dr. Sigurður
Gylfi
Magnússon

"The Contours of Social History. Microhistory, Postmodernism and Historical Sources." Mod nye historier. Rapporter til Det 24. Nordiske Historikermøde 3. Redigeret af Carsten Tag Nielsen, Dorthe Gert Simonsen og Lene Wul (Arhus 2001), pp. 83-107.

The Contours of Social History. Microhistory, Postmodernism and Historical Sources

Sigurður Gylfi Magnússon

Business as usual

In 1996 the Journal of Social History dedicated a supplementary special issue to the various problems facing the discipline of history, and social history in particular, in the United States. The supplement followed in the wake of a debate waged on the pages of prominent newspapers and on talk shows (and discussion panels) on television. The reasons for the discussions and debate, however, were mainly two: The debate was, first of all, sparked off by the publication of a new guideline or standards for future curricula in history in high schools, junior colleges, colleges and universities.[1]

Another reason can be put down to a significant change in American politics heralded by the gaining of congress majority by the Republican Party. Following their victory in Congress Republicans made their presence felt, not least in the domains of culture and education, and dealt out criticisms and implemented new reforms. They criticized certain allotments from research funds and even made sure that “undesirable projects” did not receive funding. One of the disciplines hit by this revisionist action was Social History. During this period it certainly came under scrutiny and had to endure severe criticism. This was, however, not an unheard of situation; the proponents of social history had already been under siege from the Reagan administration, with the attacks being led by the right wing philosopher, and virtual fanatic, William Bennett (who later, as an advisor of the Bush administration, was nicknamed “the drug-zar”).[2] At the time Bennett held a key-position as the director of the National Endowment for the Humanities, a crucial fund for cultural research in the States. Bennett’s successor was Lynne Cheney, wife of Dick Cheney (then Bush’s presiding Secretary of Defense (as the Gulf War took place), and presently nominated Vice President by Texas governor and presidential candidate George W. Bush in the Presidential Election in the fall of the year 2000. Mrs. Cheney actually softened the attacks but, according to Peter N. Stearns’ (a social historian and the editor of the Journal of Social History) assessment, this hardly made social history a pet project. However, Cheney did not mince her words in the debate over the new Standards in ‘94-’95 and in that period became a right-wing spokesman on matters of culture and education and an active player in the public arena.[3]

The irony in that turn of events was that Cheney had been the one to instigate the making and implementation of such standards, with the intention of assuaging deep-rooted dissatisfaction with the way teaching in schools had developed and how history as a discipline had been overshadowed by various sorts of social scientific research.

According to right wing politicians, the main problem with history, as it had turned out, had to do with the conceptual framework social historians chose to emphasize in their research. Instead of concentrating on the great men of history and symbols of unity, the social historian, more often than not, turned his attention to marginal societies, subcultures or people whose sole contribution to history consisted of having been born, and having lived a simple and unspectacular life before dying. In the eyes of right-wingers such emphases were dangerous for society and for the first time in history, the discipline was, in their minds, being used for the purpose of splitting the nation up instead of uniting it. Suddenly, paraplegic, black women were a legitimate subject, if not a preferred one, and easily overshadowed war heroes or even the ideological founders of American democracy. African culture and roots suddenly became as enticing a subject matter as that of Greek or Roman high culture, traditionally exalted as the very foundation of Western societies.

Admittedly, a number of interesting aspects came to light in the discussion instigated by the right wing critics, but most of them will go unmentioned here as they are beyond the scope of the present paper, which will consider the reactions of historians to the attacks, mainly as they appear in the Journal of Social History. The aforementioned special issue was published under the heading of “Social History and the American Political Climate—Problems and Strategies”, and contained thirteen articles of variable lengths. These were divided up into two groups, the first grouping articles analyzing the problem at hand, while the articles in the second category attempted to put the problem in a wider context and to suggest possible solutions. It the latter, scholars such as Jürgen Kocka from Germany and John K. Walton from Britain, had their say, and thus the problem was put in an international context. In the following, I will attempt to analyze the failure of social history to fulfill its main goal; namely, to make ordinary people their subject. And in this attempt I will refer to the reactions of historians who made their views known in the Journal of Social History and other forums.

I am of the opinion that social history has, to a great extent, failed in its proclaimed and relatively simple task of writing history “from the bottom up”. To a certain degree, I think that many of the scholars who have recently obtained their Ph.D.’s or completed formal studies at universities all over the world have a similar perception: today, in the world of science, there is a general dissatisfaction with the status of theory. It is this sensation that I will try to articulate in the present paper, as well as suggesting a possible way out of the evident conundrum of history practice.

