17th Gonda Lecture by Gérard Fussman

Revisiting the history of Ancient India: the need for a new vision

20 November 2009 from 16:00 to 16:00 hrs
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17th Gonda Lecture by Gérard Fussman, Professor of History of India and Greater India at the Collège de France, Paris.


The writing of history, even very ancient history, is always linked to contemporary politics, if only because the territorial limits chosen by the historian or his publisher are too often those of a contemporary State. Titles such as The Paleolithic Age in Belgium or in Turkmenistan should therefore not come as a surprise. The territorial limits chosen by the authors of the most recent histories of Ancient India are largely those defined in The Cambridge History of India, the first volume of which was written before 1914. In other words, they are the boundaries of British India at that time, Burma (which has since gained independence) being excluded. Is it still possible to equate Ancient India with the territories of today's Bangladesh, Pakistan and the Republic of India? Would it not be better to extend those limits to countries such as Cambodia, which in 6 AD was no less Indian than Bengal or Orissa, or should we simply be content with histories of Panjab, Magadha/Bihar, Tamilnad, etc. - in other words of the few Indian countries about which we can say something certain?
The answer lies in part in the data available. There has been an enormous increase in data in the past fifty years, and our understanding of that data has also changed dramatically. New texts and inscriptions have been discovered, and documents unearthed long ago have been reinterpreted. Archaeological discoveries both within and outside the borders of British India have shed new light on earlier finds and interpretations. The social sciences and political ideas have evolved, and so has our conception of history.
Professor Fussman will address questions such as these in a lecture in which he describes what a history of Ancient India should be, from Harappan times to the arrival of the first Muslim armies.

About Gérard Fussman

Gérard Fussman (1940) studied in Paris (Classics, Sanskrit, Greek epigraphy and numismatics, linguistics) and was a member of the French Archaeological Mission in Afghanistan, working under the supervision of Prof. Daniel Schlumberger (1962-65). After a two-year stay in Cambodia, he joined the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, received a Ph.D. in linguistics in 1972, and was appointed Professor of Sanskrit at Strasbourg the same year. In 1984, he became Professor of History of India and Greater India at the Collège de France, Paris. He has travelled extensively in Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Northern India, mainly as part of his field research.
Professor Fussman prefers writing long reviews and specialized papers on topics ranging from the Central Asiatic Bronze Age to contemporary India. He has also felt compelled to publish a number of books, however, including Le trésor monétaire de Qunduz (1965, with co-author Raoul Curiel), Atlas linguistique des parlers dardes et kafirs (1972), Naissance et déclin d'une qasba: Chanderi du Xe au XVIIIe siècle (2003, with co-authors Denis Matringe, Eric Ollivier and Françoise Pirot), Aryas, aryens et Iraniens en Asie Centrale (2005, with co-authors Jean Kellens, Henri-Paul Francfort and Xavier Tremblay), and Monuments bouddhiques de la région de Caboul (2008, in collaboration with Eric Ollivier and Baba Murad). He is currently preparing the full publication or re-publication of every Buddhist monastery and Indian inscription excavated in Termez, Uzbekistan (with co-author Shakir Pidaev).