The History of Genealogy, the Genealogy of History: The Family and the Narrative Construction of the Past in Early South Asia

Lead Research Organisation: Cardiff University
Department Name: Religious and Theological Studies


Pre-modern South Asia has consistently but erroneously been presented as a land without 'history'. The Genealogy and History project will explore how, in South Asia, 'family history' or 'genealogical narrative', has been an enduring resource for the formation and transformation of understandings of the past. Our key research question is: What is the role of genealogical narrative in early South Asia?

The project, the first comparative study of this kind, will suggest that genealogical narrative, developed across various texts and genres, both reflected and enabled the development of new social, political and religious concepts and institutions in early South Asia.

Family history has been used / and is still used - as something of a speculative laboratory in which all sorts of idea of how one might, could or should live (and much else besides) have been debated. This has mainly been achieved by showing the consequences of a given course of action for a given family (by and large, of kings or Brahmins / a significant religious elite in South Asia).

Understanding of how and in what ways people use narrative to construct forms of religious and social identity is one of the most important ways in which arts and humanities research can contribute to a global society seeking to regulate itself in a context of multiple, and often conflicting, understandings of the past. How do ideas of the past take shape? What influences choices with regard to what is remembered collectively and what is not?

This project will take up these issues and will explore both the forms and functions of family histories in Sanskrit literary and inscriptional sources. By doing so, the project will not only shed light on the cultural history of early South Asia, but will also explore the ways in which human social groups originate, maintain and transform their understandings of the significant past more generally.


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Description Approaching the Past the South Asian Way: Family and History in Sanskrit Literature 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact A public lecture delivered on 23 November 2009, in the Council Chamber of the Glamorgan Building, Cardiff University
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2009