Journal of Social History, volume 29, supplement

The editor of the Journal of Social History, Peter N. Stearns, explicates the reasons for the publication of the supplement in an introduction. There he points out the fact that the great debate about history that took place at the end of 1994 and the beginning of 1995, largely centered on social history and its emphases in research, marked by a radical view of society. Stearns further remarks that history, to a certain extent, rests on popular interest in the discipline and therefore it is both natural and reasonable to react to the criticism and making an effort to put the problem in perspective. For that purpose, the problem is to be tackled from all possible sides, in order, hopefully, to turn the tables: “There is no attempt here to urge a single formula, but rather to generate some new thinking and possibly some new approaches in relating social history and American audiences.”[4] Professor Stearns goes on to proclaim the effort a first step in the direction and that the journal’s intention to publish more articles in the same vein, if and when they be submitted. To my best recollection, the special edition was the first and last stand made in the Journal of Social History on the debate in question. That, however, does not change my view to the effect that the publication of the supplement should be counted as a minor landmark, as an unusually committed effort on the part of a theoretical publication. The effort should be lauded and serves as an important testimony of the attitudes of historians at the end of the 20th century towards a discipline that has been through radical changes in a matter of a few decades.

According to Stearns, there were mainly three factors that upset the right-wingers, at the very mention of social history: First of all, the obvious left-sided bias of the profession; secondly, the curricula, thought to be quite offensive: “We are bent more on studying specific groups or facets of social behavior or larger patterns of social change; a nationalist or Whiggish litmus test is not relevant to most of us,” as Stearns puts it.[5] Finally, what further irks them is the emphasis of social historians on large groups, for example on the lower classes and minorities, considered to have influenced history in significant ways. Stearns draws attention to the fact that this does not agree with right-wing agenda, where the great deeds of individual actors form the mainstay of Western culture. He further points out that in spite of everything historians have “survived the years of Bennett and the first incarnation of Lynne Cheney, and British social historians seem to have survived Thatcherism, with social history still intact and vigorous; doubtless we can do it again.”[6] Stearns then goes on to state his opinion that social historians should perhaps put more effort into reaching the general public, a possibility supported by the ease with which the right-wingers managed to make historians suspect by referring to the inherent problem of the discipline; namely, that historians had a hidden agenda, that had nothing to do with informing the general public about history. For this reason, Stearns suggests that historians look to different ways of representation, in order to get their messages across to the public in a decisive way. Interestingly enough, he sees no reason for introspection as far as the project of social history is concerned nor to ask whether it has, as a discipline, reached its goals. And he does not seem to think that there is a pressing need to consider the actual status of social history and the possible validity of some of the criticism. In this, I am convinced, Peter Stearns echoes a general sentiment among social historians, especially those who have been in the forefront during the last decades. As these historians look back on the road traveled they seem to enjoy what they see, and this sentiment can be discerned in all of the articles published in the special issue of the Journal of Social History.

The chapter headed “Defining the Problem” consists of five articles by renowned historians. Each in turn makes a convincing counter-attack against the criticisms of the right-wingers. Richard Jensen writes about the cultural wars, lasting from 1965 to the present, arguing that the attack on social history was simply a link in a larger chain of events. One thing led to another in the struggle between the left and the right in the States and in 1994 and 1995 social history found itself at the center of the skirmish. In fact, any subject could have been chosen but certain circumstances favored the reaction against social history.[7] Robert Doyle, former Republican Spokesman in Congress and presidential candidate in 1996, put it bluntly: “With all due respect, history may be too important to leave to the professional historians.”[8]

It was payback time and the right-wingers were going to regain their power in schools and history, both of which where, in their opinions, their ideological creations. To wit, Jensen considers the turn of events to be quite normal and perhaps being an unavoidable part of American society, having little or nothing to do with social history. Social history was simply an unfortunate victim.

