The Nationalist School of Indian Historiography – An Overview

Nationalist School of Indian Historiography: Indian scholars of the late 19th and the first half 20th century were called nationalist historians. The Nationalist School of Indian Historiography emerged as a response to the Imperial or Colonial interpretation of Indian history. This school was represented by political activists like R.C. Majumdar, Lala Lajpat Rai, Dadabhai Naoroji, etc. The nationalist interpretation of history is what drove the ideology of the at first emergent and later strong national movement for the independence of India.

The Nationalist School of Indian Historiography


 Ramesh Chandra Majumdar


Lala Lajpat Rai

Dadabhai Naoroji


The scholars of this school made major contributions towards constructing a connected narrative of India. This meaning connecting events to their causes and implications rather than studying them in isolation. They meticulously tried to extract data from texts, inscriptions, coins and other material remains to widen the horizon of India’s history. Especially important contributions were made in the field of political history for e.g. the kingdoms ruled by oligarchies called Gana and Sangha were brought into light against the claims of the colonialist interpretations of despotic rule in India.

Early nationalists challenged the view the Colonial view that the British government had brought modern political system and political unity to the subcontinent instead they found the British rule harmful to the fabric of Indian civilization. South India was brought into the narrative of history writing and the study of regional political structures progressed.

Indigo plantation in Bengal. The forced cultivation of Indigo was seen as an exceptionally exploitative step.

Their most important contribution by the Nationalist School of Indian Historiography was exposing the exploitative character of the British rule in India. In his book ‘Poverty and Unbritish rule in India’ Dadabhai Naroji gave the famous theory of ‘economic drain’ according to which the British drained the wealth of India to build their own country and pay for their wars all over the world.


The Nationalist aspect in the writings of their scholars can be seen in their insistence on the indigenous roots of all the major cultural developments. They retained the colonialist practice of dividing the past into the Ancient/Hindu Period, the Medieval/Muslim Period and the Modern/Christian Period.

However, their search for a golden age in the ancient past of India led to their exalting the age of the Vedas and the Gupta empire which led to the writing of history on communal lines and valourization of the ‘Hindu’ period and the coming of the Turks and Islam was seen as a tragedy.

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