Periodisation of History

Learning Goals:

  • Classification of Periods
  • British Historians
  • Medieval Vs Modern

For historians, time does not have a relation with clock or calendar only. In other words, it is not just the passing of hours, days or years. It also reflects:

  • The changes in the social and economic organizations.
  • The persistence and transformation of ideas and beliefs.

The study of time is made simpler by dividing the past into large segments called periods. These large segments of time shared some common characteristics.

Period classification by the British

The British historians in the mid-nineteenth century divided India's history into three periods, namely Hindu, Muslim, and British. The premise of dividing it this way was that the religion of rulers was the only important historical change, and there was no change in the social, economic and cultural aspects. Such classification also ignored the rich diversity of the subcontinent.

Classification based on social and economic factors

Few historians follow the classification based on religion of ruler mentioned above. They consider the major developments in the economic and social front for the purpose of periodisation. The histories you studied last year included a wide range of early societies i.e. it included people as primitive as hunters-gatherers and early farmers, and also people who were more developed like those living in the cities and towns as well as early empires and kingdoms. The history you will be studying this year is often described as medieval which is between the ancient and the modern. This period has witnessed the following:

  • spread of peasant societies
  • the rise of regional and imperial state formations
  • the development of Hinduism and Islam as major religions
  • the arrival of European trading companies.

Wide spectrum of the medieval period

There were dramatic changes in this period. This is quite expected because the scenario in the eighth or eleventh century will definitely be very different from those of the sixteenth or eighteenth century. Therefore, describing the entire period as one historical unit does not give a clear picture of the period. Moreover often the medieval period is contrasted with the modern period. The term modernity refers to material and intellectual progress. But this does not mean that the medieval period lacked in advancement or was quite static without any changes. It was definitely a dynamic period having a lot of advancement and transformation.

The economies and the societies underwent a lot of progress and development during these thousand years. Many regions also reached a level of prosperity to the extent that it attracted the interest of European trading companies.


  • Period: The large segments into which the past is divided based on shared characteristics.
  • Ulama: Learned theologians and jurists.
  • Pan regional: Spanning diverse regions.
  • Patron: An influential, wealthy individual who supports another person. Another person may be an artist, craftsperson, learned man or a noble.
  • Cartographer: A person who makes maps.
  • Archive: A place where documents and manuscript are stored. All old official records and transactions are kept by the national and state governments in archives today.
  • Habitat: This refers to the environment of a region and the residents' social and economic lifestyle.
Do You Know?
  • If enough paper was not available with a scholar for copying a book in the mid-thirteenth century, he used to wash off manuscript that he did not need, dried the paper and used it.
  • Miniature paintings (small paintings) were sometimes used to illustrate the texts of manuscripts. They were so beautiful that often the later collectors took the manuscripts apart and sold just the miniatures.
  • Reading Persian and Arabic was difficult due to different kinds of handwriting. The nastaliq style is cursive and easy to read whereas the shikaste style is denser and more difficult.

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