Gary B. Nash, one of the authors of the National History Standards, seeks, in his article, to explain the harsh criticisms directed against the Standards by recalling a similar debate, on a related subject, that had taken place some fifty years earlier.[9] Here then we have a true historian who tries to discern the big picture in the whole debate and to draw his own conclusions by looking at the movers and shakers of earlier school reforms in the U.S. Nash recollects the case of Harold Rugg who wrote an immensely popular textbook. This textbook was used in most schools in the States in the early forties but later on in the same decade it was harshly criticized by the right wing who organized book burnings all over the country. Nash compares the arguments used against Rugg and his book to the arguments directed against the National Standards fifty years later. The main points are indeed pathetically similar and this gives Nash occasion to conclude that he and his co-workers are simply victims of predictable, recurring protests of right-wing fanatics, and thus, he is sure, history will judge the events of the 1994-1995 debate.

After a detailed discussion of all of these factors, Nash highlights the following:

The attention to social history over recent decades has no doubt raised new questions, not the least of which is the problem of developing master narratives to take the place of the narrowly constructed and distorted mega-stories of the past. Critics see the new history of women, laboring people, religious and racial minorities producing a hopelessly chaotic version of the past in which no grand synthesis, overarching themes, or coherent structure is visible. This is the lamented triumph of pluribus without unum. But it needs to be remembered that the old coherence and the old overarching themes were those derived from studying mostly the experiences of much less than the whole of the American people and from grounding the megahistorical constructs nearly exclusively in the Western experience. The contribution of social history is to show that the overarching themes and grand syntheses promulgated by past historians will not hold up when we broaden our perspectives to include the history of all the people who constituted American society.[10]

In this statement, Nash accounts for the contribution, as he sees it, that social history has made and compares it to an older narrative. All of this is familiar but not at all convincing, to put it mildly. The similarity in the descriptions of the methods of social history and that of those whom Nash is criticizing, is striking. The content may be different but the method is the same, to provide people with a general overview of a grand chain of events. This overview can be complicated but never to the extent that it precludes the possibility of a giving an account of it in a continuous text. If Nash is right, the master narratives are still going strong.[11]

Next in line we have Jan Lewis, who discusses the double stance of the historian in society, on the one hand as a social critic, on the other as a public servant.[12] In his view this double stance of many historians creates a certain tension within the discipline that surfaces at certain junctures in time, such as in the one that came about in the 1994-1995 debate. “Yet it is only by facing this double-consciousness squarely and by understanding its implications that we will be able to confront the current crisis in our profession, of which the assault upon social history is a part.”[13] In a convincing manner, Lewis looks at the way this double-consciousness has colored the historians very environment and even the institutions they belong to; he does not, however, consider the effect of the environment on the discipline as such. His analysis is of interest but fails to venture into the area where the problem lies, namely at the roots of social history itself, and in the way it is practiced.

While high school teacher, Barry W. Bienstock also abstains from detailed analysis of the mechanics of the discipline, he nevertheless suggests a discussion of the contents of the Standards instead of focusing exclusively on the possible pedagogical effects they might have on students.[14] Like other contributors to this section of the journal, Bienstock is of the opinion that the contribution of social history merits attention, and that its development has meant undeniable progress, and further, that it has proven to be an important factor in increasing student understanding of the nation’s history. In other words, nothing is amiss with those who write this history, just with those who criticize its contents. All of the authors mentioned above are in agreement in this respect and the underlying sentiment in their respective papers is similar: our house is in order.

In the second part of the special issue attention is focused on a broader scale of the debate. Some of the contributors consider possible reaction. Jürgen Kocka discusses the correlation between ideas of the left with social history in a historical light and shows in an amusing way how it may be crucial for the discipline to consider such ideas.[15] His definition of social history is of special interest:

By social history I mean, on the one hand, a sub-field of historical studies which mainly deals with social structures, processes and experiences, for example, with classes and strata, ethnic and religious groups, migrations and families, business structures and entrepreneurship, mobility, gender relations, urbanization, or patterns of rural life. [...] On the other hand, social history means an approach to general history form a social-historical point of view. Social history in this sense deals with all domains of historical reality, by relating them to social structures, processes and experiences in different ways.[16]

Kocka’s definition, which I am sure many social historians would agree to, is worthy of note, not least because it gives an indication of the problem facing the discipline. In this case, I am talking about the primary emphasis Kocka and quite a few other social historians put on linking up with general history. This point will be discussed in detail further on.

John K. Walton discusses debate from a British perspective.[17] He compares the situation in the two countries and shows how the dice was loaded against social history during the Thatcher regime and explains how the discipline dealt with that challenge. The defensive measures taken were manifold but the main point is that Walton is writing his article with the express purpose in mind suggest research methods for the American social historians, in the light of the British experience.

