Microhistory is a genre of history writing which focuses on small units of research, such as an event, community, individual, or a settlement. In its ambition, however, microhistory can be distinguished from a simple case study insofar as microhistory aspires to "[ask] large questions in small places", to use the definition given by Charles Joyner.[1] It is closely associated with social and cultural history.


Microhistory became popular in Italy in the 1970s.[2] According to Giovanni Levi, one of the pioneers of the approach, it began as a reaction to a perceived crisis in existing historiographical approaches.[3] Carlo Ginzburg, another of microhistory's founders, has written that he first heard the term used around 1977, and soon afterwards began to work with Levi and Simona Cerutti on Microstorie, a series of microhistorical works.[4]

The word "microhistory" dates back to 1959, when the American historian George R. Stewart published Pickett's Charge: A Microhistory of the Final Attack on Gettysburg, July 3, 1863, which tells the story of the final day of the Battle of Gettysburg.[5] Another early use was by the Annales historian Fernand Braudel, for whom the concept had negative connotations, being overly concerned with the history of events.[6] A third early use of the term was in the title of Luis González's 1968 work Pueblo en vilo: Microhistoria de San José de Gracia.[6] González distinguished between microhistory, for him synonymous with local history, and "petite histoire", which is primarily concerned with anecdotes.[6]


The most distinctive aspect of the microhistorical approach is the small scale of investigations.[2] Microhistorians focus on small units in society, as a reaction to the generalisations made by the social sciences which do not necessarily hold up when tested against these smaller units.[7] For instance, Ginzburg's 1976 work The Cheese and the Worms "probably the most popular and widely read work of microhistory"[2] investigates the life of a single sixteenth-century Italian miller, Menocchio. The individuals microhistorical works are concerned with are frequently those Robert Tristano describes as "little people", especially those considered heretics.[8]

Carlo Ginzburg has written that a core principle of microhistory is making obstacles in sources, such as lacunae, part of the historical account.[9] Relatedly, Levi has said that the point of view of the researcher becomes part of the account in microhistory.[10] Other notable aspects of microhistory as a historical approach are an interest in the interaction of elite and popular culture,[11] and an interest in the interaction between micro- and macro-levels of history.[12]

See also

Notable microhistorians


  1. Joyner, C. W. Shared Traditions: Southern History and Folk Culture, (Urbana: University of Illinois, 1999), p. 1.
  2. Tristano 1996, p. 26.
  3. Burke 1991, p. 93-94.
  4. Ginzburg, Tedeschi & Tedeschi 1993, p. 10.
  5. Ginzburg, Tedeschi & Tedeschi 1993, p. 11.
  6. Ginzburg, Tedeschi & Tedeschi 1993, p. 12.
  7. Magnússon, Sigurdur Gylfi (2003). "'The Singularization of History': Social History and Microhistory within the Postmodern State of Knowledge". Journal of Social History. 36 (3): 709.
  8. Tristano 1996, p. 26-27.
  9. Ginzburg, Tedeschi & Tedeschi 1993, p. 28.
  10. Burke 1991, p. 106.
  11. Tristano 1996, p. 28.
  12. Tristano 1996, p. 27.


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