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Biography controversy: How do you write the life story of someone who has long been dead?


I have said it before and I will say it again.

It’s not easy being a historian in India.

This is especially true now, with the proliferation of propagandist narratives via what is popularly called “WhatsApp University”, and the emergence of chronicles of the past that are easily bought and sold, but are skewed in their writing and methodology.

The purpose of this essay is to focus on the impact that faulty or flawed methodology can have on the telling of history, especially what is called “popular” history. The distinction is somewhat necessary, given the somewhat recent binary that has been drawn between academic and popular historians.

Academic histories are produced by professional historians, often within university settings, subject to certain protocols. As Rohan D’Souza recently pointed out in this essay in The Wire, in order to qualify as an academic historian, you have to adhere to a set of unwritten – albeit widely accepted – rules: from articles expanding on your research published in peer-reviewed journals to books hot off established university presses. Academic seminars, conferences and workshops are your defined circuit, wherein the claims and evidence of your research are vetted and debated by your peers.

I, on the other hand, am what is commonly known as a…

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