Following the European input, a few American social historians, renowned for studies in their respective fields, such as gender history, African-American history, Working Class history, etc. have their say.[18] Each in turn gives an account of difficulties undergone his particular disciplinary branch and suggests the lesson to be learned from the experience. The sentiment is similar to that of the articles in the first section of the supplement, with one and all in favor of solidarity within the discipline and calling on social historians to stand their ground. Perhaps Roy Rosenzweig best captures this spirit in the following exhortation: “In urging historians to be more active in making our case publicly, I am calling for a kind of craft unionism for historians–a more self-conscious effort to defend our craft.”[19]

Yet again it is the obvious enemy that is the subject but the discipline as such is not called upon to serve as the source for new ideas about the connection of history to the world it is supposed to study.

Thus concludes the supplement to the Journal of Social History and there can be no doubt that it is an interesting testimony to the way social historians discuss their discipline in times of difficulties. In what follows, I will try to substantiate my claim that social history has failed its original aims, namely to shed light on what George Reid Andrews contends is at the heart of social history, “freedom, liberty, equality, opportunity”—values he considers fundamental to American democracy. And he goes on: “Social history treats those ideals and values, not as holy incantations handed down by mythic patriarchs, but rather as vital, living ideas around which popular movements have mobilized and struggled for their collective interests …”.[20] I will try to explain why I think that the fundamental thought of social history has in some way been left behind in the representations of the discipline. It could be maintained that the criticism coming from the camp of the Right in the winter 1994-1995 exposed the weaknesses in a distinct way. I do not, however, intend to answer all of the questions nor to force all historians into the same category; rather, I will try to expound a feeling that I’ve harbored for some time now; that social history has utterly failed to meet my expectations of it. Those were the expectations of a scholar just as fond of the discipline as the aforementioned authors in the Journal of Social History supplement obviously are; a scholar who has specialized in social history and studied under some of the greatest teachers in the field and enjoyed it thoroughly. But in spite of this, I have a strong suspicion that social history is headed in the wrong direction, as I will try to show below.

It’s the Social History, Stupid!

I will now consider the changes in the discipline of history in light of my own experiences as a post-graduate student, in the eighties and early nineties. The history department at Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh, where I was working on my doctoral thesis, was a progressive one with a heavy emphasis on quantitative methods. The faculty was both enthusiastic and totally convinced that they were creating a department, which would have a great impact on the practice of history in the future. One of my professors, a young and very talented social historian and demographer, took it so far as to argue that with the use of computers and quantitative methods, history would become a “real science”. At the time, I felt that there was something in the air, something that would greatly affect our sense of history.

Systematical research in the vein of social sciences was to be the key to future research in history, with emphasis both on economics and historical demography, often in the spirit of classical political and economical studies. Not surprisingly, the leaders of the French school, the Annales, had an enormous influence on historical study at this time. Their ideology was founded on “the emphasis on the study of the largest possible aggregates; the priority granted to measurement in the analysis of social phenomena; the choice of a time frame long enough to make largescale transformations visible (and, as a corollary, the need to situate analyses within different time frames)”, as the French historian Jacques Revel describes the defining features of the social history that reigned in France and in some other places.[21] Revel remarks that nearly all of the Annales, the first, second and third generation of historians belonging to the school “also took a sort of scientific voluntarism: the only objects that one can study scientifically are those constructed according to explicit procedures in light of an initial hypothesis which is then subjected to empirical validation.”[22]

Needless to say, the French school became highly influential throughout the world, and not the least in the US.

American social history was not only heavily influenced by its French counterpart, but also by the social sciences as practiced in the U.S. Historical studies in a number of European countries also increasingly looked to the social sciences in search of a methodology. Here I could mention a whole host of research domains that attracted my attention and had an immense influence on those who were studying history at the time. Researches in proto-industry and social mobility are good examples of the innovative spirit that reigned in the discipline in this period.[23] In both of these fields, researchers sought to utilize demographic information in decisive ways; e.g., a large amount of raw numerical data was collected and converted to digital form, enabling a vast amount of information to be processed by computers at an unheard of speed.[24] Researchers computer-processed property inventories at marriage and death, trial records, information on literacy and book possession, and information from church registers was gathered, just to mention a few examples. The subject matter covered, as a rule, a long period of time and seemed to be inexhaustible. All of these researches had in common the factor that they were linked up with great political, economic, and social changes in the transition from a premodern to a modern society, often within the framework of the modernization theory, whether or not scholars were willing to admit their affinity to that theory. History was increasingly reaching further and further into the domain of social sciences and, in the eyes of many, a phenomenon on the scale of a revolution was taking place.

