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How to Prepare History as an Optional Subject for UPSC

Optional subjects play an important role in UPSC Civil Service Examination. One should give their best performance in the exam. With proper strategy and a well-managed study plan, candidates can score well in examinations. History is one of the optional subjects which is popular in the UPSC exam. History is popular for both Hindi and English medium students. Despite being a popular subject, History is not a high-scoring subject.

Here in the arting we will discuss the preparation strategy of history as an optional subject.

Syllabus of History optional paper

Syllabus of history is vast, therefore the subject needs consistency and hard work. History is not a subject where you can score high marks but by following a well managed timetable one can score well. First you need to understand the syllabus of history.

Syllabus of History Optional Paper- I

1. Sources

  • Archaeological sources :
  • Exploration, excavation, epigraphy, numismatics, monuments.
  • Literary sources:
  • Indigenous: Primary and secondary; poetry, scientific literature, literature, literature in regional languages, religious literature.
  • Foreign account: Greek, Chinese and Arab writers.

2. Pre‐history and Proto‐history

  • Geographical factors; hunting and gathering (paleolithic and mesolithic); Beginning of agriculture (neolithic and chalcolithic).

3. Indus Valley Civilization

  • Origin, date, extent, characteristics-decline, survival and significance, art and architecture.

4. Megalithic Cultures

  • Distribution of pastoral and farming cultures outside the Indus, Development of community life, Settlements, Development of agriculture, Crafts, Pottery, and Iron industry.

5. Aryans and Vedic Period

  • Expansions of Aryans in India : Vedic Period: Religious and philosophic literature; Transformation from Rig Vedic period to the later Vedic period; Political, social and economical life; Significance of the Vedic Age; Evolution of Monarchy and Varna system.

6. Period of Mahajanapadas

  • Formation of States (Mahajanapada): Republics and monarchies; Rise of urban centres; Trade routes; Economic growth; Introduction of coinage; Spread of Jainism and Buddhism; Rise of Magadha and Nandas.
  • Iranian and Mecedonian invasions and their impact.

7. Mauryan Empire

  • Foundation of the Mauryan Empire, Chandragupta, Kautilya and Arthashastra; Ashoka; Concept of Dharma; Edicts; Polity, Administration, Economy; Art, architecture and sculpture; External contacts; Religion; Spread of religion; Literature.
  • Disintegration of the empire; sungas and Kanvas.

8. Post‐Mauryan Period (Indo‐Greeks, Sakas, Kushanas, Western Kshatrapas)

  • Contact with the outside world; growth of urban centres, economy, coinage, development of religions, Mahayana, social conditions, art, architecture, culture, literature and science.

9. Early State and Society in Eastern India, Deccan and South India

  • Kharavela, The Satavahanas, Tamil States of the Sangam Age; Administration, Economy, land grants, coinage, trade guilds and urban centres; Buddhist centres; Sangam literature and culture; Art and architecture.

10. Guptas, Vakatakas and Vardhanas

  • Polity and administration, Economic conditions, Coinage of the Guptas, Land grants, Decline of urban centres, Indian feudalism, Caste system, Position of women, Education and educational institutions; Nalanda, Vikramshila and Vallabhi, Literature, scientific literature, art and architecture.

11. Regional States during Gupta Era

  • The Kadambas, Pallavas, Chalukyas of Badami; Polity and Administration, Trade guilds, Literature; growth of Vaishnava and Saiva religions. Tamil Bhakti movement, Shankaracharya;
  • Vedanta; Institutions of temple and temple architecture; Palas, Senas, Rashtrakutas, Paramaras, Polity and administration; Cultural aspects. Arab conquest of Sind; Alberuni, The Chaluky as of Kalyana, Cholas, Hoysalas, Pandyas; Polity and Administration; Local Government; Growth of art and architecture, religious sects, Institution of temple and Mathas, Agraharas, education and literature, economy and society.

