p.p1 the particularities and outliers of a society.

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p.p1 the particularities and outliers of a society.

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On Microhistory
Introduction: Change of Focus and Scale
Traditionally, history has been revolved around “the great deeds of kings,” as Carlo Ginzburg pointed out (Ginzburg, xiii). This great-man approach failed to consider the complexity and diversity of the past contributed by different social segments and classes. As a reaction to the great-man history, social history came along to tell a story from below, offering a window to the ordinary people. Due to its proximity to the social sciences, social history usually uses large-scale quantitative studies to analyze social patterns. Because social historians base their studies on large-scale historical data, they have the ability to study the norms and the universalities of a society, as well as major social changes over time. As historical work expands, historians realize that there are significant shortcomings in the aforementioned approaches to history; in particular at the intersections of social history and cultural history there are questions that cannot be answered using large-scale quantitative analysis — questions, for example, that ask about popular culture, its relationship with the ruling class, and the particularities and outliers of a society. As a result of its data-driven analysis, quantitative social history tends to lean towards simplification and over-generalization — it simplifies historical account of the past in the interest of generalizability, and it may not be accurate since it favors the relative majority of a studied social group, glossing over the exceptions to the typical phenomenons of the studied subject. As microhistorians look for the outliers instead of the average individual, as found by large-scale quantitative studies, the question becomes whether the outliers or exceptions can be representative of anything, especially if they are so rare and statistically insignificant. I argue that instead of solely looking for processes of change over time based on quantitative analysis, we should also use qualitative and synchronic analysis to identify and study cases that may be a precursor to new and unexpected findings, and reducing the scale to the individual level as in microhistory would be beneficial to capture what has been eluded the over-generalization, typicization, and distortion brought by traditional macro-scale analyses. 
Pioneered by the Italian historian Carlo Ginzburg, microhistory came to rescue by answering the questions neglected and glossed over by macro-scale analysis (which for simplicity reason will be referred to as macrohistory from here onwards). As one of the most interesting and innovative approach to history, microhistory tells an unusual story, a story with thick descriptions of particular individuals, yet a story with enormous historical significance, and a story that reveals hidden insights of an obscure social and cultural segment of the past. It is a story that cannot be told through large-scale studies. It provides clarity to the complexity and obscurity of a past, and it does so by reducing the scale and concentrating on minute details at the individual level. While microhistory could be confused with local history, which can be deemed with lower historical significance than other historical studies, microhistory is anything but trivial matter. By studying the outliers on the individual level, microhistory opens a vista to help answer larger societal questions, a vista that is refreshingly unusual and new, one that greatly contributes to any historiography. Microhistory contributes to social and cultural history in its strength in thick descriptions and qualitative analysis. Therefore, while the norm and universalities are best handled by large-scale study, which usually ask questions concerning the broader threads and themes directly, to have a fuller and clearer picture of the complex past we need microhistory, a history focuses on unusual individuals, a history that provides a deep understanding of those individuals, and a history that reveals hidden insights by asking big questions from those individuals.  

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Methodology
As a new analytical approach to history, microhistory is firstly epitomized by Carlo Ginzburg’s The Cheese and the Worms, a microhistory focuses on an Italian miller that reveals the reciprocal relationship between popular culture and elite culture in the sixteen-century Italy, and by analyzing Ginzburg’s methodology I can examine some of the characteristics of microhistory as well as what it can achieve that no other methodologies can. I then compare Ginzburg’s work with Richard Godbeer’s Escaping Salem, a microhistory that reconstructs the “other witch hunt” of 1692 that occurred in Stamford, Connecticut. This cross-subject comparison of microhistories would shed light on the methodology of microhistory, and how it is used to study past cultures and societies, as in both the disciplines of history and anthropology. I end my study with a brief conclusion of how microhistory can be used for other research questions regarding cultures and past societies, as well as how macrohistory and microhistory can be used together. Much more research on or using microhistory would be needed to realize its potentials in answering questions that were not previous exploited using traditional approaches.

The Prefix, Micro-
First of all, the prefix of micro- indicates a reduction of scale and limited existence of the studied subject, not of its historical significance. Microhistory is not a history of the marginal or the trivial. Instead, it uses a reduced scale to study intensively about a given topic, through which it can reveal hidden insights that would not be possible to synthesize otherwise. The first implication of microhistory is the limitation of existence of the studied subject. This limitation is a challenge to microhistorians, but as Ginzburg found there are exceptions to this limitation. In The Cheese and the Worms, Ginzburg focused on an Italian miller, who was a nobody, and who would be easily neglected and dismissed as a rare exception to macrohistorians’ generalization about sixteenth-century Italy. Wrongly neglected and forgotten, the miller was a rare window for Ginzburg to look into the vibrant exchanges between oral culture and written culture. As Ginzburg noted, the miller Menocchio’s case was an exception to the limitation of evidence for the subordinate class in the sixtieth-century Italy (Ginzburg, xiii). Menocchio’s case was recorded because of his trials by the Holy Office of the Inquisition. Having found this rare gem, Ginzburg pursued his subject with intense research and analysis by providing a painstaking reading of the court documents of the Inquisition, reconstructing the cultural and social world of Menocchio, from which he turned the limitation of microhistory into his advantage of being able to focus on only one individual and conduct qualitative research. Similarly, the early American historian Richard Godbeer used micro-scale analysis to reveal the religious and cultural world of colonial America, shattering the stereotypical understanding of seventeenth-century New Englanders as quick to accuse in case of alleged episodes of bewitchment. Based on a close reading of court transcripts, Godbeer tells the story of Kate Branch, a young woman in Stamford, Connecticut who claimed that she was tormented by invisible creatures, screaming and sweeping in utmost terror (Godbeer, 3). Through this biographical level of description, Godbeer reconstructed the religious, cultural, and social context of Branch’s world, from which he proved that the use of Salem as the focal point in witchcraft studies in early New England is unrepresentative and misleading. Contrary to large-scale data analysis that social scientists and social historians would use, Godbeer’s focus on a single witchcraft case also revealed historically significant insights, insights that transcend the studied individual into the general historiography of early American history. Both Ginzburg and Godbeer reduced their scale to a single individual, telling gripping narratives contributed by microscopic details and findings, from which they could unearth hidden insights that were rejected and brushed over by traditional macrohistories. 

Global from the Local
The reason why microhistory is not local history is because the studied subject in microhistory has an interrelationship between the local and the global. Or more precisely, microhistory presents strings of connections between the local and the global phenomena. As Levi noted, “even the apparently minutest action of, say, somebody going to buy a loaf of bread, actually encompasses the far wider system of the whole world’s grain markets” (Levi 1991, 96). In other words, most minute details can be linked to a much wider and global phenomena. Thus it is not inherently the choices of the studied subject that microhistorians make that is central to microhistory, but it is the questions asked that are central in demonstrating the hidden connections — cultural or social. However, this is not to say that the choice of the individual is not important. In fact, choosing the appropriate individual to focus on would facilitate the process of asking big and historically significant questions from them. Of specifically how the two microhistories think about broader issues from limited cases, Ginzburg and Godbeer each used a distinctive approach with a different goal in mind. Ginzburg chose to place Menocchio under a historical microscope, intensively studying his world to hold it against the long assumed schema of high and low culture in sixteenth-century Italy. His motive is to use microhistory to test the validity of macrohistory of the corresponding historical moment. With the intensive study of Menocchio, he proved that macrohistory has grossly distorted the account of the past, and the traditionally assumed model of the relations between written culture and oral culture was wrong in that the relations were in fact reciprocal and dynamic. Thus, not only macrohistory neglects the diversity that would have been contributed by particular individuals, what is more at stake is that macrohistory distorts and over-simplifies the past due to its reliance on secondary sources and its macro scale of analysis. As previously mentioned, the selection of the individual in microhistory is also important since he or her needs to be the one who opens up a refreshingly new perspective on a given historiography. In other words, this individual plays the role as a bridge between two cultures, and it is because of their rarity they also tend to be the outliers or the exceptions to a societal norm. In Ginzburg’s book, Menocchio is this cultural bridge who connects the written culture and the oral culture and infamously presents his weird interfaced understanding of the two cultures to the Holy Office of the Inquisition. By using Menocchio, an outlier yet a captivating individual, Ginzburg was able to capture the complex and interwoven relations between written culture and oral culture. 
On the other hand, instead of using rigorous proof and demonstration, Godbeer turned to the use of narrative devices to link the local to the larger issue. As an early American historian, Godbeer focuses on reconstructing the individual lives presented in his narrative. As he tells the story about Kate Branch, it became out of necessity to reconstruct of Branch’s world, telling the story from the perspective of the actors themselves. This biographical level of focus requires reconstruction and recreation of past societies, with the goal of bringing the past closer to us and bridging the gap between the past and the present. Without using typical social science analysis, Godbeer was able to demonstrate with his reconstruction that early New Englanders were skeptical of witchcraft and logical in witch hunt trials. Explaining the witch hunt phenomenon through a cultural perspective, he noted that the New Englanders used a elaborate list of characteristics to determine witches (Godbeer, 91 Grounds for Examination of a Witch) — it is their religious culture that shaped how they viewed witchcraft, not of their stereotypical way of quick to condemn and accuse or that they are less rational than us. His use of narrative devices required him to fully reconstruct the past world of his focus, resulting in abundant qualitative evidence for his argument. Similar to Ginzburg, Godbeer’s use of micro scale of analysis resulted in intensive study of the existing court documents. Yet Godbeer’s use of narrative history resulted in a biographical and detailed recreation of a past world told from the perspective of the historical actors themselves, answering big questions of the cultural and religious reasons for the phenomena of witch hunt in seventeenth-century New England. 
While both Ginzburg and Godbeer used a micro scale to study the broader issues, they used the micro scale in different ways and with different purposes in mind. Ginzburg used microhistory as an analytical tool to test entrenched generalizations, and he did so by placing a supposedly well-known phenomenon — the long-assumed model of written culture dictating oral culture — under a microscope with the selected case of Menocchio. As he discovered new insights of high and low culture from his analysis, Ginzburg proved that the past is not as familiar as one thought it may be and traditional macrohistories fail to account the vibrant “reciprocal” relationship between written and oral cultures. Godbeer, in contrast, wrote a micro-scale narrative history to recreate the past and bring the past closer to readers. With narrative history, readers can feel the past that have been lost in time. This detailed narrative recreation of the past allows for historical possibilities — it allows for a deep understanding of a past human experience, and the qualitative primary evidence used may help direct future pathways for historians of this field. By fully reconstructing the world that has been lost in history, narrative history helps present readers to acknowledge the gap between the past and present, as well as the distorting assumptions present-day readers may bring into their readings of the past. Without stating his own social analysis, Godbeer offered a gripping story told by historical actors that serves the purpose of historical analysis, shattering stereotypes of early New Englanders as quick to accuse and condemn witchcraft, and directing historians of this field to focus less on Salem but on other witch hunts. 
Microhistory and Macrohistory
Certainly, traditional macrohistory would benefit from microhistory and micro-scale analysis, yet it is unfair to say that macrohistory is at fault for not being able to generate the qualitative analysis as microhistory does. The differences between the two in beliefs and practices are so entrenched that it would not be possible for one to emulate the other. Microhistorians have a more fluid view of social or cultural systems. They believe that social systems are open to constant transformations. As in Menocchio’s world, written and oral cultures constantly influence each other, and the social and cultural system is not static nor rigid — written culture does not dictate oral culture. Sixteenth-century Italian peasants were able to freely impose their oral culture onto the written culture, resulting in a reciprocal cultural exchange between the two cultures. Similarly, Godbeer noted that the Puritan religion, or the written culture, was not the only reason that early New Englanders resented witchcraft, but it is also the folk beliefs that the early settlers brought from Britain contributed to the witch hunt phenomena (Godbeer 147), indicating the influence of oral culture on the written culture and the fluidity of early New England cultural system. Macrohistory, by contrast, views social systems as more of evolutionary progression, which is more linear than the nuanced and complex picture in microhistory. From such view, the individual does not matter in such systems, as they are viewed as insignificantly small on a macro scale. The reason why there has never been any studies on the individual level like in microhistory is because macrohistorians believe that forces that produce historical change are beyond the individual’s control (Maurizio Gribaudi 1996). Since macrohistorians use a macro scale of point of view, they view social systems as more of evolutionary progression, and they focus on major changes over time instead of qualitative analysis on the individual level. Due to the different scale used in their analysis, microhistory and macrohistory offer different perspectives with one recognizing the constant transformations and fluidity of social systems while the other focusing on the long-term transformations.
Although microhistory and macrohistory are different in their views and approaches as a result of their choice of scale, they can still significantly benefit from each other. In fact, the recent development of microhistory is heavily indebted to the contributions from traditional macrohistory. Ginzburg would not conduct a micro-scale study on the period following Menocchio’s, asking the same question of if there is a reciprocal relationship between high and low cultures, as he noted that the subsequent severe cultural repression and indoctrination from above closed the age of vibrant cultural exchange of the sixteenth century (Ginzburg 126). This understanding of European history on a macro level is crucial to help guide Ginzburg’s study. Even though some critical insights have been eluded macrohistory, macrohistory still provides a valuable understanding of the long-term historical trends on a macro level, which can help guide microhistorians to place their micro-scale analysis within the long-term historical context. Godbeer also noted that his study would not be possible without prior social science and macro-scale study of his subject (Godbeer, x). Thus, only when microhistory and micro-scale qualitative studies are carefully placed within the appropriate historical sequence of events, there can be fruitful findings and insights from the micro-scale study. In other words, the qualitative explanation of a historical moment also requires the understanding of the historical contexts and trends surrounding that moment. The result of such historical work is both synchronic and diachronic. 

