Rewriting History for our Times

Rewriting History for our Times

July 15, 2022 | Author: Pratika Yashaswi, Independent Journalist

The Indian diaspora is relearning—and retelling history in new ways.

In May, we celebrated the first-ever Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage month,
marking the arrival of the first immigrants from the Asian continent into the United States.
But Indians in the diaspora and the subcontinent have long been reflecting on their unique
history on an unlikely platform—Instagram.

Accounts on Instagram have been making thousands of years worth of history attractive to an
audience that possibly snored their way through their school lessons. They’re fascinating,
relatable, and enriching. And the platform’s visual-centered design makes it a perfect place to
interact and engage with it.

Perhaps the most popular example of this is @brownhistory, an account with a whopping 612k
followers. With the unique purpose of retelling South Asian history from the perspectives of
“the Vanquished,” it became famous as an Instagram account sharing fascinating profiles and
human-centered stories from the annals of South Asian history. Split away from traditionally
colonial tellings, it brings people’s lived experiences front and center, fostering an intimate
sense of connection with the past.

It has expanded beyond the platform into a newsletter, podcast, and online shop where you can
buy fascinating vintage posters, painting prints, and other artifacts.

@brownhistory’s popularity speaks to the deeply-felt desires of an audience to connect with
their roots, regardless of where they live or hail from.

Another history platform, @itihasology, chooses art as a mode of learning. It tells stories from
India’s history through its rich and glorious artistic traditions, and 42.8k individuals are here
for it.

@itihasology Instagram account

According to founder Eric Chopra, using art is more than just an aesthetic choice—it’s an
entryway to discovering and learning about more expansive areas of history like the economy,
socio-political scenario, and imperial ideology of the time. Although grounded in academic
rigor, @itihasology still manages to be relatable. Its success has extended beyond Instagram
into a podcast, a YouTube channel, and the Itihāsology Journal, which has been reviewed by
well-known scholars like Dr. Arshia Sattar and Dr. Sekhar Bandyopadhyay. Itihasology also
collaborates regularly with art galleries, museums, and renowned publishing houses. For Chopra, history initiatives like @itihasology are essential to the moment. “We live in times
where history is being challenged, re-written, and misunderstood, primarily due to the
pervasion of the hearsay generated on social media—in this context, it only seemed apt to
promote well-researched, reliable, and multifaceted academic narratives using social media
itself,” he says.

Focusing specifically on Hyderabad, Hyderabad history account @thathyderabadiboy has a
slightly different approach. Journalist and owner of the account Yunus Lasania conducts
interviews and frequently draws from oral histories of people who’ve lived through the events of
the city’s history.

“I talk about oral history a lot because I feel it is one of the most important ways to understand
how our histories and cities have evolved,” he says. “Someone who is 90 years old would
remember the way Hyderabad has changed. What we read in books from the same
period—someone has seen it and witnessed it…”

“[Even] ordinary people have their own stories to tell. So I wanted to focus more on that…
The fact that more and more people now know about Hyderabad a lot better is what is
comforting to me and drives me to do my work,” adds Lasania.

Every platform has its approach to history, but the common thread running through their
success is their encouragement of dialogue and the active participation of their audience.

As history is what lays the foundation for the present and future, any constructive discussion
around it by ordinary people is a positive for political participation as well.

As another popular history platform, Kaarwaan Heritage, states boldly on its website, “For a
better future, we need to preserve our past because when you are in the present, you cannot
escape your past, and when you study history, you cannot escape the present.”

Many platforms like @thathyderabadiboy, @itihasology, and @karwaanheritage have been
able to drag their followers away from their screens out to museums, history walks, and even to
text-heavy newsletters and journals—flying in the face of the notion that today’s internet users
have too little patience for words.

History is essential because it’s a story that tells us who we are. As late Michael Crichton once
said, “If you don’t know history, then you don’t know anything. You are a leaf that doesn’t
know it is part of a tree.” If the success and proliferation of history accounts on social media is
anything to go by, Indians are well aware of it.

 


Pratika Yashaswi is an independent journalist mainly covering design, lifestyle and culture. Her words have appeared in Vice, Huffington Post, Dezeen, and Seema. She’s passionate about canines and mental health and writes with a perpetually peckish golden retriever at her feet.