“A person without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.” – Marcus Garvey
If you are preparing to take the UPSC civil services, you will know that the UPSC conducts the IAS exam in three stages:
- Board Interview
As you would be aware, history is an integral part of the UPSC civil services exam preparation. Even if you do not take history as an optional subject, you cannot avoid studying this subject for your UPSC prelims and mains. A good chunk of the questions come from this subject for both UPSC prelims and mains. For those of you who like history, it is not a bother to read all those books and material. But a majority of people are those who have found history a tad boring, if not downright hated it. For those of you, you must be wondering how to learn all those dates and names and remember them for the UPSC civil services exams.
If you don’t particularly like a subject it can be difficult to score good marks in it and this can act as a hindrance to your cracking the IAS exam. You’ve got to learn history if you want to clear the civil services. Now, what if you can make history interesting?
Mindless reading of names and dates can put you to sleep. Let’s look at history (after all, it’s our story!) in a new light. There are a few tricks that can make your reading history a fun affair.
How to Prepare History for UPSC?
Watch movies and documentaries
Admit it. You’d rather watch a movie than read a book. Of course, this is a luxury serious IAS aspirants can ill afford, but you can take the occasional break from your reading and watch a movie. But make sure to watch one on any historical event or personality. This way, you learn without much effort. You can also recall names and dates better, as research suggests that you remember more when you see and hear rather than read plain text.
There are many wonderful movies you can watch to enhance your history learning. Gandhi (1982), Alexander (2004), Asoka (2001), Julius Caesar (2002), Earth (1998), The Legend of Bhagat Singh (2002), Sardar (1993), Mangal Pandey (2005), Urumi (Malayalam), Raja Raja Chola (Tamil), etc.
Read historical fiction books
Everyone loves a good story. History is nothing but a good story although not presented that way most of the times. When you feel weighed down by your course textbooks, take a break and read some historical fiction. You can learn a lot about historical settings, lifestyles, problems faced by people at that era and even important political developments of that time period by reading them. Eg. Silk and Steel (Stephen Alter), Lady of the Lotus (William E. Barrett), Train To Pakistan (Khushwant Singh), Sea of Poppies (Amitav Ghosh), Brothers At War (Alex Rutherford), Chanakya’s Chant (Ashwin Sanghi), Gods, Kings & Slaves: The Siege of Madurai (R. Venketesh), etc.
Read biographies and other historical non-fiction
If you feel you are a slow reader and historical fiction can actually slow you in your IAS tracks, you can always read a few biographies of famous historical personalities and other non-fiction books. This is especially helpful when you have to read about the philosophies of certain people like Gandhi, Nehru, etc. A few examples are listed below:
The Story of My Experiments with Truth – Gandhi
An Autobiography (Toward Freedom) – Jawaharlal Nehru
The Indian Struggle – Subhas Chandra Bose
Without Fear: The Life and Trial of Bhagat Singh – Kuldip Nayar
The Great Mutiny – Christopher Hibbert
Honourable Company: A History of the English East India Company – John Keay
When you read history, instead of focusing on dates and numbers alone, try to emphasise on individuals. Read their human stories. If you have a favourite freedom fighter, read about his life and work and try to enjoy it as a story of your hero. This way the subject will be more interesting and you will also remember more details.
Connect with your interests
Try to connect history with a subject that interests you. If you like architecture, read about the great architectural wonders and technology used in a bygone era. For instance, read about the architecture and town-planning of the Harappa Age and try to relate it to people’s lifestyle. Read about Mughal and temple architecture in medieval India. They can give insight into people’s lives, their professions, etc. Relate history to architecture, geography, science, literature, etc.
A common perception since our school days is that history is boring. It is in fact, far from it. It can be one of the most riveting things you can learn. Also, the importance of history can never be undermined. It is, after all, the story of how we got here, what shaped us, how our ancestors lived, why we live the way we do now. If you think about it, history has got a lot to do with our way of thinking, our ideologies at both the individual and the societal level, and even to an extent, our natural and forced choices in life. Indeed, a good understanding of history is needed for a better understanding of the present.