where trouble was needed

April 15, 2010

the small drama and fine detail of social existence

Filed under: Uncategorized — Aravinda @ 3:07 am

Response to Twitter as History: Library of Congress Signs Up
By STEVE LOHR, New York Times, April 15, 2010

Comment 24

The idea of archiving twitter messages is interesting though I don’t agree that it in itself challenges the elitism of history. It just adds another source. How we read it and what we challenge will partly depend on our own study of history.

The pioneering historian Ranajit Guha, in his article “Chandra’s Death” takes a moment to reflect on “the small drama and fine detail of social existence” before using such detail to plunge ahead into a critical investigation of a murder of an ordinary woman in nineteenth century rural Bengal. Reading between and beyond court documents he finds what the court, mired as it was in the same patriarchy that resulted in the death, could not see. The woman who was found guilty at the time would never know that more than 100 years later, history cleared her name.

While twitter too records “the small drama and fine detail of social existence,” it will take more than search engines to use this information to understand society or interpret history. It will require critical rigour, compassion, insight and “bending closer to the ground in order to pick up the traces,” as Ranajit Guha has done to expose the systematic patriarchy that led to the death of one woman and the conviction of another woman for a crime committed by neither.

In closing, allow me to quote Ranajit Guha:

“The ordinary apparatus of historiography has little help to offer us here. Designed for big events and institutions, it is most at ease when made to operate on those larger phenomena which visibly stick out of the debris of the past. As a result, historical scholarship has developed, through recursive practice, a tradition that tends to ignore the small drama and fine detail of social existence, especially at its lower depths. A critical historiography can make up for this lacuna by bending closer to the ground in order to pick up the traces of a subaltern life in its passage through time.”

from “Chandra’s Death” in Subaltern Studies V, Writings on South Asian History and Society
Edited by Ranajit Guha
Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1987.
p. 138

(I hope that the comments on the New York Times are being archived as well.)


1 Comment »

  1. […] the public comment that comes via twitter.   Their goal – nothing less than to capture the small drama and fine detail of social existence. Like this:LikeBe the first to like this. Leave a […]


    Pingback by Guha – Chandra’s Death « where trouble was needed — June 24, 2012 @ 3:05 pm | Reply

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