The Undivided Past: history beyond our differences, By David Cannadine

David Cannadine, a leading historian makes a spirited case for harmony against the myths of identity politics according to the writer of this book review published in The Independent. the historian Sir David Cannadine seeks an understanding of the past that finds its focus in our age-old conversations and collaborations, rather than in conflict. Emperor Akbar, who pursued his vision of a common humanity just as much of Europe tore itself to shreds in fanatical wars of religion, has a brief cameo in this account by the author. Some 25 miles to the West of the Taj Mahal lies the rose-red hill-top ghost town of Fatehpur Sikri, the royal capital custom-built by the Emperor Akbar, occupied for 14 short years in the late 16th century and then, mysteriously, abandoned. Here, Akbar pursued his dreams of eclectic learning and enlightenment, and here he summoned scholars and clerics from all faiths – his own Islam, but also Hindu gurus, Catholic priests, Zoroastrians, Jains, Jews and Buddhists – to determine via debate not what divided them but what they shared. Cannadine offers a spirited, if relentless, challenge to the “us and them” mentality and the “allegedly impermeable divides” it finds between people of different communities and backgrounds. He takes his cue from the strident “clash of civilisations” rhetoric of the post-9/11 years, and extends his critique of “binary divisions” to cover oppositions and antipathies rooted in ideas of faith, nation, race, class, gender, and in “civilisation” itself. He argues against the notion that the key to history is some “all-pervasive polarity”, be it Christians vs Muslims, bourgeois vs proletarians, men vs women, the West vs the Rest. None will open history’s lock and reveal its innermost secrets, rather it is in and through unity and our similarities that the mysteries will be revealed.