A window to the past: history buffs find solace on social media
Stroll the alleys of Purani Dilli, witness the lavish life of Bengal Zamindars, or listen to India’s independence clocks as Nehru delivers his Tryst with Destiny speech, all virtually. The pandemic may have forced people to stay confined to their homes, but the internet allows internet users to take an immersive look into the past. Amid intermittent blockages and travel restrictions, history and heritage are experiencing their moment of rebirth as various social media pages have recently found new takers.
From sharing photos and rare facts to making short videos summarizing entire historical episodes, there are many history and heritage pages and groups that have captured the attention of internet users in recent months. Unzip Delhi, an Instagram page dedicated to documenting the stories of Old Delhi, claims to have seen a 40% growth in subscribers during the pandemic. Anas Khan, a 26-year-old anthropologist, who runs this page with 62.8,000 subscribers, shares: “I grew up hearing stories about this city from my grandparents. But in the age of technology, where such beautiful traditions are quickly fading away, I try to use that boost to keep them alive. I started the page before the pandemic, but I was not consistent. The lockdown made me take my blog a lot more seriously, and the huge response encouraged me to keep going. The visual blog now shares several articles and clips on a daily basis.
Khan’s page isn’t the only online history repository to have seen success amid the pandemic. Ghare Baire, a museum exhibition commissioned by the Ministry of Culture and organized by DAG, in collaboration with the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA), at the Old Currency Building in Kolkata, made extensive use of the online medium. “When we launched Ghare Baire in March 2020, the online space was meant to be just an extension of our operation. However, the start of the first lockdown just three weeks later made us rethink and develop. Containment has given us a lot more room to explore the digital space, ”shares Sumona Chakravarty, deputy director of Ghare Baire. The extensive curation, which captures the evolution of Bengal art, was quickly made available to their 7,112 followers and counts through their #museumfromhome experience with regular posts on DAG’s Instagram account.
Deciphering the reason for the increased public interest in a subject often referred to as “boring,” Chakravarty believes, “There has been a gradual increase in people’s desire to know more about their own history. But above all, these spaces were intimidating and less accessible. However, the way we publish online, the language and the presentation have been easier for the masses to digest. Plus, during the lockdown, a lot of people just wanted to learn something new, expand their horizons. ”
Arguing that the lockdown is the catalyst for this new enthusiasm for the discipline, Khan adds, “I think everyone was lost at that point and they chose social media as their only respite. Stories are like a beacon of hope and history teaches us that nothing is permanent.
Since most of these pages feature short captions and vintage aesthetic appeal, followers are happy that the topic, until now limited to school and college courses, is more interesting now. “I come from a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) background and I cannot claim to be very steeped in history. But I regularly attend Clubhouse rooms which have exciting discussions, ”says Rishabh Shaw, a 30-year-old software engineer from Agra, Uttar Pradesh. Topics for these talks range from lesser-known episodes of India’s freedom struggle to the influence of French and Portuguese settlers in various parts of India, Shaw shares.
For many, shutting down the company amid Covid-19 has become a time to explore the events of the past. Aarati Satish, a 23-year-old media professional based in Kerala, says: “The stunning artwork, rare photos of events and artifacts instantly draw me to these publications and relive the days. It gives me a better understanding of society, in a way, as the pandemic hasn’t given people my age much time or opportunities to experience it for ourselves. It gives a distant sense of normalcy and hope. ”
But while social media provides a space for conversations about history, it’s also essential to prevent them from spreading misinformation and prejudice. Mr Rajivlochan, professor in the Department of History at the University of Punjab, Chandigarh, who is the administrator of a Facebook page called IndiaHistory, shares: “On our page, we take great care to be factual correct and not pursue any sectarian agenda. The reliability of information, the use of primary sources to seek information, are basic principles with which we work. Rajivlochan’s page is not only aimed at history buffs with rare pieces of verified facts, but is also a reliable resource for professional historians and students doing their doctorate in history. After an increase in subscribers during the lockdown, the page is currently reporting over 3,57,000 likes and huge reach.
If the field mainly has experts, young people are not depriving themselves of them either. Apoorva Raj, an 18-year-old student from Patna, Bihar, has been channeling her passion for the subject through her Instagram story page titled The Wonders of Hindustan, since December 2019 to give the 12th council exams due to the pandemic. I started this page because of my love and passion for history, but the extra time I got for a whole year with less schoolwork helped me spread more information ”, she shares. With a follower count of 2.6k, Raj reveals that interactions on his page have doubled since the pandemic.
As the world warms to the virtual lifestyle, where does the future lie for these pages? “I see people accepting and preferring virtual support more openly now. Earlier this year, I hosted a virtual session on Delhi’s rendezvous with Sufism, accompanied by a virtual tour through important Sufi pedestals. I hope to do more, ”adds Khan.