Sigurdur Gylfi Magnússon on the Microhistorical approach


What is Microhistory? Sigurdur Gylfi Magnússon started his talk by giving a general overview of the development on the field and insisted on several points :

  • Source material and its subjectivity : All sources material needs interpretation.
  • One the Periphery – The Normal exception : The one who breaks the rule leave traces. Using the microhistorical methods you look for the outlying unit and work with it as past of the approach.
  • The reduction of the scale of observation : An intensive study of the documentary material. An analytical procedure, independent of the dimensions of the object analysed. A way to avoid the determined factors of historical institutions.
  • Focus on the individual : There is a difference between the normative behaviour and the actual behaviour. A reaction toward political and economic determinism.
  • Anthropological and Ethnological methodology : “Thick description” a detailed observation of signifying signs (Geertz), The Great Cat Massacre (Darnton).
  • The connection between the Big and the small units. A move from the particular to the general, from micro to macro. Ginzburg / Davis / Darnton.

Sigurdur Gylfi Magnússon explained that  “Microhistory is like slow food cooking”. He discussed the link between microhistory and grand narratives.

Then he presented what he calls the “Singularization of History”. The method looks inwards, all aspects studied in close detail. The research model can be the following

  • Judging the merit of piece of research on its own terms.
  • Comparing it with other research within the same field.
  • Placing it within a larger context (the least important)

The new methodology focus on the “The textural environment”, How does the sources look like ?

Sigurdur Gylfi Magnússon discussed the new importance of the “ego-documents”, documenting private lives. To write into the moment : now !  What does this meant for the individual ?

How Size Matters? The question of scale in history is now of crucial importance : transnational, deep history, longue durée , big history (billion of year back), macrohistory, microhistory, neuroscientific turn.

What is in the archives? The grand narrative of the printing press replacing manuscripts is certainly not completely true. Sigurdur Gylfi Magnússon discussed the work of Brian Richardson and the continuation of the scribal culture. He also discussed Filippo De Vivo’s monograph Information and Communication in the Venice : Rethinking Early Modern Politics. De Vivo challenges the boundaries of traditional political history beyond the patrician elite and involved the wider population, from humber clerks to foreign spies to notaries, prostitute, etc.

In the discussion that followed, we discussed the links between new approaches to microhistory and digital tools, Personal memories, stereotypes and grand narratives, microhistory of history figures (A microhistorical account of Napoleon ?)


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s