The past fascinates, perhaps because it is distant. We can imagine and reconstruct it with historical information.
In the present day, it is possible to rebuild the past society based on our knowledge due to excavations of ancient sites.
Excavations bring to light the charming and fascinating tale of man’s survival and ingenuity. After recovering artifacts from the various sites, archaeologists carefully analyse their use and try to depict how people in the stone, bronze and iron ages lived and improved their lifestyle by inventing tools and instruments.
When in 1773, the cities of Herculaneum and Pompei were discovered which were once destroyed by the ashes of a volcano, the archeologists found cities intact beneath the ashes. The flood of lava was so sudden that it covered the cities in full swing of everyday life.
There were shops in the market place with bakers and carpenters at work, and people were buying furniture and other goods in the market. An aristocrat’s house was found with a library of papyrus scrolls. Public buildings and temples stood intact as though ready to welcome worshippers. The roads were busy with people running to save their lives from the gushing lava. It helped archeologists and historians to reconstruct the social and cultural life of the past.
Other sources which provide information of past include statues, paintings, inscriptions, coins and written material. The paintings on the walls of pyramids depict the social and cultural life of the Egyptian people. Paintings on the vases from ancient Greece portray the lives of athletes and scenes of the daily lives of common people. Based on these sources, historians are in a position to recover the ancient pas. Written material also provides interesting political, religious and administrative details of the past regimes.
Many European novelists were attracted by the medieval period which provided them with themes of knights, chivalry and courtly love. Later, as the information of the ancient periods became available to them, they wrote on the Roman Empire, and the Mesopotamian and Egyptian civilisations. These novels created a curiosity to know the past and its social and cultural life. It also led to the realisation of how history changes and transforms societies from one stage to another.
In the modern period, efforts are being made to reconstruct the past in order to experience the culture of past societies. In England, a village of the iron age was rebuilt and volunteers were asked to live there in the simulated environment of the past. A similar experiment was carried out in Germany where a village of the medieval period was built to learn about the attitude and behaviour of people in the past.
To satisfy the curiosity of people, in different European countries, the famous battles are recreated. Recently, Russia reconstructed the battle of 1812, when Napoleon invaded Russia but failed to occupy it. The defeat of Napolean and the victory of Russia is an achievement for the Russians. Its replay created a sense of national pride. Americans also recreate their battles to inform and inspire their nation. One of the most effective methods to recreate the past is through films.
European and American filmmakers have reconstructed ancient, medieval and modern history based on historical evidence and the producers try to make them as accurate as possible. But sometimes one can detect that the historical interpretation in these films which favours a particular point of view. For instance, Alexander’s conquests are depicted as the supremacy of Europe over Asia. Films on European imperialism tend to show their bravery and virtue. Like history books one should watch these films with the critical eye.
Our films based on historical themes generally lack correct facts and sometimes come across as a parody although Sohrab Modi’s Jhansi ki Rani is based on correct historical facts.
As we do not have the ability to depict our correct past through films and theatre, it remains hidden and inaccessible to people.