The UPSC optional paper comprises 48 subjects offered by UPSC. So, students can choose any one subject from the list of optional papers, which forms an important portion of the Main exam. Further for Geography optional, it is imperative that students are thorough with the UPSC History Optional Syllabus. So in this article, we will be discussing the IAS exam history syllabus for Prelims and Mains. Also, it contains details about the History optional question paper. Without further ado, let’s look into the relevant details. The purpose of going through the History syllabus for UPSC prelims is to know what exactly to read and also not waste time on irrelevant topics.



History syllabus for UPSC prelims

The British came to India in the 1600s

The UPSC conducts an All India entrance exam to recruit officers into various posts in the Central and State govt. Further, the exam comprises of three stages – Prelims, Mains and the Interview. Also, History forms a major portion of the syllabus in the prelims exam and in the Mains exam, there are two papers based on the optional paper the student chooses. So, let us start off with the History syllabus for UPSC prelims. This is the first stage that needs to be cleared in order to move to the next level i.e. The Mains and then the Personality test. Below is a detailed syllabus of the IAS exam history syllabus for Prelims –

Ancient History syllabus – History syllabus for UPSC prelims

  • Prehistoric cultures in India
  • Indus Civilization – Origins, the society, economy, and culture, its decline
  • About pastoral and farming society.
  • Vedic society-Vedic texts, religion, Upanishads, Varna system, etc.
  • Formation of the State and cities, from the Mahajanapadas to the Nandas.
  • Origin and spread of Buddhism and Jainism
  • The Mauryan Empire, Ashoka – his religious prospects, his dhamma, culture, administration, and art.
  • Post-Mauryan India, BC 200- AD 300- Evolution of Jatis.
  • The Satavahanas and formation of the state in the Peninsula.
  • Sangam texts and society.
  • Indo-Greeks, Sakas, Parthians, Kushans, Kanishka-Contacts with the outer world.
  • The Guptas – Literature, Science, Arts, Economy, and society, etc.

Medieval India – IAS exam history syllabus

  • Early Medieval India. Major dynasties that were present; Society in general (Status of women, children, etc.)
  • Cultural trends, 750-1200, Religions that were a part of this time; Significance of temples and Sufism.
  • 13th and 14th Centuries: Ghorian invasions reasons and effects. Delhi Sultanate – The Tughluqs, Technological developments.
  • Empires of the 15th and early 16th Centuries: Mughal Empire: Akbar, Aurangzeb, etc. The Sur Empire and administration. Monotheistic movements: Kabir; Guru Nanak and Sikhism; Bhakti. The spread of art and culture.
  • Jagir and Mansab systems; Shivaji. Persian and regional literature. Economy: State of affairs of peasants and artisans, Trade with Europe
  • The decline of the Mughal Empire, reasons for decline. The Marathas, Peshwas, et.
  • The rise of Urdu language.

Modern India – History syllabus for UPSC prelims

  • The arrival of the Britsh, The Carnatic Wars, the invasion of Bengal, the passing of acts, Early British Raj.
  • Economic Impact of the Raj: Zamindari, Ryotwari, etc. Mahalwari; Deindustrialization; Railways and commercialization of agriculture; the increase of landless labor.
  • Society and Cultural changes: introduction of western education and modern thoughts. Indian Renaissance, religions. Social reform events before 1857. The emergence of the Indian middle class; the vernacular press and its effects: the rise of modern literature in Indian languages.
  • The 1857 Revolt-reasons, course, and outcomes.
  • UPSC History Syllabus also includes the Indian Freedom struggle in the first stage: Establishment of the Indian National Congress and the different stages.
  • Gandhi – Non-violence and civil disobedience, Subhash Chandra Bose, and the Indian National Army.
  • Jawaharlal Nehru’s vision, Foreign policy of Non-alignment, Planning, Centralization of agriculture, etc.

