Education About Asia: Online Archives

BREAKING FREE: Reflections on Stereotypes in South Asian History

Download PDF

For many students, regardless of age or educational background, the study of South Asian history seems a daunting task given the complex and often unfamiliar nature of the subjects under investigation. Of course, exotic and stereotypic images of snake charmers and mystics
abound. It is often tempting to rely on mnemonically convenient formulae (caste defined and held as a constant, a given, over millennia) as the basis for instruction to reduce this material to manageable proportions. Although cultural “sound bites” may be easier for the secondary school student to digest when time constraints are great and the area of study is so disconcertingly new, the risks far outweigh the benefits. The best intentions of the history classroom are undone as historical time is compressed and dynamic modes of human interaction are reduced to a flat, two-dimensional plane. Threats against Muslims and Muslim-owned property in the aftermath of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon have made crystal clear the importance of teaching the dangers of cultural stereotyping.