Late last month, three members of the Choices curriculum team received the 2014 Franklin Buchanan Prize from the Association for Asian Studies for the outstanding curriculum resource on Asia. Leah Elliott and Maya Lindberg were recognized for their work as writers and Tanya Waldburger for her videography in Indian Independence and the Question of Partition. Congratulations to the three of them for this well-deserved recognition.
After publication last fall, Choices received an email from Mr. Ted Lockery, a ninth-grade teacher in Seattle with some really interesting questions from his class. With his permission, I am able to share them with you along with our responses. I think they provide insight into the issues and process we go through when writing curriculum. I hope you find it interesting.
My name is Ted Lockery. I teach ninth-grade world history at Nathan Hale High School, in Seattle.
My students and I are examining how historians make decisions about how & what to emphasize in their publications. We have been entertaining the question, “Where is the truth in history?”
This morning we compared the latest edition of “Indian Independence and the Question of Partition” to the previous edition, noticing the change from “the Mutiny of 1857” to the “Great Revolt of 1857.” (This examination was inspired by the Teacher Resource Book’s “The Great Revolt of 1857: Source Analysis.”)
We would greatly appreciate knowing how CHOICES came to the decision to revise the title and that section of the text. What issues were discussed in the decision-making process? Was there debate? What were some of the motivations and/or justifications for the change?
Thank you SO much for your time regarding this.
It is very exciting for us to take up this question with actual historians!
Dear Mr. Lockery,
Thank you for your email.
It is great to hear that your class is discussing and trying to locate the “truth” in history. It is a challenge that Choices curriculum writers continually face. Your class poses great questions regarding Choices’ decision to use the “Great Revolt of 1857” over the “Mutiny of 1857.” Please find our responses to their questions below.
What issues were discussed in the decision-making process?
The decision to use the “Great Revolt of 1857” over the “Mutiny of 1857” was guided by a number considerations. The Choices Program decided that the new edition should deviate from a history of the Indian subcontinent that privileges the perspective of the colonizing power, i.e. the British, over other “voices,” such as everyday people. British historical accounts written shortly after 1857 and well into the twentieth century used the term “mutiny” to downplay the widespread participation of Indians. These accounts and more contemporary ones perpetuated the long-mistaken view that the events of 1857 were isolated to a mere mutiny of Indian sepoys in the Bengal Army. Contemporary scholars have challenged this perspective, pointing to other groups that participated in the rebellion. We decided to follow these scholars’ example and break with the tradition of using the “Mutiny of 1857.”
What were some of the motivations and/or justifications for the change?
We first heard the events of 1857 referred to as the “Great Revolt” from a historian we worked with at Brown University—Vazira Zamindar. Following her lead, we opted to go with “Great Revolt of 1857” because it is a broader term that encompasses much more than “Mutiny of 1857.” As the updated unit describes under the question “Who joined the revolt?” on page twelve of the student text, sepoys were not the only participants in the uprisings against the British in 1857. Civilians, landlords, peasants, merchants, and policemen, to name just a few, participated alongside sepoys in revolts and initiated demonstrations of their own. Using “mutiny” in this instance would have been misleading because the term itself means “an open rebellion against the proper authorities, esp. by soldiers or sailors against their officers.” Since the historical record shows that soldiers were not the only participants, we opted to go with a broader term—revolt.
Now, you might be wondering, what makes the revolt of 1857 a GREAT revolt. This an important consideration as well. The Great Revolt of 1857 was an important moment marked by unparalleled, widespread participation against British rule in the Indian subcontinent. It also led to the end of the rule of the British East India Company over the subcontinent and the establishment of Crown rule.
Was there debate?
The Choices writing team had several conversations about the naming of the Great Revolt. For reasons explained above, we decided to eliminate the “Mutiny of 1857” as an option. We also considered using the name, the “First War of Independence,” which has been used by some people from the Indian subcontinent. However, others, including contemporary historians from the region, disagree with this portrayal of the events because the rebellions were not unified in their goals. While resistance spread across the Indian subcontinent, there were varying social, political, economic, and cultural reasons for why people rebelled. These reasons were not limited to grievances with British rule; and therefore, it would be incorrect to categorize the events of 1857 as a united attempt to overthrow colonial rule.
Although we all agreed, given the available research on the topic, to changing the name from “mutiny” to “revolt,” we did debate whether or not to include an explanation of all the historical names (Great Revolt, the War of Independence, the Mutiny of 1857) in the student text. Ultimately, we decided for clarity and ease of reading to not include this explanation in the student text and reserve the conversation for a lesson. And we are so happy to hear you all worked on the lesson and are talking about truth, history, and naming!
Leah Elliott and Maya Lindberg
Co-writers of Indian Independence and the Question of Partition