In this way, a generation of scholars introduced new questions that impressed many young historians, myself included. One could sense that historical practice was changing and in such an atmosphere it is no wonder that optimism ran high, even to the extent of convincing not a few that history was about to become “a real science”.

Still, this optimism and the rhetoric being used in connection with it started to trouble me quite early on in my doctoral thesis. I started to feel a distinct unease and was unwilling to accept quantitative sources as the ultimate solutions towards the end of the making history part of the natural sciences. This feeling began to take hold at the close of the eighties and grew stronger with each passing day. Fortunately, I was lucky enough to have favorable instructors who understood my dilemma and encouraged me to work on it in my thesis, in the way I deemed necessary. [25]

Jacques Revel has the following to say about the atmosphere that I experienced in the States at the end of the eighties:

This model of social history [the French-style social history] entered a period of crisis in the late 1970s and early 1980s, that is, by a strange irony, just at the moment when it seemed to be at the height of its triumph, when its results were taken as authoritative well beyond the boundaries of the profession and the “territory of the historian” seemed capable of indefinite enlargement. Clearly, the sense of a crisis was slow to make itself felt, and it is by no means certain that majority of historians even today would agree that we are in the midst of one.”[26]

Revel points out that various reasons exacerbated the problem that he considers social history to have been immersed in at the time: the changed status of many older works because of the advent of computer technology in research work, increased specialization in the discipline and, finally, a general change in attitudes in society at large resulting in a lessened interest in gaining a global understanding of the social.

My dissatisfaction with social history grew steadily, and after I defended my doctoral dissertation, at the end of 1993, I realized that I had failed to reach the goals that I mentioned above.[27]

While the Bush-Clinton presidential election campaign was reaching its peak in 1992, the election manager of the latter, James Carville, was discovered to have been using a cue-card with a caption reading, something like: “It’s the economy, stupid!” Carville maintained that the purpose of the card was to remind himself of the key issue in the presidential debate. Bush’s enemies, predictably, jumped on the phrase and used it unsparingly against him in the fight in order to remind the voters of the bad state of the economy.

When I received the Journal of Social History supplement in 1996, I read it attentively and with enthusiasm. It came as a surprise to me how defensive social historians were and I was astounded that no one even entertained the idea that perhaps social historians had in some ways failed. After some contemplation, I said to myself, "It’s the Social History, Stupid!" and I began to think, even though the thought was not a happy one, that maybe the right-wingers had, after all, been partly right. Perhaps they had indeed spotted weaknesses in the practice of historical research in the last twenty or thirty years and simply used them to their political advantage.

In the last decade there have been various changes in the field of history; to simplify slightly, one could say that the main ones concern new ideas about the concept of culture. These ideas have turned historians away from demographic approaches to ones stemming from cultural theory. Of course, this has in some instances radically changed the focus of research. There is no room to discuss these changes in detail here but I will introduce one branch that has resulted from them: microhistory.[28]

The instigators of microhistory, Carlo Ginzburg and his colleagues, soon went on the offensive; they attacked large-scale social scientific studies based on massive quantitative conceptualizations simply because the inherent generalizations distorted the actual reality at the base. The emphasis of microhistory was on small units and how people conducted their lives within them. This was a drastic methodological transformation, for example, from the emphases of the Annales. One could say that many of the things that came to the fore sheds light on the multifarious approaches of historians in the last decades of the 20th century. I will now turn, in particular, to the Italian school of microhistory, and a certain struggle within that school that reflects the tug-of-war between microhistorians in the world but also exposes the general weakness of the microhistorical approach.

Two Distinct Methods in Microhistory: Social and Cultural [29]

Microhistorians differ in their views on methods and ideology. In the States, in Britain, and in France there is a strain of microhistory that could be called “button-up history”; in Germany another strain would be closer to “everyday-life history” (Alltagsgeschichte); and the third strain can be detected in Italy, the birthplace of microhistory.[30] The last-mentioned school, and a particular difference of opinions within that school, is worth a closer look.

