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How To Study History for UPSC

History, undoubtedly, remains one of the 'most popular' optional subjects among those who take the Civil Services Main Examination.

If you are not intimidated by a big syllabus, this subject has a number of advantages: it is easier to grasp, plenty of study material, history covers an important segment of General Studies paper.

A judicious mix of 'hard work' and 'right strategy' can see you through if you take history as an optional paper.

The History paper in the Main Exam stresses on concepts behind the facts of historical happenings.

We have listed below is the 'right strategy' for each section of the history paper for the mains exam.

How to prepare Ancient Indian history for UPSC

There is greater emphasis on sources of early Indian history. This has gained currency in the new syllabus. So make notes on the sources that are available to record ancient Indian history. Among various source the archaeological source is the most important source to study of ancient India. It covers from the prehistoric times to the Iron Age and you have to keep track of latest findings of this source.

In the revised syllabus, the politico-administrative history from pre-Mauryan period - rise of Mahajanapadas, to post-Gupta period-beginning of feudalism and centrifugal trends, has been given more significance. So prepare this section with great importance.

Your strategy should be to start from the Indus civilisation and trace the evolution up to the post-Gupta period.

The other area of emphasis should be major Philosophical thinkers and schools in ancient India. Here you must make notes on Brahmanical, Buddhist and Jain philosophical schools.

In science and mathematics segment of ancient India, you must have notes on the contribution of the Indus valley civilization to ancient Indian scientist like Patanjali and Aryabhatta besides other.

How to read Medieval Indian History for UPSC

You may categorise medieval Indian history into five subsections to make things simpler:

  1. Give greater emphasis on contemporary historians and sources of the medieval Indian history. Prepare short answers on them
  2. You must study the Delhi sultanate in totality.
  3. Similarly prepare the entire Mughal rule holistically, but give special emphasis on the age of Akbar.
  4. In medieval India section prepare all the provincial dynasties but give special emphasis on the Cholas, the Vijayanagar and the Marathas. This is the most important section from the examination point of view
  5. Other Important topics are: Society during medieval times; Bhakti movement: Sankaracharya, Ramanuja, Chaitanya, Kabir, Bhakti movement in South India, Lingayats, Maharashtra Dharma; Sufi-movement; architecture from early Sultanate to the Lodis etc. You must have a comparative and evolutionary approach while preparing this section.

How to cover Modern Indian History for UPSC

Majority of the questions comes from Modern Indian history. It will be advisable to prepare the themes chronological and unit-wise.

a) British conquests and Indian reactions:

  1. The syllabus mentions Mysore, Punjab, the Marathas and their resistance against the colonial power. You must study the native states resistance to the British conquest
  2. Next you may prepare the political, social and economic circumstances leading to the 1857 revolt. Besides prepare notes on other uprisings, such as tribal, civil and peasants' revolt.

b) British economic policy:

An important aspect of British colonisation was economic exploitation of India and its ruinous impact on the Indian society. In this regard pro-nationalistic and leftist ideological viewpoints must be taken into account while preparing the notes for this segment.

c) Socio-cultural aspects:

i) It includes sub-topics like Indian Renaissance, Christian missionary activities, evolution of educational and social policies and its role in rise of nationalism in India. ii) Other sub-topics are on literary personalities; like Tagore, Premchand, S Bharati and others; film and theatre are important topics. The emphasis is to trace the cultural evolution of modern India. You have to prepare your notes from such perspective.

d) Freedom struggle:

This section also accounts for 90-100 marks in Main General Studies paper too. So a thorough and in-depth study of history of Indian nationalism from 1885 i.e. foundation of Indian national Congress to 1947 and Partition and freedom of India is a must for preparation. Sub-divide the particular unit into following section: i) 1885 to 1916, which includes early Indian nationalism ii) 'Home Rule' movement; 1916 to 1945, which is the 'Gandhian era'. You can start form 'Champaran experiment' to 'Quit India movement'. iii) The Gandhian thought and methods of mass mobilisation should be given special emphasis; iv) 1945 to 1947 - a chronological study of this portion will be the right approach. Analyse how and why Indian nationalism, at the end yielded a paradoxical result, which is partition and freedom together; v) other strands of national movement, which ran parallel to the Congress movement; rise and growth of the revolutionary terrorism; Swarajist movement; social and communist movements; Indian National Army - role of Subhash Chandra Bose and rise and growth of communalism too must be prepared.

e) Independence to 1964:

This unit includes the Nehruvian era and development of an independent Indian polity; Constitution, planned economy and foreign policy are the topics for in-depth preparation.

