NCERT Class 7 History Tracing Changes Through a Thousand Years

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Take a look at Maps 1 and 2. Map 1 was made in 1154 CE. by the Arab geographer al-Idrisi. The section reproduced here is a detail of the Indian subcontinent from his larger map of the world. Map 2 was made in the 1720s by a French cartographer. The two maps are quite different even though they are of the same area. In al-Idrisi’s map, south India is where we would expect to find north India and Sri Lanka is the island at the top. Place-names are marked in Arabic, and there are some well-known names like Kanauj in Uttar Pradesh (spelt in the map as Qanauj). Map 2 was made nearly 600 years after the first, during which time information about the subcontinent had changed considerably. This map seems more familiar to us and the coastal areas in particular are surprisingly detailed. This map was used by European sailors and merchants on their voyages (see Chapter 6). But look at the areas inland.

Equally important is the fact that the science of cartography differed in the two periods. When historians read documents, maps and texts from the past they have to be sensitive to the different historical backgrounds – the contexts – in which information about the past was produced.

New and old terminologies

If the context in which information is produced changes with time, what about language and meanings? Historical records exist in a variety of languages which have changed considerably over the years. Medieval Persian, for example, is different from modern Persian. The difference is not just with regard to grammar and vocabulary; the meanings of words also change over time.

Take the term “Hindustan”, for example. Today we understand it as “India”, the modern nation state. When the term was used in the thirteenth century by Minhaj-i Siraj, a chronicler who wrote in Persian, he meant the areas of Punjab, Haryana and the lands between the Ganga and Yamuna. He used the term in a political sense for lands that were a part of the dominions of the Delhi Sultan. The areas included in this term shifted with the extent of the Sultanate but the term never included south India within it. By contrast, in the early sixteenth century Babur used Hindustan to describe the geography, the fauna and the culture of the inhabitants of the subcontinent. As we will see later in the chapter, this was somewhat similar to the way the fourteenth-century poet Amir Khusrau used the word “Hind”. While the idea of a geographical and cultural entity like “India” did exist, the term Hindustan did not carry the political and national meanings which we associate with it today.

Historians have to be careful about the terms they use because they meant different things in the past. Take, for example, a simple term like “foreigner”. It is used today to mean someone who is not an Indian. In the medieval period a “foreigner” was any stranger who appeared say in a given village, someone who was not a part of that society or culture. (In Hindi the term pardesi might be used to describe such a person and in Persian, ajnabi.) A city-dweller, therefore, might have regarded a forest-dweller as a “foreigner”, but two peasants living in the same village were not foreigners to each other, even though they may have had different religious or caste backgrounds.

Let’s recall

1. Who was considered a “foreigner” in the past?

2. State whether true or false

(a) We do not find inscriptions for the period after 700.

(b) The Marathas asserted their political importance during this period.

(c) Forest-dwellers were sometimes pushed out of their lands with the spread of agricultural settlements.

(d) Sultan Ghiyasuddin Balban controlled Assam, Manipur and Kashmir.

3. Fill in the blanks

(a) Archives are places where ——————— are kept.

(b) ——————was a fourteenth-century chronicler.

(c) ——, ———, ———, ——— and ——— were

some of the new crops introduced into the subcontinent during this period.

4. List some of the technological changes associated with this period.

5. What were some of the major religious developments during this period?

Let’s understand

6. In what ways has the meaning of the term “Hindustan” changed over the centuries?

7. How were the affairs of jatis regulated?

8. What does the term pan-regional empire mean?

Please refer to attached file for NCERT Class 7 History Tracing Changes Through a Thousand Years

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