Italian microhistorians have utilized the methods of microhistory in somewhat different ways among themselves. In a way their conflict has been marked by the attitude towards the relation of the method to history, or even to science. Gianna Pomata and Giovanni Levi are interesting representatives of respective factions. Both are well-known in the circles of microhistorians, but Levi is without a doubt one of its main proponents. Pomata, on the other hand, belongs to a younger generation of Italian historians. She has developed a position quite distinct from that of Levi, undoubtedly because she has had the freedom and the opportunity of doing so in the USA. Levi’s followers could, to simplify matters, be said to adhere to a rather traditional social history, with strong leanings towards the social sciences, while the other group, which Pomata belongs to, could be named after cultural history. Both of these groups have similar foundations and their ideologies are not all that dissimilar even though they express them quite differently and the relations of each group to other disciplines is not the same. Levi has discussed the common foundation of microhistory as well as the terms for its genesis in the following way:

Historians sought to understand reality better by constructing more complex descriptions, which were close to reality. Thus, attention was shifted from general answers to general questions in order to understand the differences which lie beneath the apparent similarities of distinct situations.”[31]

Both of the groups were looking for connections with larger units, but on somewhat different grounds.

Gianna Pomata describes the differences aptly in a lecture she gave in the city of Odense in Denmark in 1999, in a seminar titled: Microhistory – Towards a New Theory of History. The lecture, semi-biographical and semi-theoretical, was a sort of personal settling of accounts with microhistory. In it Pomata turned the attention of the audience, which I had the pleasure of being in, to the interesting differences between groups in the Italian school of microhistory. According to her account the microhistory that came into being and developed around the journal Quaderni Storici had freed many historians from the fetters of academic and ideological rituals.[32]

As a result an unusual atmosphere accumulated around microhistory and extended to all facets of the discipline. Theoreticians, coming to the journal in droves, attacked the very foundation of the discipline, both in regard to methodology and ideology, and defined themselves as outcasts in the field. They frequently went against the grain of accepted conventions of academia and wanted to dissolve values and ideas that had held it down, in their opinion. Pomata went on to describe how vitally important the settling of accounts had been for her as a scholar; the idea to expose and diminish the importance of concepts such as state, market, social mobility and others like them changed her whole perspective.[33] The method consisted of scaling down the research focus and turning one’s sight to the multiplicity of the concepts, to show how complicated the reality behind them turns out to be.

Pomata has stated that Levi and Edoardo Grendi, another giant in microhistory, disappointed her when they made public their shared vision of research in microhistory; viz., to force history to mend its ways and turn it into a social science. This emphasis of the microhistorians probably comes as a surprise to most readers, but there are explanations for this attitude. Theoretical experiments of this sort were designed to lead to a more fully developed social science and thus showing Italian theory and causes in a new and a positive light. To Pomata this was, not unexpectedly, rather a pathetic turn, especially since she had herself sensed and hoped for something more from the methods of microhistory. When introduced to the works of Carlo Ginzburg, she had felt that in him she had discovered a true original. Here was a man not trying to create a discipline to improve on the methods of social science, but rather applying methods of his own, methods that had the same goal as the novel; to grasp life and make it intelligible, as it were.[34] This made an impression on Pomata and made her a disciple on the spot, for she was an admirer of literature and enthusiastic about tackling the same questions as poets and writers are wont to do in their works.

Pomata thus demarcates the differences between the two poles of microhistory; those who wanted to use microhistory to implement social scientific methods to understand the world, —that is, to look at the development of history with the help of theories and master narratives—and the others who thought that “there was the dazzling prospect of a history that would be thoroughly up to the most rigorous standards of the craft while also matching, in terms of vitality and intensity of vision, the work of art.”[35]

As a result, the experiments of the microhistorians had two sides, a social one and a cultural one, and this created conflict between the two factions running Quaderni Storici, which ended in the victory of the social historical approach. The group behind the victorious agenda was dynamical and criticized cultural microhistory relentlessly. They were, according to Pomata, not sensitive to the other side’s views,

[...] nor did they take into account the specific problems of historians who work with meanings. Like the behavioral scientists of the 60’s, the social micro-historians seemed uncomfortable around meanings and had to turn them into something harder, like “practices” for instance, before they would deal with them. I certainly didn’t share their point-blank rejection of symbolic anthropology, and I found their tendency to equate the new cultural history with old-fashioned history of ideas shortsighted at the very least.[36]

Microhistorians with a social-historical bias emphasized certain important details: By simplifying the matter considerably, one could say that Levi and his group first and foremost focused on big systems with the aid of the methods of microhistory. Levi explains his positions by imagining a hypothetical model that is not only made out of the binary opposites, individual and state, that is, on the conflict between these two different powers in society, instead Levi includes, in between the two, a common forum that he calls “the civil society”. And this is where the actual struggle between different forces in society takes place; this is the place wages and living conditions are agreed on, as it were.[37] The developmental stage of this venue depends on the conditions in each country and in some cases it overshadows the state and public institutions while in others the converse is true. Levi maintains that microhistorical research has exposed this reality of the big systems: “Where macrohistory, by assuming a unique model of the modern state, makes it impossible to understand the real development of Italy and other countries, only microanalysis can really help.”[38] This is done by entering “the civil society” and analyzing in great detail how individuals and officials of public institutions fight over concepts and definitions in order to use them in everyday life; this is where the real settlements, agreements and compromises are made.

