KARACHI: The history of the people and the changes they galvanised in societies are hardly ever acknowledged and only the rulers and generals are given credit in historical narratives. To address this, the Institute of Historical and Social Research (IHSR) held its first session on Monday to bring about more enlightened perspectives to historical debates.
The session was presided over by veteran activist I.A. Rehman where it was shared that for a nation’s health, preserving its history is a very important task. This is because the history of a country allows its citizens to form a distinct identity and to carve a way forward together.
He explained that think tanks such as the IHSR should have been formed a long time ago because it would have helped the country, its rulers and its public realise the kind of country they envision and wish to create.
Mr Rehman also underscored the importance of writing history as honestly as possible. He recalled how during his education he was exposed to the histories of the world; many years later when he read the history his daughter was studying he was appalled at the “fiction” that was being written and distributed in the garb of history.
Think tank aims to examine Pakistan’s issues through a ‘progressive’ lens
The IHSR, he believed, would help address this issue and fill the gaps where necessary.
Historian Dr Mubarak Ali spoke about the people’s history and how studying this historical perspective was not very popular in Pakistan; however, in the US and Europe it was given a lot of importance.
He explained that the people were usually subtracted from historical narratives, unfortunately. They were blamed for being illiterate, and mostly mobs who broke laws. However, in reality “they” were afraid of these mobs and how they changed societies around the world from the grass roots, he elaborated.
The role of the mob in political and social change cannot be disregarded, and there was extensive research being done on mob psychology, said Dr Ali. One example that Dr Mubarak shared was of Jules Michelet — a French historian who wrote a book about the French Revolution — and how the common man made the revolution a success.
History of the people is written from two perspectives — for the people and of the people, it was shared. The people’s history puts emphasis on the disenfranchised, the oppressed, the poor, the nonconformists, and otherwise marginal groups, rather than the rulers and leaders.
In his opening speech, Dr Tariq Sohail spoke about the genesis of the institute which happened around three years ago.
He explained that the thought behind this institute was not new as many think tanks had been created to focus on people’s issues; the IHSR wishes to focus on progressive and enlightened thought to be encouraged especially in the field of Pakistan’s history and social and cultural changes.
Dr Jaffar Ahmed gave an overview of the institute and said one of the aims was to introduce original research and scholarship, which is greatly lacking in the country at the moment.
Schools and colleges should be bearers of new research, however in Pakistan that was not the case and the IHSR wished to take up this task and contribute positively, he said, adding that it would cater to the public especially those who had been marginalised.
The role think tanks play in the contemporary social fabric was discussed by writer, poet and journalist Mahmood Shaam, who said the trend of think tanks in Pakistan became more prominent post-9/11 though the tradition had existed for centuries.
Published in Dawn, January 29th, 2019