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Study of history is declining in Nepal

IN THE EIGHTH AND NINTH GRADES, Sajan Duwal was fascinated by history, especially the Rana era that shaped modern Nepal and World War II that shaped the world.

On Friday as he waited outside the office of the controller of examinations at Bhaktapur for his school leaving certificate results, he was thinking about leaving history behind and pursuing business studies in Plus Two.

"Because a degree in history will get me nowhere," Duwal said.

He is not alone in thinking that. The number of students studying history in the intermediate and higher levels has been on a steady decline for the past few years.

Some believe the reason lies in history being a non-lucrative degree. Others suggest that it is the non-reflective nature of the history departments in academia.

Some historians are worried that this dearth of |academic historians will hurt critical historiography on Nepal.

Others do not find it as disconcerting, as historical works continue to be produced from beyond history departments.

According to the Higher Secondary Education Board (HSEB), only 270 Grade XI students, out of a total of 263,491 students, appeared for history exams last year. Three years ago, the number was almost four-fold.

According to the State of History Education and Research in Nepal published by Martin Chautari in early 2014, 17 students were enrolled in MA in History in the first year at Tribhuvan University. A year before the number was 92.

The number of PhD dissertations in history submitted to the university has also remained comparatively low. In its 44 years, the TU Central Department of History has received only 63 PhD dissertations - less than two per year on an average.

Then, there are allegations that most of these theses are written by someone else for a small fee.

In the book, the head of the Central Department of History, Bijaya Kumar Manandhar, said that the declining number of history graduates and post-graduates was linked to the decreasing number of students in the higher secondary level.

The Plus Two system, he believes, does not promote history and other humanities and arts degrees as it does science and management.

HSEB member secretary Bhim Lal Gurung disagrees, saying that the board cannot thrust history on students.

"If the students and their parents do not see market prospects in history studies, the students will not enroll in the subject," Gurung said.

Some historians disagree with both of these arguments, and view the decline as an inevitable consequence of "decades of systemic assault on arts, humanities and social sciences".

The career prospects for graduates of arts, humanities and social sciences have always been dire, as the stated objective of education in the country has been to produce skilled human resources. The system, they say, has been discriminating between what it considers skilled and leisurely disciplines.

"But we've failed both in producing globally competitive technical manpower and in understanding ourselves and our country," said Ramesh Dhungel, a history researcher and professor at TU. "And when we fail to write our own history, outsiders will write it for us."

A few of the famous books written by foreigners include "Nepal: Strategy for Survival" by Leo E Rose, which was published in 1971, "Dangerous Wives and Sacred Sisters" by Lynn Bennet (1983), and "Fluid Boundaries: Forming and transforming identity in Nepal" by William F Fisher (2001).

Nepali writers from backgrounds other than history have also been publishing books on the country ’s history, especially on its contemporary political accounts. Examples are Manjushree Thapa's "Forget Kathmandu" (2005), Sudheer Sharma's "Prayogshala" (2013) and Prashant Jha's debut "Battles of the New Republic" (2014).

"This is fine, but we still need people who can define and critically analyse our history. Someone trained. Someone willing to study historical variables behind an event," Dhungel said.


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