Giovanni Levi’s ideas are, to an extent, parallel to those of many American historians who look to the methods of social sciences. The Social historian Charles Tilly, would be one of them.[39] Still, there are considerable differences, evident in Tilly’s lukewarm belief in the useful knowledge to be had from research of the small. What is in common, is Levi’s and Tilly’s belief in the meaning of the structure of society and their stance on grand narratives as the true glue of historical development and therefore being the key to our understanding of sociological development in general.

Tilly and Levi are not the only ones to have praised the ideas of grand narratives and general history. On the contrary, a whole generation of scholars has dedicated its working life to structural research. Of course, attitudes within that group may vary significantly but the outlook of the American historian Lynn Hunt, professor at UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles), is worth noticing. In the eighties Hunt taught the New Cultural History, paying, in her research, special attention to culture, language, manners and various signs and significant events in society.[40] One of her subjects was the French Revolution and in her research on that subject she talked about the necessity of taking a wider perspective than just looking for the relation of big systems to economic and political factors: Culture of everyday-life, with its multifarious signs and distinguishing features (counting everyday politics), shaped the revolutionary society, according to Hunt.[41]

The underlying ideology was, in a way, pitted against the methods of the social sciences and as a result the importance of statistical analysis lessened. Hunt has, in my opinion, stepped back from her criticisms of conventional methods of social history; her ideas today, as will become evident in the following, will undoubtedly come as something of a surprise to some readers.[42]

In her article, “The Challenge of Gender”, Hunt accounts for the importance of big systems for the writing of gender history.[43] Hunt underlines the fact that a considerable number of those scholars who have put stock in gender studies have in fact rejected the relationship to metanarratives, as they are considered to be based exclusively on the terms of men. This is untenable in Hunts’ opinion and only serves to isolate gender studies as a marginal phenomenon in the discipline. According to Hunt “[t]he power to reshape general history depends on active engagement with its premises.”[44] For this reason gender theorists need to revise their own metanarrative, or so Hunt suggests.

Hunt’s ideas probably go hand in hand with the ideas of most of those who have been practicing or studying social history in the last decades. At least no apparent pressure is being put on scholars, using gender studies or any other branch of theory, to provide new metanarratives. Nor is there a strong demand for our understanding of metanarratives to be radically changed. On the contrary, scholars such as Hunt and Pomata push hard for historians, of all persuasions, to rely on metanarratives. In that respect they suggest that modernization theory can and should be the corrective model for scholars’ research.[45]

This then is in their view the way to influence the writing of the total history, which should be the main goal of all history writing, that is, to influence the way humans see the progress of history. This in itself is a logical conclusion of the ideology of the scholars referred to. Even those who have wanted to move the scale down, that is to say the microhistorians, have never gone all the way and rejected the importance of metanarratives for historical research. The historian Georg G. Iggers has this to say about the status of the microhistorians within the field of history:

While this book has argued for the legitimacy of microhistory, it has also shown how the latter has never been able to escape the framework of larger structures and transformations in which this history takes place. As we saw, almost all microhistorians have had to confront processes of modernization through their impact on the small social groupings to which they dedicated themselves.”[46]

In the final section of this paper I will try to challenge these ideas and the said importance of metanarratives, and argue that microhistory and its methods can present certain solutions to the problems many historians are confronted with as they try to break out of the mold of scholarship as it has been defined throughout the world in the last decades. I am of the opinion that scholars, at whatever stage they are at, should take the methods of microhistory to heart and put them to the full test.

