Microhistory: "The scent of human flesh"



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Texas Tech University


This study analyzes the historiographical genre of microhistory which has been developed and practiced since the 1970's. While characterized by the use of narrative format to present an analysis of mentalite, the microhistory is controversial for its most remarkable element: an extremely small focus upon a single incident or community. Strongly influenced by interdisciplinary dialogue between history and the social sciences, particularly anthropology, microhistories take a case study approach to the past in order to extrapolate elements of cultural significance. Following a discussion of the historiographical context, including both the Annales school and the concurrent development of specialized Italian methodology, this thesis assesses the characteristics and content of nine microhistories which are representative of contemporary microhistorical scholarship. These are evaluated for type of source, and their effectiveness with handling textual distortions inherent within the source, as well as methodology and successful combination of these elements to produce results of historical relevancy.

Microhistories enjoy an unusual position among historical genres as they have attracted much attention from the general public. Although generally applauded as a means of increasing the accessibility of history to non-professional readers, concerns have been voiced that such "popularity" also leads to a degeneration of scholarly value in the pursuit of book sales. This situation is the subject of discussion and suggestions toward possible remedies, including a return to histoire probleme orientation. Finally, future possibilities of the genre are considered in light of the recent interest in textual criticism and developments in the field of anthropology.



History -- Philosophy, Historiography, History -- Methodology