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Microhistory is the intensive historical investigation of a well defined smaller unit of research (most often a single event, the community of a village, a family or a person). In its ambition, however, microhistory can be distinguished from a simple case study insofar as microhistory aspires to "[ask] large questions in small places", to use the definition given by Charles Joyner.[1]

The original idea of writing microhistory came from Italy in the 1970s.[citation needed] Microstoria included social history (Giovanni Levi: L'eredita immateriale. Carriere di un esorcista nel Piemonte del seicento. Einaudi: Torino, 1985.) and cultural history (Carlo Ginzburg: Il formaggio e i vermi. Einaudi: Torino, 1976.). However, E. P. Thompson's Whigs and Hunters: The Origin of the Black Act (1975) and Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie's Montaillou (1975), pioneering British and French microhistories, each preceded Ginzburg's book. An even earlier notable work is Pueblo en vilo (1968)[2] by Mexican historian Luis González y González, a microhistory pioneer in Latin America.

Carlo Ginzburg himself has sketched the story of the term "microhistory".[3] A likely first occurrence appears to be the title Pickett’s Charge: A Microhistory of the Final Charge at Gettysburg, July 3, 1863 (1959), by the American historian George R Stewart.[4] Various other uses are found during the 1960s, when it is usually contrasted with large-scale structural views and its contents are designated negatively.

Microhistory had a significant impact on French and German historians in the 1980s and 1990, when it produced classics in several languages (e.g., Natalie Zemon Davis: The Return of Martin Guerre. Harvard University Press: Cambridge, Mass., 1983.). It can be seen as part of cultural history together with the histoire des mentalités of the French Annales School, the German Alltagsgeschichte, or historical anthropology. It is especially close to the latter, with the important difference that it, especially its original Italian version, puts a great stress on the agency of historical actors and is therefore unwilling to see culture as a determining force.[citation needed]

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Notable microhistorians[edit]


  1. ^ Joyner, C. W. Shared Traditions: Southern History and Folk Culture, (Urbana: University of Illinois, 1999), p. 1.
  2. ^ Luis González y González, Pueblo en vilo. Microhistoria de San José de Gracia, México, El Colegio de México, 1968.
  3. ^ Ginzburg C., "Microhistory, Two or Three Things That I Know about It", in Threads and Traces, Berkeley: University of California Press 2012, p.193-214 (Chap 14)
  4. ^ Stewart G., Pickett’s Charge: A Microhistory of the Final Attack on Gettysburg, July 3, 1863, (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1959; reprinted Dayton, 1983).

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