12. Themes in Early Indian Cultural History

  • Languages and texts, major stages in the evolution of art and architecture, major philosophical thinkers and schools, ideas in Science and Mathematics.

13. Early Medieval India, 750‐1200

  • Polity: Major political developments in Northern India and the peninsula, origin and the rise of Rajputs.
  • The Cholas: administration, village economy and society “Indian Feudalism”.
  • Agrarian economy and urban settlements.
  • Trade and commerce.
  • Society: the status of the Brahman and the new social order.
  • Condition of women.
  • Indian science and technology.

14. Cultural Traditions in India, 750‐1200

  • Philosophy: Skankaracharya and Vedanta, Ramanuja and Vishishtadvaita, Madhva and Brahma-Mimansa.
  • Religion: Forms and features of religion, Tamil devotional cult, growth of Bhakti, Islam and its arrival in India, Sufism.
  • Literature: Literature in Sanskrit, growth of Tamil literature, literature in the newly developing languages, Kalhan’s Rajtarangini, Alberuni’s India.
  • Art and Architecture: Temple architecture, sculpture, painting.

15. The Thirteenth Century

  • Establishment of the Delhi Sultanate: The Ghorian invasions – factors behind Ghurian success.
  • Economic, Social and cultural consequences.
  • Foundation of Delhi Sultanate and early Turkish Sultans.
  • Consolidation: The rule of Iltutmish and Balban.

16. The Fourteenth Century

  • “The Khalji Revolution”.
  • Alauddin Khalji: Conquests and territorial expansion, agrarian and economic measures.
  • Muhammad Tughluq: Major projects, agrarian measures, bureaucracy of Muhammad Tughluq.
  • Firuz Tugluq: Agrarian measures, achievements in civil engineering and public works, decline of the Sultanate, foreign contacts and Ibn Battuta’s account.

17. Society, Culture and Economy in the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Centuries

  • Society: composition of rural society, ruling classes, town dwellers, women, religious classes, caste and slavery under the Sultanate, Bhakti movement, Sufi movement.
  • Culture: Persian literature, literature in the regional languages of North India, literature in the languages of South India, Sultanate architecture and new structural forms, painting,evolution of a composite culture.
  • Economy: Agricultural Production, rise of urban economy and non-agricultural production, trade and commerce.

18. The Fifteenth and Early Sixteenth Century‐Political Developments and Economy

  • Rise of Provincial Dynasties : Bengal, Kashmir (Zainul Abedin), Gujarat.
  • Malwa, Bahmanids.
  • The Vijayanagara Empire.
  • Lodis.
  • Mughal Empire, first phase : Babur, Humayun.
  • The Sur Empire : Sher Shah’s administration.
  • Portuguese colonial enterprise, Bhakti and Sufi Movements.

19. The Fifteenth and Early Sixteenth Century‐ Society and culture

  • Regional cultures specificities.
  • Literary traditions.
  • Provincial architecture.
  • Society, culture, literature and the arts in Vijayanagara Empire.

20. Akbar

  • Conquests and consolidation of empire.
  • Establishment of jagir and mansab systems.
  • Rajput policy.
  • Evolution of religious and social outlook.
  • Theory of Sulh‐i‐kul and religious policy.
  • Court patronage of art and technology.

21. Mughal Empire in the Seventeenth Century

  • Major administrative policies of Jahangir, Shahjahan and Aurangzeb.
  • The Empire and the Zamindars.
  • Religious policies of Jahangir, Shahjahan and Aurangzeb.
  • Nature of the Mughal State.
  • Late Seventeenth Century crisis and the revolts.
  • The Ahom kingdom.
  • Shivaji and the early Maratha Kingdom.

22. Economy and society, in the 16th and 17th Centuries

  • Population Agricultural and craft production.
  • Towns, commerce with Europe through Dutch, English and French companies : a trade revolution.
  • Indian mercantile classes. Banking, insurance and credit systems.
  • Conditions of peasants, Conditions of Women.
  • Evolution of the Sikh community and the Khalsa Panth.

