Relevance of history

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POLITICAL history cannot be separated from cultural history, and cultural history is not a catalogue of events or a roster of events or a roster of personages, but an unfolding process of interaction between humans and nature. German scholar Leopald von Ranke, the father of modern positivist history, defined its objective in 1830 as the process of " acquiring knowledge about human affairs". But, as eminent environmental historian Donald Worster insists, humans are essentially a part of nature, and it is impossible to disentangle human affairs from what is happening to forests, animals, insects and microorganisms. Hall Distinguished professor of American History at the University of Kansas, USA, Worster says that history has mostly been understood as a chronology of political events-the rise and fall of kingdoms and their rulers-a simplistic notion that presumes that those who did not record their history did not have one. But developments in the social and natural sciences changed that outlook. History became more interpretative and oral narratives of history from tribes and other marginalised groups began to be taken seriously. A distinct strand in the new interpretation has been the ecological and naturalist point of view. But investigations into India"s ecological history have been few and far between. In its continuing efforts to understand the relevance of ecology in Indian culture, the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) brought together academicians and practitioners from various fields at a conference on ecological history and traditions. Held in New Delhi on March 27-29, 1997, the conference focussed on three major issues: