Microhistory can largely be defined as it sounds. It is not grand; it is not grandiose. It is small and intimate and its subjects are often obscure.
The subjects of more famous works of microhistory, for example Martin Guerre, the focus of an excellent book by Natalie Zemon Davis, are plucked from the great mass of the unknown, or have their stories transfigured from myth to something resembling reality.
Such stories are deeply personal in every case. There is something in them which avoids the coldness of even the most effective biography and the rigid, unfeeling rosiness of hagiography. They are personal. Thus microhistory can illuminate ideas about personhood, self-knowledge, and self-perception in years past. And it can, in the way all literature has the potential to do, tell us a more than a little about ourselves. Continue reading →
The story of Martin Guerre is one of the most fascinating in early modern history. Perhaps that is why it is so well documented, both in chronicles and legal writing at the time and more recently, where it has served as the subject of films in French, German and English, and books, including one by Natalie Zemon Davis, which I recently had the pleasure to read. Continue reading →