More Accolades on The Story of St Joseph’s College “Till the Mountain Disappear” by Avishka Mario Senewiratne
A fine example of modern historiography
Source:FB Avishka Mario Seneviratne
Book Review – Prof. Marie Perera
Till The Mountains Disappear: The Story of St. Joseph’s College
Avishka Mario Senewiratne and Rev. Dr. Stanley Abeysekera
Much has already been written about this book which was first published in December, 2020, and gone for two prints in 2021 January and April. Most of the write ups and comments have been positive. The book, which has been referred to as a “historical narrative,” had been initiated by the late Rev. Fr. Stanley Abeysekera and compiled and completed by a young Josephian referred to as “the youngest historian, researcher of his school” (p. 245) by Dr. Sheila Fernando. I am not an authority on Josephian history nor connected at all with St. Josephs College like the reviewers before me. Yet I found Avishka’s lucid style of narration easy and interesting reading even for a non Josephian.
Being a University academic, in my review, I would focus on one aspect of the book which I feel had not been emphasized adequately in previous reviews.
In the AFTERWORD of the book, Avishka states “I have been researching and writing the book for six years” – the history of St Joseph’s. Although, he does not acknowledge it, what he has attempted is Historical Research.
Historical research or historiography, “attempts to systematically recapture the complex nuances, the people, meanings, events, and even ideas of the past that have influenced and shaped the present”. (Berg & Lure, 2012, p. 305)
This is exactly what Avishka has attempted in his historical narrative. The work and the mission of Archbishop Christopher Bonjean, his efforts to start a college, the chronology of events covering Rectors from 1896 to 2019 justifies the book to fall into the category of Historical research,
Historical research relies on a wide variety of sources, both Primary and Secondary. Primary sources could be unpublished material, eyewitness accounts of events, oral or written testimony found in public records & legal documents, minutes of meetings, corporate records, recordings, letters, diaries, journals, drawings.
On the other hand, Secondary Sources could be Secondhand accounts of events found in textbooks, encyclopedias, journal articles, newspapers, biographies and other media, such as films or tape recordings.
Avishka had utilized all these artifacts in his research work to provide evidence for what he has attempted to present.
For some, the purpose of research is to locate and present the facts alone: What happened, in what sequence, under what conditions, and who was involved? Yet Avishka goes a step further and had tried to put those facts into graceful narrative.
The purpose of historical research is also to reach insights or conclusions about past persons or occurrences. Historical research entails more than simply compiling and presenting factual information; it also requires interpretation of the information. More typically, researchers should seek not only to tell the story, but to do so in an interpretive fashion. This involves both a selection from among all the facts and an interpretation of them. In interpretive history, once we are persuaded as to the facts, we make certain inferences from them: causes, motives, and likely consequences, as well as missing facts. However, in the Sri Lankan context especially in the fields of Humanities and Social Sciences, where historical research would be very useful this aspect it neglected.Yet, In Avishka’s narration I could discern glimpses of this interpretive fashion, even though this aspect could be improved further. Perhaps, it can be implemented in future editions, like most historians have done in the past. One such example of his interpretation describes the past Rectors contribution to development of the college as follows,
“The entire era of… was a time of remarkable success for students as they had many opportunities to orient their lives in the right direction and to know their role in society as dutiful citizens.”
Therefore, I would recommend this book to future historical researchers as the writer himself hopes that “this book may open the door to many more comprehensive works and related research, thereby filling the gaps that a book such as this may have encountered”. (p. xii)
(The reviewer is an Emeritus Professor of Humanities Education and Former Dean Faculty of Education, University of Colombo.)