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HISTORY: WOMEN IN INDIA: A SOCIAL AND CULTURAL HISTORY.

Sita Anantha Raman, WOMEN IN INDIA: A SOCIAL AND CULTURAL HISTORY. Praeger, 2009. 2 vols. 500p. bibl. index. $100.00, ISBN 978-0275982423 (set).

This two-volume reference set is a timely addition to the growing number of scholarly works on the historical status and development of women in India. The work is meant to be a critical study "of the primary evidence from literature, art, and archaeology, as well as of secondary scholarship on women in Indian history" (p. xii), and attempts to cover the period from antiquity to modern Indian history. Keeping in mind the complexity that "India's 35 states and territories are diverse in culture, language, history, and governance by political party" (p. 191, v. 2), the author intends the work to be a summary of existing knowledge and information.

The set is organized chronologically. Volume 1, Early India, includes such chapters as "Region, Environment, Gender," "Mothers and Wives in the Smriti Texts" and "Women in Classical Art and Literature." Volume II, Later India, covers such topics as "Women in the Colonial Era" and "Male Reformers and Women's Rights," as well as a clear and well-written conclusion titled "Women in India Today."

Copiously researched (Raman is a historian), this work appears to be aimed more at the aficionado of India or history than at the mildly inquisitive or the novice. Curiously, the writing style of many of the entries is pretentious, and, with few exceptions, the chapters seem disconnected and difficult to follow rather than blending seamlessly together. A surfeit of source material from which to draw might account for this.

Women in India does well in its representation of the historical truth that " [m]odernization is not always commensurate with progress, since moribund traditions do not all simply fade away but are often reinvented in the relentless drive for wealth and power" (p. 190, v. 2). Although its scholarly representation can be recommended, it does have a few shortcomings. Raman has included only a rudimentary physical map of India, and only in Volume 1. While images are not a requirement, they are useful tools when dealing with unknown regions, histories, or cultural artifacts. Both volumes include basic reference tools such as a bibliography and an index. Along with the preface and introduction, Raman has provided a limited list of abbreviations. Both volumes could have benefitted from a glossary and a cross-referencing index between volumes. It must be kept in mind that this is a social and cultural historical study and not an encyclopedia.

Women in India definitely fills a gap in the reference literature. Other works on this topic are more narrowly focused or cover the issues on a more intermediate level; none has the range, depth, or level of scholarship of this set. This is a must for academic libraries with programs in Indian history, and it will be a valuable addition for general reference collections in many academic and public libraries.

Reviewed by Yadira V. Payne

[Yadira V. Payne is the government documents librarian, and an assistant professor of library science at Augusta State University's Reese Library. She holds an MSLIS from Drexel University, and is a published author and an artist.]

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Author:Payne, Yadira V.
Publication:Feminist Collections: A Quarterly of Women's Studies Resources
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jun 22, 2010
Words:526
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