23. Culture during Mughal Empire

  • Persian histories and other literature.
  • Hindi and religious literature.
  • Mughal architecture.
  • Mughal painting.
  • Provincial architecture and painting.
  • Classical music.
  • Science and technology.

24. The Eighteenth Century

  • Factors for the decline of the Mughal Empire.
  • The regional principalities: Nizam’s Deccan, Bengal, Awadh.
  • Maratha ascendancy under the Peshwas.
  • The Maratha fiscal and financial system.
  • Emergence of Afghan power Battle of Panipat, 1761.
  • State of, political, cultural and economic, on eve of the British conquest.

Syllabus of History Optional Paper- II

1. European Penetration into India

  • The Early European Settlements; The Portuguese and the Dutch; The English and the French East India Companies; Their struggle for supremacy; Carnatic Wars; Bengal-The conflict
  • between the English and the Nawabs of Bengal; Siraj and the English; The Battle of Plassey; Significance of Plassey.

2. British Expansion in India

  • Bengal-Mir Jafar and Mir Kasim; The Battle of Buxar; Mysore; The Marathas; The three Anglo-Maratha Wars; The Punjab.

3. Early Structure of the British Raj

  • The Early administrative structure; From diarchy to direct control; The Regulating Act (1773); The Pitt’s India Act (1784); The Charter Act (1833); The Voice of free trade and the changing character of British colonial rule; The English utilitarian and India.

4. Economic Impact of British Colonial Rule

  • Land revenue settlements in British India; The Permanent Settlement; Ryotwari Settlement; Mahalwari Settlement; Economic impact of the revenue arrangements; Commercialization of agriculture; Rise of landless agrarian labourers; Impoverishment of the rural society.
  • Dislocation of traditional trade and commerce; De-industrialisation; Decline of traditional crafts; Drain of wealth; Economic transformation of India; Railroad and communication network including telegraph and postal services; Famine and poverty in the rural interior; European business enterprise and its limitations.

5. Social and Cultural Developments

  • The state of indigenous education, its dislocation; Orientalist-Anglicist controversy, The introduction of western education in India; The rise of press, literature and public opinion; The rise of modern vernacular literature; Progress of Science; Christian missionary activities in India.

6. Social and Religious Reform Movements in Bengal and Other Areas

  • Ram Mohan Roy, The Brahmo Movement; Devendranath Tagore; Iswarchandra Vidyasagar; The Young Bengal Movement; Dayanada Saraswati; The social reform movements in India including Sati, widow remarriage, child marriage etc.; The contribution of Indian renaissance to the growth of modern India; Islamic revivalism-the Feraizi and Wahabi Movements.

7. Indian Response to British Rule

  • Peasant movement and tribal uprisings in the 18th and 19th centuries including the Rangpur Dhing (1783), the Kol Rebellion (1832), the Mopla Rebellion in Malabar (1841-1920), the
  • Santal Hul (1855), Indigo Rebellion (1859-60), Deccan Uprising (1875) and the Munda Ulgulan (1899-1900); The Great Revolt of 1857 —Origin, character, causes of failure, the consequences; The shift in the character of peasant uprisings in the post-1857 period; the peasant movements of the 1920s and 1930s.

8. Factors leading to the birth of Indian Nationalism; Politics of Association; The Foundation of the Indian National Congress; The Safety-valve thesis relating to the birth of the Congress;

  • Programme and objectives of Early Congress; the social composition of early Congress leadership; the Moderates and Extremists; The Partition of Bengal (1905); The Swadeshi Movement in Bengal; the economic and political aspects of Swadeshi Movement; The beginning of revolutionary extremism in India.