UPSC History Optional Syllabus

The UPSC History Optional Syllabus has two papers and both of them have different syllabuses under History. So, let us look at them –

Paper – I

The IAS exam history syllabus for Paper I is as follows –

  1. Archaeological sources: Exploration, excavation, epigraphy, numismatics, monuments. Poetry, Literature- Scientific and general, religious literature. Writings of foreigners.
  2. Pre-history and Proto-history: Geographical factors; hunting and gathering and beginning of agriculture.
  3. Indus Valley Civilization: Origin, date, relevant details, decline, art, and architecture.
  4. Megalithic Cultures: Distribution of pastoral and farming cultures, crafts, pottery, and Iron industry.
  5. Aryans and Vedic Period: Expansions of Aryans in India. Vedic Period: Religious and philosophical teachings, Socio-economic conditions, Evolution of Monarchy, and Varna system.
  6. Period of Mahajanapadas: Formation of States: Rise of cities; Trade routes; Economic growth; starting of coinage system; Jainism and Buddhism. This period forms a major part of the UPSC History Syllabus.
  7. Mauryan Empire: Foundation. Ashoka’s Concept of Dharma; Administration; Economy; Art, architecture, and sculpture; External contacts, society.
  8. Post – Mauryan Period: Contact with the outside world; growth of urban centres, economy, coinage, development of society, art, architecture, culture, literature, and science.
  9. Early State and Society in Eastern India, Deccan, and South India: Kharavela, The Satavahanas, the Tamil States of the Sangam Age; Economy, land grants, coinage, trade guilds, and cities, Buddhist centres; Sangam art and culture.
  10. Guptas, Vakatakas and Vardhanas: Socio-economic – political scenario, Land grants, Decline of urban centres, Caste system, State of women, starting of Nalanda,
  11. Regional States during the Gupta Era: Characteristics. Art and culture, etc.
  12. Themes in Early Indian Cultural History: Languages and texts, major thinkers, and schools.
  13. Early Medieval India, 750-1200: Polity: Major political developments, origin and the rise of Rajputs; The Cholas: administration, society, etc.
  14. Cultural Traditions in India, 750-1200: Philosophy, Religion: Forms and features of religion, Tamil cult, growth of Bhakti, Islam in India, Sufism
  15. The 13th Century: Establishment of the Delhi Sultanate: The Ghurian invasions
  16. The 14th Century: “The Khalji Revolution”; Alauddin Khalji: Conquests and territorial expansion, economic policies, etc.
  17. Society, Culture, and Economy in the 13th and 14th Centuries: Rural society, ruling classes, town dwellers, women, religious classes, caste, economy: Agricultural production, the rise of cities, trade, and commerce.
  18. The 15th and Early16th Century: Socio-economic-political developments: Lodis; Mughal Empire, The Sur Empire: Sher Shah’s administration; Europeans in India, Bhakti and Sufi Movements.
  19. The Fifteenth and early Sixteenth Century – Society and Culture: Regional cultural specificities; Literary traditions; Provincial architecture; Society, culture, literature and the arts in Vijayanagara Empire.
  20. Akbar: Administration, society, laws, policies, patronage, etc.
  21. Mughal Empire in the Seventeenth Century: Administrative policies of Jahangir, Shahjahan, and Aurangzeb; The Ahom Kingdom; Shivaji and the early Maratha Kingdom. The Mughal era is one of the central topics for the UPSC History Syllabus.
  22. Economy and Society in the 16th and 17th Centuries: Population, agricultural production, craft production; Trade with Europe Condition of peasants, condition of women; Rise of the Sikh community, etc.
  23. Culture in the Mughal Empire: Persian histories Hindi and other religious literature; Mughal art and culture; Classical music and Science and technology.
  24. The 18th Century: Decline of the Mughal Empire; Maratha economic policies, Emergence of Afghan Power, Battle of Panipat: 1761; Socio-Cultural contexts, etc.

