MacArthur genius award winner Sunil Amrith says history is more important now than ever before

Historians in the News
tags: Sunil Amrith

Sunil Amrith, professor of South Asian Studies and Professor of History at Harvard University, is one of the 24 recipients of the most prestigious MacArthur Genius Grant that was announced recently.

In the second part of an interview to's Archana Masih, the 38-year-old historian emphasises why history is more important now than ever before. ...

Do you feel history is becoming more and confined within the boundaries of countries to the detriment of shared histories between regions, cultures and peoples that go beyond the borders of state and country?

I do and I am less optimistic now than I was a few years ago about the possibility of bringing these shared histories to a wider public. But if there is an optimism that comes from studying the past, it is a sense that 'this too shall pass'...

I can only hope that is true of the rising tide of intolerance, violence, and authoritarianism that we are witnessing around the world.

If a young student were to ask you why s/he should opt to study History, what would your response be?

First and foremost because it is exciting.

Studying History, we come close to all of the messiness of human life -- we understand what motivates people, what makes them get along or go to war, what dreams they had for themselves and their futures.

It confronts us with the biggest question: What is universal and shared between human beings across time and space, and what is specific to particular societies or cultures or epochs?

History also teaches skills that I think are more important than ever in this age of information overload: How to sift different accounts of an event to come up with a complex picture (how to identify historical equivalents of 'fake news'!); how to work with lots of different kinds of evidence, from manuscripts to statistics; how to tell stories in a way that is compelling but true. ...

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