9. Rise of Gandhi; Character of Gandhian nationalism; Gandhi’s popular appeal; Rowlatt Satyagraha; the Khilafat Movement; the Non-cooperation Movement; National politics from the end of the Non-cooperation movement to the beginning of the Civil Disobedience Movement; the two phases of the Civil Disobedience Movement; Simon Commission; The Nehru Report; the Round Table Conferences; Nationalism and the Peasant Movements; Nationalism and Working class movements; Women and Indian youth and students in Indian politics (1885-1947); the election of 1937 and the formation of ministries; Cripps Mission; the Quit India Movement; the Wavell Plan; The Cabinet Mission.

10. Constitutional Developments in Colonial India between 1858 and 1935.

11. Other strands in the National Movement.

  • The Revolutionaries: Bengal, the Punjab, Maharashtra, U.P. the Madras Presidency, Outside India.
  • The Left; The Left within the Congress: Jawaharlal Nehru, Subhas Chandra Bose, the Congress Socialist Party; the Communist Party of India, other left parties.

12. Politics of Separatism; the Muslim League; the Hindu Mahasabha; Communalism and the politics of partition; Transfer of power; Independence.

13. Consolidation as a Nation; Nehru’s Foreign Policy; India and her neighbours (1947-1964); The linguistic reorganisation of States (1935-1947); Regionalism and regional inequality; Integration of Princely States; Princes in electoral politics; the Question of National Language.

14. Caste and Ethnicity after 1947; Backward Castes and Tribes in post-colonial electoral politics; Dalit movements.

15. Economic development and political change; Land reforms; the politics of planning and rural reconstruction; Ecology and environmental policy in post-colonial India; Progress of Science.

16. Enlightenment and Modern ideas:

  • Major Ideas of Enlightenment : Kant, Rousseau.
  • Spread of Enlightenment in the colonies.
  • Rise of socialist ideas (up to Marx); spread of Marxian Socialism.

17. Origins of Modern Politics

  • European States System.
  • American Revolution and the Constitution.
  • French Revolution and Aftermath, 1789-1815.
  • American Civil War with reference to Abraham Lincoln and the abolition of slavery.
  • British Democratic politics, 1815-1850 : Parliamentary Reformers, Free Traders, Chartists.

18. Industrialization

  • English Industrial Revolution : Causes and Impact on Society.
  • Industrialization in other countries : USA, Germany, Russia, Japan.
  • Industrialization and Globalization.

19. Nation‐State System

  • Rise of Nationalism in the 19th century.
  • Nationalism : State-building in Germany and Italy.
  • Disintegration of Empires in the face of the emergence of nationalities across the World.

20. Imperialism and Colonialism

  • South and South-East Asia.
  • Latin America and South Africa.
  • Australia.
  • Imperialism and free trade: Rise of neo-imperialism.

21. Revolution and Counter‐Revolution

  • 19th Century European revolutions.
  • The Russian Revolution of 1917-1921.
  • Fascist Counter-Revolution, Italy and Germany.
  • The Chinese Revolution of 1949.

22. World Wars

  • 1st and 2nd World Wars as Total Wars : Societal implications.
  • World War I : Causes and Consequences.
  • World War II : Causes and Consequences.

23. The World after World War II

  • Emergence of Two power blocs.
  • Emergence of Third World and non-alignment.
  • UNO and the global disputes.

24 . Liberation from Colonial Rule

  • Latin America-Bolivar.
  • Arab World-Egypt.
  • Africa-Apartheid to Democracy.
  • South-East Asia-Vietnam.

25. Decolonization and Underdevelopment

  • Factors constraining Development ; Latin America, Africa.

26. Unification of Europe

  • Post War Foundations ; NATO and European Community.
  • Consolidation and Expansion of European Community
  • European Union.

27. Disintegration of Soviet Union and the Rise of the Unipolar World

  • Factors leading to the collapse of Soviet Communism and Soviet Union, 1985-1991.
  • Political Changes in East Europe 1989-2001.
  • End of the Cold War and US Ascendancy in the World as the lone superpower.

