Sources on the History of Education in India: A Zotero Group Library

The joint research project Rethinking Histories of Education was a sub-project of the Transnational Research Group Poverty and Education (2013-2017), funded by the Max Weber Stiftung. It was led by a team of Principal Investigators based at the JNU Delhi (Prof. Geetha Nambissan, Prof. Neeladri Bhattacharya), King’s College, London (Dr. Jahnavi Phalkey), Rutgers University (Prof. Sarada Balagopalan), and CeMIS, Göttingen (Prof. Ravi Ahuja, Dr. Jana Tschurenev). The building of the project library on the Zotero platform as Sources on the History of Education in India was coordinated by Jana Tschurenev (Georg August Universität Göttingen). The library contains a collection of core primary sources on the history of education in India in the 19th and 20th centuries, with a special focus on the history of mass education, vocational and industrial education, and efforts to democratise access to quality education. The library aims to facilitate research on the historical struggles over ‘Education for All’ in late colonial and early independent India.


In recent years, the multiplication of digitisation initiatives has led to significant changes in the conditions for historical and social science research. The availability of digitised sources opens new possibilities for the digital humanities. Moreover, the improved accessibility of source material can facilitate social history research, particularly when combined with new research questions and perspectives. For researchers, it is a major challenge to locate relevant digitised materials. The library presents such materials for the research field on the history of mass education in India in a structured way.

During the data collection for the joint project Rethinking Histories of Education, the researchers located a wide range of relevant materials which are already provided in an open-access electronic form. The Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics (GIPE) in Pune contained the single most important collection for the purposes of the project. Other relevant archives included are the Internet Archive, and the Yale Digital Library. The project also collaborated with the GIPE to promote the digitization from the archival collection of the Dhananjayrao Gadgil Library.

The group library is not an exhaustive collection. Its aim is to guide users to different types of materials which the group identified as relevant for research on efforts to universalise education in India. Some regions (Maharashtra, Bengal) are over-represented, others, such as Uttar Pradesh, are under-represented. While some records written in Hindi were included, the overwhelming majority are government records and records of formal non-state organisations and institutions written in English. This allows for mapping the broad and contested field of mass education. To write nuanced cultural and social histories of education, however, local, and vernacular archives are still of major importance. Such issues of research orientation and source availability are discussed in a set of online essays, which are in preparation and will be published on the platform


The Zotero library is structured according to systematic, temporal and regional categories.

  1. Most of the files are official government records. This includes periodical reports issued by the educational authorities and documentation of the workings of educational commissions. Government records contain materials for the colonial period (differentiated into British India and Princely States) and independent India. Within this temporal structure, they are geographically sorted.
  2. Another important category of sources are reports and in-house publications of non-state bodies active in educational reform. Voluntary associations were major actors of educational lobbying, policymaking, and reform. They were also active in the provision of educational institutions. The group distinguish between several categories of secular voluntary associations: (a) education societies, (b) social reform bodies, including the social service movement, (c) and women’s organisations. The following were also counted: (d) the Arya Samaj, an important religious reform association, among the non-state reform bodies. The collection, finally (e), includes records of social and educational reform societies in Britain, which had an impact on the development of education policy, or pedagogical culture in colonial India, such as the British and Foreign School Society, or the National Indian Association.
  3. Missionary records are a valuable source in the history of education in India. However, they were not a major focus of this project. The collection includes some selected books and periodicals which directly focus on Indian education. However, general missionary periodicals, many of which have been digitized by now, have not been included. This category includes for instance the influential Missionary Register (1813), and other periodical materials issued by the Church Missionary Society, which can be found on A note on this has been added to guide users to these other sources.
  4. International Organisations: An interesting source on vocational, industrial, and technical education, but also on Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) are the monthly reports issued by the Indian Branch of the International Labour Office (ILO). The UNESCO became involved in the dissemination on knowledge on poverty and education in India, too.
  5. Another approach to writing histories of education is to look at the records of individual educational institutions. As a well-documented example, the collection included the records of Pandita Ramabai’s Sharada Sadan (established first in Bombay, then moved to Poona), and its successor, the Mukti Mission in Kedgaon, in the vicinity of Poona. Other institutions, such as the Hindu Widows’ Home in Higne (today part of Pune), developed competing approaches to teaching upper-caste widows. This is another angle to explore issues of poverty, inequality, and vocational and professional training opportunities.
  6. Reports and discussions on experiments connected with the New Education movement offer insights into developments in the field of pedagogy, but also on the social history of elementary education. This includes the reports on the Wardha Scheme, on Rabindranath Tagore’s Shantiniketan, and on lesser known experiments in rural education/tribal education.
  7. There are different categories of individual writings, such as contributions to public debate on education, and analysis of historical and recent developments, including studies on Muslim education, or on the history medical and nursing education for women. Memoirs and biographical materials on individual educational reformers are included here.
  8. Under the supervision of Neeladri Bhattacharya, Paulami Guha-Biswas collected and collated sources from different provincial archives and libraries in India and prepared a volume on the selection of records on Researching Mass Education in India. Part I of the volume is an index of the official proceedings of the education department of different provinces. In Part II, there is a suggestive list of official reports. In Part III, some journals, tracts, and books in Indian languages have been listed. Part IV is a selection of extracts from the original proceedings.


A note on the classification of materials: a ‘book’ is defined for the purposes of this project as a publication which is issued from an (external) publishing house, while we defined as a ‘report’ any in-house publication from a formal organisation. Unpublished archival materials are classified as ‘document’. An ‘author’ can be a person, or an institution. If no author is mentioned on the title page, or on the back of the title page, no entry for ‘author’ was made.


The materials are tagged according to systematic and geographical criteria. The following list illustrates the logic of tagging system, without being complete:

  • Actors and Institutions: Government Records, Civil Society, Missionaries, International Organisations; Women’s Organisations.
  • Geographies: The tags refer to the major geographical-administrative unit which the material relates to, at the time of publication. Examples include: Bombay Presidency; Bombay Province; Bengal Presidency; North-Western Provinces; Madras Presidency; Tamil Nadu. Materials with pan-Indian relevance are tagged as “All-India”.
  • Thematic Fields: Labour; Caste; Women’s Education; Muslim Education; Dalit Education; Education of the Poor; Nursing and Midwifery; Compulsory Primary Education.
  • Types of Education: Primary Education; Early Childhood Care and Education; Adult Education; Vocational Education; Industrial Education; Professional Education.
  • Pedagogies: This refers to particular pedagogical technologies or orientations mentioned in the material, such as Infant System; Wardha Scheme; Montessori Method; New Education.

Contribution and Acknowledgement

The project would like to acknowledge the work done by research associates Dr. Bhaswati Bhattacharya, and Shweta Shetty and research assistants Maria-Daniela Pomohaci, Arpine Papikyan and Deepasri Baul. Special thanks are due to the GIPE, particularly Librarian Dr. Nanaji Shewale for their crucial assistance and cooperation. The project members are also grateful for the technical and conceptual advice from Fabian Cremer (MWS, Bonn), and the administrative support from the MWS’s IBO Delhi (now MWF Delhi), particularly Rohan Seth.

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