Paper – II

Anglo-Maratha War

The IAS exam history syllabus for Paper II is as follows –

  1. Europeans in India: Early Europeans; Conflicts between the English and Indians Battle of Plassey, etc.
  2. British Expansion in India: Bengal – Battle of Buxar; Mysore; The Marathas; The three Anglo-Maratha Wars
  3. Early Structure of the British Raj: Diarchy for direct control; The Regulating Act (1773); The Pitt’s India Act (1784); The Charter Act (1833), etc.
  4. British Colonial Rule on Indian Economy: Land revenue systems, Socio-economic conditions in British India; Degradation of rural society; Famine and poverty, Drain of wealth; Economic transformation of India; Rails and roads introduced, etc.
  5. Social and Cultural Developments: Start of western education; The rise of press, literature science, Christianity, etc.
  6. Social and Religious Reform movements in Bengal and Other Areas: Social reform movements. Growth of modern India; Islamic revival, etc.
  7. India’s Response to British Raj: Peasant movements and tribal uprisings, The Great Revolt of 1857– Causes of failure, post-revolt scenario, etc.
  8. Reasons for Indian Nationalism: Indian Politics ; The Foundation of the Indian National Congress; The Safety-valve thesis, The Swadeshi Movement, starting of Extremism in iIndia, etc.
  9. Rise of Gandhi: Gandhi’s nationalism; Civil Disobedience Movement; Simon Commission; The Nehru Report; Round Table Conferences; Nationalism among Women and Indian youth, Cripps Mission; the Quit India Movement; The Cabinet Mission, etc. Gandhi’s role is very important in the UPSC History Syllabus.
  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. Parties with leftist views, etc.
  12. Politics of Separatism: 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); Reorganization of States on linguistic lines (1935-1947); Regionalism, Debate on deciding the National Language.
  14. Developments: Land reforms; Progress in science, etc.
  15. Enlightenment and Modern ideas: Kant, Rousseau; Marxism and Socialism, etc.
  16. Origins of Modern Politics: European States System; American Revolution and theFrench revolution and aftermath, American Civil War, Parliamentary Reforms, Free Traders, Chartists, etc.
  17. Industrialization: Causes and Impact on Society; Industrialization in England, USA, Germany, Russia, Japan; Globalization.
  18. Nation-State System: Rise of Nationalism in 19th century; Disintegration of Empires.
  19. Imperialism and Colonialism
  20. Revolutions: The Russian Revolution, Fascist Revolution, Italy, and Germany; The Chinese Revolution of 1949.
  21. World Wars: Cause and effects.
  22. Post World War II: Emergence of Third World; UNO and the global debates
  23. Liberation from Colonial Rule: Latin America-Bolivar; Arab World-Egypt; Apartheid in Africa; South-East Asia-Vietnam
  24. Decolonization and Underdevelopment: Latin America, Africa
  25. Unification of Europe: NATO ; European Union.
  26. Disintegration of Soviet Union and the Rise of the Unipolar World

You can also read about UPSC preparation online from home.

History optional question paper – UPSC History Optional Syllabus

You have to practice a lot of Previous Year question papers in order to be able to write the perfect answer to score high. You may understand History very well but not be able to frame an answer which reflects what you want to portray. Also, many students find it difficult to frame structured answers which leads them to score poorly. UPSC checks whether or not you are able to present a holistic answer. So, you have to put your best foot forward. Have a look at some of the History optional question papers so you can get the exact idea of what UPSC wants you to study.

You can further visit the official website of UPSC for the question papers of history Optional. You can also read about the tips to choose the best coaching institute for UPSC for the right guidance in the right direction.

FAQs on History Optional

How many optional subjects does one have to choose for the Mains exam?

You only have to choose one optional paper. There are two optional papers in the Mains exam: Paper-I and Paper-II. But, these two papers are two parts of the same subject with different topics for the two papers. Both the papers are of 250 marks each. So, a student can get high marks in the optional and up their score and thereby the UPSC rank.

How should one write the History optional paper?

Your History optional answer should reflect a more well-informed and subject-specialist approach. In other words, your answer should be better informed and reflect deeper views in comparison to other GS papers. The GS papers test your general understanding of the subjects whereas you have to portray an in-depth understanding of History.

What is the best way to study History optional?

The best way to study History optional is to interlink the subjects of the GS papers because History cannot be read or studied in isolation. Everything that has happened in the past has links to the economy, polity, governance, society, etc. So when you read history, make sure that you prepare holistic notes by including varied aspects and sides to the concepts.

COVID-19 Update | UPSC History Syllabus

The coronavirus has stopped the usual lives of people and students have had to suffer in completely different ways. The future of many has become uncertain as many exams have been postponed. UPSC postponed the exam dates too. After the Prelims exam, which took place on the 4th of October, 2020, the Mains exam is supposed to be held in January. With extended dates, it is evident that students have the time to prepare as people have to either work from home or just be at home. So, the competition may even get higher due to this situation. Nevertheless, people opting for History as an optional should go through the syllabus and previous year question papers thoroughly. This is the first step to know exactly how the subject is to be approached.


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