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An excellent introduction to and sampling of the developing genre of microhistory In essence these historians begin their analysis from below ' viewing the ordinary peoples ignored in the annals of European history Catholic Historical ReviewSelections from uaderni Storici


10 thoughts on “Microhistory and the Lost Peoples of Europe Selections from uaderni Storici Selections fromIuaderni StoriciI

  1. says:

    In the final essay in this collection of papers Gianna Pomata explores the experiences and lives of unwed mothers in Italy during the late 19th and early 20th centuries In most cases all she has to go on are medical notes and case reports often very formulaic and recorded as part of form filling for bureaucratic and reporting purposes in maternity and foundling hospitals These are not what we would usually think of as rich and expansive historical let alone biographical sources and yet this is one of the conventional social histories in this collection and the only one centred on events outside the early modern period Yet Pomata has been able to develop an insightful and subtle set of images of the women she is discussing As a result of this nuanced exploration she concludes on p 193 “Our culture sets up two different approaches to the problem of life biography and biology When we try to understand the events of our history perhaps we ought to try to have them both present In the case of women however the biological conditioning has been recorded analyzed and underlined so often so appropriately and so inappropriately as well that a reminder of the biographical aspect to the experience of concrete individuals seems long overdue”In making this statement she has given us part of the case for microhistory – not used here to mean small history but of the analysis of small things to inform and shape our understanding of people’s lives in the past Microhistory was an approach that emerged in Italy in the later 1970s and began from a realisation that because the marginalised and disempowered left only traces in the historical record then as historians we need to start our analyses from those traces These essays then take as their starting points things as seemingly insignificant as the reuest by a Jewish merchant to the church authorities in a small Italian town in the late 1500s to be allowed to remove a painting of St Christopher from an external wall of his house a single uestion by an inuisitor as a follow up to a witness’s second hand testimony or a report in Bergamo in 1517 that spectres that is ghosts were seen in battle in a field These are all essays in Italian but they are as much about how we do history as they are about medieval and early modern Italy Whereas Pomata’s is fairly conventional social history from below Bertolotti’s and Niccoli’s about witchcraft and battling spectres are as much pieces of comparative historical ethnology as they are social history and explore the European spread of popular knowledge and the gaps between popular and institutional religion Early modern Italian history is a long way from my usual areas of reading but the uality of these pieces meant that the only one that did not keep me closely engaged was the detailed discussion of political factions in Cervo – a Ligurian town not far from GenoaGiven that Italian history is not my thing the essay that I found most compelling was the introduction by Muir about the importance and justification of microhistory or as he calls it observing trifles which he justifies in one place p viii by reference to the biologist Stephen Jay Gould who wrote “close observation of individual differences can be as powerful a method in science as the uantification of predictable behaviour in a zillion identical atoms When you understand why nature’s complexity can only be unravelled this way why individuality matters so crucially then you are in a position to understand what the sciences of history are all about” That is in part microhistory is a response to grand sweeping nationalist histories the Annales school’s focus on the long duree and ‘great man’ approaches by starting from the insignificant and the small I am pretty sure that I knew about Italian history I would have enjoyed this but even without that it is a great reminder of the marvels of digging into the details of historical research and joy that is my chose discipline’s way of doing things Fabulous


  2. says:

    This collection of Italian microhistory articles blur cultural and social history as well as ideas about the objectivity ambiguity of historical research to recreate Renaissance era Italian life Some of the prose skews toward the overly technical but the best essays show how limited sources can reveal much about the past as well as how folk beliefs — fears of the Turks Roman myths pagan stories etc — can influence how people perceive the world Not a book for casual readers but really useful for showing students just what a microhistory is