Posted on 27-06-2010
Filed Under (YOUTH) by Shombit

The Indian EXPRESS/ The Financial EXPRESS article

Nobody seems to appreciate history as a valuable asset in India. Working for a for-profit educational institution, I’d recently interacted with primary to high school children and their teachers, and to my horror discovered that history was the “boringest of all subjects.” Children consider it monotonous and teachers say they are exasperated as students do not connect to past events.

What is the study of the human past? The Greeks call it historia meaning inquiry or knowledge acquired by investigation, in Latin its ēvidēns, in Italian vista, in English wisdom. The West follows a strict grid for documentation that has become the monument of history. In my experience at seminars, workshops or forums in the West, to make any point about the present and future, there has to be a connect with history to establish the benchmark. Only then do people connect to the future.

In India, history has been relegated to the neglected, forgotten past, as though it’s devoid of value in education or professional areas. Even senior management seems uncomfortable when I include it in my coaching sessions, suspecting it may be “non-actionable.” If I show black & white pictures as authentic historical testimony, they ask for color pictures to “make it exciting.” It’s difficult to explain that being true to history, when only black & white gravure existed as in this case, is important.

We need disciplined documentation to ensure the wheel is not re-invented. Has India mined and stored our rich ancient heritage of habits and practices from different centuries as a repertoire for anyone to dip into? The West follows a strict grid for documentation. People still play Handel’s 17th century or Mozart’s 18th century music compositions using modern instruments, sound and interpretation as the written notation is unchallenged in posterity. In Indian music’s guru-shisya tradition the finer points or melody may get altered or fade out with multiple non-grid interpretation, depending on how the disciple captures it.

Historical data, facts and figures in human or natural evolution, socio-cultural, technical or entertainment areas define how society’s emulsion in every epoch generates incredible invention. I’ve heard stories here of people thinking they’ve invented, but when the patent or IP recognition was refused, discovering that invention had happened earlier. Aside from preventing waste of time and energy, searching a subject in the global field can be very inspiring. Let’s look at a few examples of how and why certain inventions took place and became a part of our daily lives.

The early, mid-1860s history of The Nestlé Company was Henri Nestlé’s search for a healthy, economical alternative to breastfeeding for mothers who could not feed their infants at the breast. This trained Swiss pharmacist’s first customer was a premature infant whom physicians had given up for lost as he could not tolerate his mother’s milk or conventional substitutes. After Nestlé’s new formula saved the child’s life, people quickly recognized the new product’s value. Nestle’s ultimate goal was to help combat the problem of infant mortality due to malnutrition. Their focus today is on responsible nutrition and promoting health and wellness.

As a youngster Louis Pasteur showed no special ability, but in high school became interested in science. He had five children, three of whom died of typhoid fever. This was a cause that motivated him to develop the germ theory of disease to save people from diseases. Eventually Pasteur solved scientific mysteries such as generation of ailments like rabies, anthrax and chicken cholera, and contributed to the world’s first and most significant vaccines. He died a national hero in 1895, and his remains are in the Pasteur Institute, Paris.

“Research fuels technology and superior technology leads to superior performance,” is the philosophy of Amar Bose, founder of Bose speakers. As an MIT graduate student in 1956, Bose bought a high end stereo system but was disappointed when it failed to meet his expectations. He later began extensive research to fix the fundamental weakness plaguing high-end audio systems. Today, the Bose brand that stands for “Better Sound through Research” has become the most respected name in sound, from the Olympic Games to the Sistine Chapel, from NASA space shuttles to the Japan National Theatre.

The Internet was designed 1973, and up and running by 1983. Developed by Vinton Cerf and others, this international network of computers delivers information "packets" such as e-mail from one "address" to another. Tim Berners-Lee became a part of the Internet’s complex history of innovation by inventing the World Wide Web in 1989-91. With mathematicians as parents who worked on the first commercial computer, Berners-Lee used the Internet to provide universal access to a comprehensive collection of information in word, sound and image, each discretely identified by UDIs (universal document identifier, also known as URLs) and interconnected by hypertext links. Berners-Lee made it really easy for people with Internet access to contribute and collect information when he gave specifications for HyperText Markup Language (HTML, the code in which websites are written), HyperText Transfer Protocol (HTTP, the code by which sites are moved in and out of the web) and URLs. He continues to promote the web as an open, accessible, interactive and universal community, and his book Weaving the Web is about his creation’s past, present and future vision.

American Caucasian history is recent compared to Europe, but they have meticulously preserved it to cultivate the US cultural aspect. Take the film industry. Aside from the entertainment value of cinema and television, you can experience how films are made at the entertainment park of Universal Studios in Hollywood. The real atmosphere is re-created here, from cinematography to acting and editing. You can enjoy how different scenes of the film Psycho were shot, and feel that you are directing the film along with Alfred Hitchcock. This is an outstanding way of bringing back a sense of history by making people experience it.

I’d love to hear from you, dear reader, about how we in India can bring living substance into history, and drive the grid of knowledge to help future generations benefit from history to invite India to invention.

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