Preparation Strategy for World History for IAS exam

  1. In this segment you can start with Renaissance, enlightenment and socialist ideas. Similarly, study all the major revolutions that shaped the modern world history. Moreover, the two World Wars have to be studied comprehensively. Few inferences can be drawn from this syllabus;
    1. Going through the syllabus, it be said one can safely conclude that mastering the European history can fetch more marks.
    2. The second half of this section world history deals with more contemporary events and it is relevant to General Studies' paper too as this section covers important portions of it.
    3. Factual study of individual event is not sufficient for preparation as there is emphasis towards conceptualisation of events than generalisation.
  2. You are required to have detailed and in-depth understanding of the post-World War II developments, such as the 'Cold War' and division of world into two military blocs, NATO and Warsaw pact; emergence of the 'Third World' and their decision to remain nonaligned; United Nations; decolonisation and factors constraining development of the newly-independent Latin American and African countries.
  3. At the same time you should study the circumstances leading to the end of the 'Cold War' and the US ascendancy in the world, as well as the disintegration of Soviet Union, fall of Berlin wall and the US and the UN victory in the Gulf war.
  4. Another important strand of contemporary history is process of integration of nations across the globe, which is 'Globalisation'. Continent-wise, development in this regard has to be studied. European Union has achieved some success in this regard but "Britexit" has dampened such hopes.

A good book on international politics or contemporary history will suffice to prepare this portion.

How to Prepare for History for UPSC

Important topics of Ancient Indian history for UPSC

1. Indus Valley civilization

- Society, Religion
- Important Harappan towns & artifacts excavated
- Extension
- Town Planning
- Economical Importance
- Political Life
- Causes of decline
Related topics: Indus Valley civilization

2. Aryan Civilization:

- Origin
- Vedic literature
- Religion
- Society
- Polity
- Economic Condition
- Difference between Indus and Aryan

3. Religions movements:

- About Mahavira & teachings
- councils
- Important books causes for decline
- Buddha teachings
- Councils
- Important books
- Causes for decline

4. The Mauryan Empire

- About Ashoka in detail
- Article and Architecture
- Administration
- Society

5. Central Asian contacts and their results.

- Indo- Greek
- The Shakas
- The pacthians Article and Architecture
- The Kushans - Kanishka in detail

6. South Indian History

- Sangam Age
- Satavahanas
- Chola's
- Pallavas art and architecture

7. Gupta Empire

- Administration
- Article and Architecture
- Social development

8. Post-Gupta period

- Harsha in detail
- Fendal System

Important topics of Medieval Indian History for UPSC

1. Turkish Invasion

- In detail

2. Delhi Sultnate

- Rulers and their contribution
- Aibek, Iltumish, Balban, Aluddin Khilji, Mohamad bin Tughlug, Feroz Tughlug, Sikandu lodi, Ibrahim Lodi in detail
- Administration (Important terms)
- Art and Architecture

3. Vijayanagar Empire

- Krishna Devaraya in detail
- Important temples and books

4. Mughals

- Babar's wars
- Akbar in detail
- Jehangir, Shahjahan, Aurangazeb in detail
- Administration
- Society
- Causes for decline
- Important books (authors)
- Art and Architecture

Important topics of Modern Indian History for UPSC

1. Marathas

- Shivaji in detail
- Administration
- Peshwas and their administration

2. European powers

- Chronologoical order of European powers in India
- East India Company
- Important Governor General and their contribution
Warsen Hastings, Coronwallis, wellesely, William Bentinck, Dalhousie, Lytton, Rippon, Curzon, Mount Patten.
- British rule impact on India
- Social and cultural developments/Awakening

3. Reform movements

- In detail
- Founders and their contribution
- Books

4. 1857 Revolt

- In detail

5. Freedom Struggle

- Formation of INC.
- Moderates and Extremist
- Partition Role of Bengal/Surat Split
- Muslim league
- Lucknow pact
- Minto Morley/Montagu Chelmsford

6. Gandhian Era

- His experiments
- Non Cooperation Movement
- Civil dis-obedience movement
- Gandhi - Irwin Pact
- August Offer
- Quit India Movement
- Cripps mission
- Cabinet Committee
- Partition

7. Indian National COngress

- INC meetings and its resolutions
- President, place

8. Extremist

- Terrorist activites
- Bengal
- Maharastra
- Some other places

9. Subash Chandra Bose

- INA formation in detail