top of page

History Textbooks and the narratives around them.

India’s Past, Its Learnings, Its Pedagogies: Teacher Mediations of History Textbooks

Author: R S Krishna

India’s Past, Its Learnings, Its Pedagogies: Teacher Mediations of History Textbooks in India, by R. S. Krishna is an insightful and thought-provoking exploration of the role of teachers in the debates surrounding history textbooks. [To the uninitiated the term Pedagogy refers to the methord & practice of teaching, especially as an academic subject or theretical concept, It plays a large part in a subject like History for obvious reasons]. By combining classroom observations, experience, and readings from educational sociology, Krishna paints a vivid picture of the way history is “mediated” by teachers—and in doing so, he reveals the complex interactions between ideologies, nationalisms, politics, and knowledge.

Author R S Krishna explores the often-neglected voice of teachers in the contentious debates surrounding history textbooks in India. He combines observations, his own teaching experiences, and educational sociology to argue that history as it is taught is shaped not only by factual information, but also by competing nationalisms and political ideologies. Krishna is critical of both liberal-Marxist and Indic/Hindu perspectives on history, and instead advocates for a more holistic, comparative, and dialogic approach to teaching history that encourages students to "reimagine" India's past and future. The author stresses the importance of teachers' command of the discipline and their understanding of the debates that shape history, in order for students to have a meaningful understanding of the subject. This book is a valuable contribution to the ongoing discourse on the teaching of history in India, and provides valuable insights into the role of teachers in shaping the way students learn and understand their past.

The author talks about the skill of teaching history and that not everyone is cut out for it, about teaching as a profession in contemporary India, about how he discovered his passion for it and got trained. The ethics , labour and other skills needed. He takes on from several sources from Karl Marx to Christopher Winch and several others.

The author has analyzed the work of several teachers in various different sorts of schools, analyzed their pedagogies and written down all of his research in the book. I assume this was originally part of the thesis for his doctorate which eventually became a part of the book. This is the crux of the book, in my opinion. All this research makes for very fascinating reading.

While dealing with textbooks themselves, the author discusses the contents of various textbook on the subject used across the county and even beyond. His findings, both positive and negative make for a interesting read. The author wrote about his experiences with the education system as well, where intelligence is measured through ‘memory’. I highly suggest reading this blog available on his website which is a part of the book as well.

The representation of history and its textbooks are surrounded by controversies with two opposing views vying to shape our understanding of history. One is the liberal version which sees India as a modern imagination that came to life during the independence struggle, and the other is the Indic view that gives primordiality to India's nationhood, emerging from a culture prior to the common era. This debate is mostly among scholars, intellectuals, historians, civil society activists, journalists and politicians, with teachers who play a crucial role in teaching history to students, being left out. The work in question is an autoethnographic study that responds to questions about the teaching of history, based on the author's experience as a teacher and teacher trainer. The author argues that while textbooks are important, a teacher's command of the discipline and familiarity with the debates that shape the knowledge status of history is crucial for meaningful learning. The author also raises concerns about the quality of professional training for teachers and the alienation of students from the discipline due to poor classroom interactions. He also critiques the liberal-Marxist historical endeavors, which rely on an Eurocentric and colonial sociological framework, ignoring the possibility of a normative and lived tradition of harmony and mutual coexistence in ancient India. He argues for a new approach that considers the ethical and practical discourse in Hindu culture, instead of focusing solely on conflict and schism in ancient Indian society. The author believes that such a new approach would lead to a more inclusive and harmonious view of history.

The author concludes the book, he presents an analysis of the politicization of history and its teaching in India, exploring how the state mediates and sanctions the interpretation of the past through school history textbooks, which are often colored by ideology and politics. The author examines this issue through observations of teachers in different schools and personal experiences as a teacher, arguing that bringing in one's own subjectivity can enhance credibility. The author also discusses the shortcomings of the curriculum and textbooks, as well as the need to orient, capacitate, and motivate teachers to do justice to the discipline's worth and children's inherent curiosities and possibilities. The author shares personal attempts to negotiate and transcend these challenges through innovative pedagogy and engagement with students. Suggestions are made for further research and possibilities for making history more relevant and engaging for students.

This book offers a unique perspective on the intersection of education, politics, and history, making it an essential read for anyone interested in the field. Krishna’s arguments are nuanced, with a thorough understanding of the nuances of the modernity discourse, and his exploration of the role of teachers is instructive. India’s Past, Its Learnings, Its Pedagogies: Teacher Mediations of History Textbooks in India is an important book that should be read by educators, policymakers, and scholars alike.

Purchase Link:


bottom of page