causal relationships existing among the past events in their relations to the present. The simple logic is this: to understand the present, we have to understand the past. The present society does not come from blue. It has evolved out of the past. The historian’s task is to study this evolution from the remote past to the present which are causally connected. Taken in their causal sequence, history thus illuminates the present life of any social group in all its aspects- social, economic, political, cultural, etc. In studying these causal relationships, the historian tries to develop general laws which should regulate the behavior of the phenomenon under investigation. The development of the laws necessarily introduces system or order in the knowledge gained. Unless such laws are developed, the phenomenon under study cannot be fully understood and the knowledge gained cannot be utilized for the benefit of mankind.

The present society can, therefore, be best understood in the light of the past. The past also can best be understood in the light of the present. “To learn about the present in the light of the past means also to learn about the past in the light of the present. The function of history is to promote a profounder understanding of both past and present through the interrelation between them” (E.H.Carr). But the historian is not to love the past. Nor can he make himself free from the past. But he has to understand and master the past as the key to the understanding of the present. Misunderstanding of the present is the inevitable consequence of the ignorance of the past. You cannot know the dead men if you do not know the living men. The faculty of understanding the living is, in fact, the master quality of the historian. The very names we use to describe old ideas or old forms of social organization would be meaningless if we do not know the living men. In short, in any historical interpretation as Prof. Romila Thapar has rightly pointed out “the needs of the present are read into the past; and the image of the past is sought to be imposed upon the present. The image of the past is the historian’s contribution to the future.”

No human society is static. It goes on changing and will continue to change. The historian lives and swims in the stream of this changing society. History is meaningless in a static society. History in its basic sense is change, movement and progress. It is progress towards the goal of the perfection of man’s estate in society. In such a fast-changing situation, the historian cannot afford to be a silent spectator. He has to watch the men, the things and the events around him. He must recognize the direction in which society is moving. He must have the moral courage to rise above the limited vision of his own situation in society. At times, the historian can be a prophet born before his time.

What is, therefore, required of a historian is alertness. He has to develop scientific temper to know the nature of the change of society. It is necessary not only to discover things as they actually were but also to know why they have changed in one particular way and not other-wise.

In the final analysis the historian puts his feet upon the past with the present before him. Then he looks forward to the future. His subject-matter belongs to the past. Yet his attention is on the present and his vision on the future. His ultimate goal is to lay a sound foundation because he wants to build a stable future. The historian can guide a society to avoid past mistakes and to manage better in similar circumstances next time. He can also guide a

society to anticipate a future course of events. Of course, this anticipation of future will not be a blind anticipation. It will be based on the past and present experiences. The capacity to project his vision into the future is, therefore, dependent upon his mastery of the past.

To conclude, the historian is both backward-looking and forward-looking. He imagines the past. He looks at the present. Yet he thinks for the future; to quote E.H. Carr again, the historian thus:

“peers eagerly back into the

twilight out of which he has come,

in the hope that its faint beams

will illuminate the obscurity into which

he is going; and, conversely, his aspirations

and anxieties about the path that lies ahead

quicken his insight into what lies behind.

Past, present and future are linked together

In the endless chain of History”.

About the author: – Prof. Lal Dena is a historian and teaches at Manipur University. He is also a regular contributor to Inpui.com. 

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  1. I have recommended this article to my friends. Professor Lal Dena should write more for Inpui. I have been reading all your articles from this website.

    Mary Hmar

  2. L Keivon and Lal Dena should really write more...... Every piece of their writing are a piece of treasure for the human race in general and for the Hmars in particular.


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