Microhistory

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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]

Origins[edit]

Microhistory originally developed in Italy in the 1970s.[2] According to Giovanni Levi, one of the pioneers of the approach, it began as a reaction to a perceived crisis in existing historiographical approaches.[3] Carlo Ginzburg, another of microhistory's founders, has written that he first heard the term used around 1977, and soon afterwards began to work with Levi and Simona Cerutti on Microstorie, a series of microhistorical works.[4]

The word "microhistory" dates back to 1959, when the American historian George R. Stewart published Pickett's Charge: A Microhistory of the Final Attack on Gettysburg, July 3, 1863, which tells the story of the final day of the Battle of Gettysburg.[5] Another early use was by the Annales historian Fernand Braudel, for whom the concept had negative connotations, being overly concerned with the history of events.[6] A third early use of the term was in the title of Luis González's 1968 work Pueblo en vilo: Microhistoria de San José de Gracia.[6] González distinguished between microhistory, for him synonymous with local history, and "petite histoire", which is primarily concerned with anecdotes.[6]

Approach[edit]

The most distinctive aspect of the microhistorical approach is the small scale of investigations.[2] Microhistorians focus on small units in society, as a reaction to the generalisations made by the social sciences which do not hold up when tested against these smaller units.[7] For instance, Ginzburg's 1976 work The Cheese and the Worms – "probably the most popular and widely read work of microhistory"[2] – investigates the life of a single sixteenth-century Italian miller, Menocchio. The individuals microhistorical works are concerned with are frequently those Robert Tristano describes as "little people", especially those considered heretics.[8]

Carlo Ginzburg has written that a core principle of microhistory is making obstacles in sources, such as lacunae, part of the historical account.[9] Relatedly, Levi has said that the point of view of the researcher becomes part of the account in microhistory.[10] Other notable aspects of microhistory as a historical approach are an interest in the interaction of elite and popular culture,[11] and an interest in the interaction between micro- and macro-levels of history.[12]

See also[edit]

Notable microhistorians[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Joyner, C. W. Shared Traditions: Southern History and Folk Culture, (Urbana: University of Illinois, 1999), p. 1.
  2. ^ a b c Tristano, Richard M. (1996). "Microhistory and Holy Family Parish: Some Historical Considerations". U.S. Catholic Historian 14 (3): 26. 
  3. ^ Levi, Giovanni (1991). "On Microhistory". In Burke, Peter. New Perspectives on Historical Writing. Cambridge: Polity Press. pp. 93–94. 
  4. ^ Ginzburg, Carlo (1993). "Microhistory, Two or Three Things That I Know about It". Critical Inquiry 20 (1): 10. 
  5. ^ Ginzburg, Carlo (1993). "Microhistory, Two or Three Things That I Know about It". Critical Inquiry 20 (1): 11. 
  6. ^ a b c Ginzburg, Carlo (1993). "Microhistory, Two or Three Things That I Know about It". Critical Inquiry 20 (1): 12. 
  7. ^ Magnússon, Sigurdur Gylfi (2003). "'The Singularization of History': Social History and Microhistory within the Postmodern State of Knowledge". Journal of Social History 36 (3): 709. 
  8. ^ Tristano, Richard M. (1996). "Microhistory and Holy Family Parish: Some Historical Considerations". U.S. Catholic Historian 14 (3): 26–27. 
  9. ^ Ginzburg, Carlo (1993). "Microhistory, Two or Three Things That I Know about It". Critical Inquiry 20 (1): 28. 
  10. ^ Levi, Giovanni (1991). "On Microhistory". In Burke, Peter. New Perspectives on Historical Writing. Cambridge: Polity Press. p. 106. 
  11. ^ Tristano, Richard M. (1996). "Microhistory and Holy Family Parish: Some Historical Considerations". U.S. Catholic Historian 14 (3): 28. 
  12. ^ Tristano, Richard M. (1996). "Microhistory and Holy Family Parish: Some Historical Considerations". U.S. Catholic Historian 14 (3): 27. 

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