Synchronic and Diachronic
If the discipline of history is solely defined as the study of processes of change over time, which is more aligned with the nature of traditional macrohistory, the two selected microhistories would be considered to be less historical or more anthropological. However, history is not solely diachronic or synchronic, as it is also not solely the study of changes over time. As historian William Sewell argues, effective history writing needs a proper balance of diachrony and synchrony (Sewell, 184). It should identify processes of change over time as in diachrony while fully explaining the structure of a given historical moment as in synchrony. Even social history, which draws mostly on secondary sources and uses a diachronic approach, would benefit from injecting a bit of synchrony to analyze the synchronic relations, such as meanings and practices, that existed before the identified changes over time. The use of synchrony allows history to be deep and rich in culture and fleshes out the corresponding social structure by suspending time. In addition, as pointed out by Sewell, the word history has two meanings — one is happenings that take place over time while the other being happenings in the past (182). Since both Ginzburg and Godbeer’s work are concerning societies in the past, they would be considered as historical work as in the second meaning. In addition, they all carefully placed their studied subject in the historical sequence of happenings over time. Ginzburg placed Menocchio in the historical contexts of the printing press, the Reformation, and the Inquisition. The diffusion of printed texts allowed Menocchio to express and explore his ideas with words. The Reformation and the trend of transforming traditional Christian religion (Ginzburg 41) gave him the courage to express his ideas to the elite class and to his fellow villagers (Ginzburg xxiv). This brief diachronic interjection proved to be crucial and complementary to Ginzburg’s synchronic analysis of Menocchio’s world. Similarly, Godbeer set the scene of his historical narrative to be June 1692, which was a high point of witch hunt in the Puritan New England. It would be ahistorical or anachronic if the narration was not put into a specific historical time or sequence. Even though these two microhistories rely intensively on primary sources and the synchronic approach to analyze cultures and societies, they also needed to concern the historical sequence of events existed around the time of their studied subject. Carefully placing the historical narrative in its historical context would be necessary for any historical writing, no matter how predominant of its use of the synchronic approach in its analysis. Therefore, Ginzburg and Godbeer’s microhistories would be considered as historical in the sense that they effectively explain a given historical moment, and the synchronic nature of microhistory provides a deep and persuasive account of past cultures and societies. 

Conclusion
The choice of scale and style has an inherent impact on the historical work that is produced. Adopting a micro-scale analysis would allow the historian to focus on a particular historical moment, fleshing out the social systems and structure with great intensity and clarity, and resulting in a synchronic analysis of the given moment as if it has been frozen in time. As comparatively examined, microhistory has been used in different ways, signaling a trans-Atlantic divergence on the practices of microhistorians. Italian historian Carlo Ginzburg used microhistory as an analytical tool to test the validity of the existing macrohistory, and with intensive study of his selected case, which is a single individual that would not be studied in macrohistory, he discovered a story that illuminated the fluid cultural system in sixteenth-century Italy that was open to constant transformations and cultural exchanges between high and low culture. Having eluded traditional macrohistory, Ginzburg’s Menocchio provided a newfound understanding of how oral culture and written culture influenced each other in the sixteenth-century, shattering the distorting assumption of a rigid distinction between the two. On the other side of the Atlantic, early American historian Richard Godbeer used a narrative style when studying witchcraft in Stamford, Connecticut on a micro scale. Stemmed from the esteemed tradition of historians of telling a good story, narrative history requires a complete reconstruction of the given historical moment, also resulting in a qualitative analysis on a micro level. Macrohistory, by contrast, does not view the individual as significant in the process of making historical change. Rather, macrohistorians believe that the forces that produce long-term historical change transcend the individual. Since they chose to view history on a macro scale, their story usually consists of large-scale analysis of secondary data. As a result, they are more concerned with long-term historical changes and trends, as well as their processes. Neither view is perfect or sufficient to study a given past. While macrohistory may help guide microhistorians in their studies with long-term historical contexts, it is the microhistorian’s job to discover important insights that have been eluded traditional macrohistory and tell an unusual story that shatters current distorting assumptions stemmed from inaccuracies in macrohistory. 

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