Few Bland Men

In terms of scholarship, compared to the centenary year, the 150th year of 1857 draws a spectacular blank.
Revisiting 1857: Myth, Memory, History
By Boria Majumdar
Edited By Sharmistha Gooptu
Roli Books Pages: 218; Rs: 295
Anniversaries apart, 1857 doesn’t seem to hold much attraction for historians. There are perhaps only three living experts on it in the world. The field is thus wholly open to outsiders. The pitfall is that instead of researched books and monographs, one is more likely to find articles. Further, in moving away from the old debates about mutiny vs rebellion or local vs national, we have now moved beyond the event itself to its afterlife in various forms, even though there is still much to be learnt about it.

This collection has two earlier articles put together by the same editors, and some articles I’ve already heard of before. Apart from the mandatory historiographical essay, there are seven articles outlining how it has been remembered, written about or represented. That is not to say that the essays are not rewarding. Majumdar’s essay on contestations on the cricket field and Projit Mukherjee’s article on Scottish and English ballads are an illuminating read. What one misses in this, and other similar seminar-led collections, is a sense of advancement of our understanding of what the whole damn thing was about. All the dozens of seminars and hundreds of small papers have not been able to compensate for one big book by William Dalrymple; perhaps that is why a single quote from him appears in three different parts of this book. In terms of scholarship, compared to the centenary year, the 150th year of 1857 draws a spectacular blank.

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