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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, or an individual). 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]

Background and meaning[edit]

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.

An earlier term for the concept of microhistory was expressed as "microscopists of history" in 1887 by Adam and Charles Black, while writing a critical review of The Family of Brocas of Beaurepaire and Roche Court (1886) by Oxford professor Montagu Burrows -- "Our local and our family historians have from time to time done us invaluable service; they are the microscopists of history, and it cannot be too often repeated that without their aid the historian would have to creep timidly along many a mile where now he can march forward fearlessly, making sure progress."[5]

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]

See also[edit]

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).
  5. ^ Adam and Charles Black (1887, July). The Brocas Book, The Edinburgh Review, Volume 166, Number 339, Page 235

External links[edit]