Literature and history have always been closely allied as academic disciplines: what is regarded as ‘history’ now may be considered ‘literature’ at a future time. The reverse is also equally true. This fact is reflected in the words itihasa and ‘history’ that have been applied to works from the Mahabharata to the books of Simon Schama.
At the same time, critical responses to ‘literature’ have tended to take stock of historical circumstances. If earlier scholarship concentrated on the historical ‘context’ or the ‘moment of genesis’ of a work, later writers, such as reader-response theorists, have studied the ‘moment of impact’. There is a stronger emphasis now on the evolution of genres, themes, motifs and rhetorical codes, the role of innovation and habituation in literary impact, the notion of literary periods, the history of orality, the discursive shifts in the sciences, the evolution of reading practices, and the material transmission of scripted texts.
At the same time, ‘history’ is, among other things, a form of writing strongly linked to ‘literary’ codes, while an ‘archive’ is as much of a construction as ideologies and generic memory.
The course would introduce students, through a study of select texts and periods, to the ways in which these issues may be brought together.
Course coordinator: Swapan Chakravorty