Preparation of History optional paper for UPSC

  1. Understand the syllabus

History has a vast syllabus. It’s important to understand the syllabus first. Without understanding the syllabus, preparation can not be done properly. The syllabus of history is clear. Topics are defined clearly. If a candidate has interest in reading history, they can definitely score good. Candidates who have not studied history before, can also choose history as an optional subject.

  1. Divide the topics

Divide the topics to make your preparation easy. History is an interesting subject to read. There are no difficult concepts to understand. So, you can prepare well. You just need to divide the syllabus according to your convenience and make a study plan.

  1. Clear the basics

You need to clear the basics first. Read NCERT books for better understanding. These books cover all the basic concepts of History and General studies. Complete the NCERT books first then move on to standard text books for Ancient, Medieval, and Modern Indian history. Don’t study with too many books. It will confuse your preparation.

  1. Start working on memorising the dates

History is all about memorising dates. If you are good at memorizing dates, you can score well in history. Divide your syllabus and learn it regularly.

  1. Make proper notes

Making notes is beneficial for all the subjects. For history subjects it’s very important to prepare notes. Notes will help you to remember important dates and topics. Syllabus of history is vast and it is not possible to prepare all topics. So, choose the important ones and prepare notes for that.

  1. Join a coaching when needed

Coaching classes plays an important role in a student’s success. There are many students who need guidance for UPSC preparation. Coachings helps to prepare notes. They conduct mock tests from time to time for better preparation. In my opinion Legacy IAS Academy is the best IAS academy in India for IAS exam preparation. They provide well structured study material and a competitive environment which is necessary for UPSC exam preparation.

  1. Answer writing practice

History optional Syllabus subjects need answers in detail. There are many incidents in history which you have to describe in detail. Without describing it properly, it can not be considered a well written answer. For this, answer writing practice is very important. Practice regularly to score well in exams.

  1. Understand your weakness and good points

Understand your weakness and strong points in History. There are many people who are not good at memorising dates and some are good at remembering dates. So understand and prepare accordingly.

  1. Solve previous year question papers

The previous year question paper helps a lot in preparation. You can get a clear idea about the pattern of the exam and which question repeats most. Solve previous year question papers as much as you can to make your preparation even more better.

  1. Revision work

revision is important for every subject you are preparing but when it comes to history, it’s compulsory. You must revise your daily preparation for history regularly. Without revising you can not remember it for so long.

Advantages of taking History as an optional paper for UPSC

History is a popular optional subject in the UPSC mains exam. It is a very important subject in the UPSC. History is included in both IAS prelims and in the IAS mains general studies papers as well. If you are preparing for IAS, you should study history. There are many advantages to taking history as an optional paper.

  1. Overlapping with GS subjects

History is a part of General Studies. There are many topics which cover GS also. If you want to pass the UPSC exam, you must study history. History makes a big contribution in GS paper. History has similarities with economics, international relationship, political science, geography and public administration. So, many subjects of GS can be covered if you choose history as an optional subject.

  1. Interesting topics to study

History is an interesting subject to study. The syllabus of history is defined very clearly. There are many stories of ancient history which are interesting to read. While studying history, candidates can develop a reading habit. Topics of history are interesting to read.

  1. Easy to understand

Topics of history are easy to understand. Tere no formula and science in it. Topics are easy to read and understand. If you are interested in world history, the subject is useful for you. Another benefit of choosing history as an optional paper is that if you don’t like to read, you can watch the videos on the internet.

  1. Availability of study material

The study material of history is easily available. For preparation of history, candidates should begin with NCERT books. These books cover all the basic concepts of History and General studies. Cover the NCERT books first then move to other standard books.

These are the advantages of choosing history as an optional subject. Most important thing is to work hard and prepare dedicatedly to score well in history. A well-connected series of topics from start to end makes it easy to understand and remember. UPSC IAS aspirants can refer to Legacy IAS Academy Bangalore for History preparation. A well-aligned study material with UPSC IAS exam is the best of Legacy IAS Academy Bangalore.