Modernization – Singularization

Before I go on, I want to present a few crucial concepts that have to do with the size of the research fields in question and the general scope of the discipline. Many scholars talk about metanarratives or grand narratives, general history and macrohistory in the same instance, while there is a considerable difference between these concepts. In short, metanarratives can be described as a continuous argumentation about a social development over a long period of time, arguments that are so tightly knit that they put events and phenomena together into pre-defined molds, designed to put them into a specified social context. The modernization theory is a good example of a metanarrative that has greatly affected the way in which historians think and behave in the world of scholarship. Conventional social history relies, nearly without exception, on metanarratives who in turn bear the features of macrohistory, which covers restricted fields but at the same time tries to show them as a continuum over a long period of time, or on a broad basis. To be able to do this, the scholar doing macrohistorical research must rely on metanarratives. The conclusion of this interplay of metanarratives and macrohistorical research more often than not results in general history. The latter is, on the other hand, a summary of a particular historical development, country or territory, over an extended period. General history often turns into a mass of information that scholars quickly start to handle as self-evident and unshakeable. The struggle of the historian, whether he studies social history, gender history, women’s history, queer history, microhistory, etc., is about fitting his research into this particular frame of general history; to posit his research in that context, just like Lynn Hunt exhorted gender historians to do. Should the research fail to reach this goal they are considered to have been off the mark, undeserving of a place in general history.

These explanations of the concepts of metanarratives, macrohistory and general history are necessary and in fact connect up with the main theme of the present paper: the relation of microhistory to the concepts. As I have already stated, I reject these ties and would like to promote a new method I have elected to name the “Singularization of History”.[47] The method looks inward and studies each single aspect in close detail, the nuances of events and phenomena that we choose to consider. The idea is that the emphasis will always be on the subject matter under scrutiny and nothing else; this of course is easier said than done as scholars generally find it difficult to discern the main lines in the development of knowledge. In other words, “Singularization of History”, is first and foremost a search for a way to research its proper subject in its proper logical and cultural context and thus seek to disconnect the “manmade” ideological package of the metanarratives.

Obviously it is not easy to discard the scientific paradigms of the academy, nor the game-rules of the discipline, and start anew with a clean slate. “Singularization of History” is indeed not meant to hinder us from looking around and comparing researches in the spirit of singularization to metanarratives. The metanarratives can obviously not be avoided because they are a part of the existing rules of the sciences. Still, it is, in my mind, of utmost importance that scholars put strict limits to such comparisons. I have coined the word “sagnr‡ni” or “historicalization” for this procedure, according to which a work should be estimated on its own merit; it should be compared to a subject researched in the same field; and thirdly, it is to be put into a larger context of general ideas about the development of societies, constructed by metanarratives. Historicalization is therefore a prescription for the method of singularization and how best to promote it in the world of science. It is apt for positing the research and necessary as such because scholars will carry on considering the big context of things (the big picture), even though not much is to be gained from this. In all cases it is the singularity (the unit itself) that has, by far, the most epistemological value of all the possibilities in sight.

In other words, the idea behind the “Singularization of History” does not require historians to disregard earlier scholarship nor to entertain the idea that previous ideological systems are be gotten rid of. Quite the contrary: it is vital to broach a discussion of metanarratives and to recognize that it does take place in the society we live in. The limitations of such paradigms must however be kept in mind and must not become a direct subject of research. That is what “Singularization of History” is all about.

It is not unreasonable to ask how the fragmentation, the crumbs falling from the table of life, can have any value and afford a different view than that of a general survey of the field of history. These so-called fragments, testimony of time past, present an opportunity to tackle a restricted area of life that can, in spite of its limitations, be complicated and colorful, thus offering an opportunity to highlight the diversity of life and an promoting understanding of all the preserved threads connected to the restricted research area. If we give in to the temptation to overly broaden our field of research we will lose sight of our research unit and the danger is that we will simply adapt our research to something other than our original subject matter. Metanarratives require submission on the part of the scholar; they bend his ideas and are not subject to compromise. The reason for this is that the complicated ideas of the academy enter the picture, and these not only influence the outcome but also in fact dictate it. The aim of “Singularization of History” is to get out from under the long shadows that these ideas cast.

This enables us to undermine modernization theory and gives us an opportunity to look for new ways of approaching our subject. Left standing are the fragments from the past, waiting for our inspection with all the precision that the methods of history has to offer.[48] In this way we will gain an epistemological foothold that will help us to an understanding of the past.

The benefit of this approach is above all the possibility of deconstructing the “myth of workings of the metanarratives” and of pointing out new trajectories of the historical reality that will eventually turn our gaze away from the centralized nature of ideologies.

The author

Sigurður Gylfi Magnússon (b. 1957), Researcher at the Reykjavík Academy, Social Historian (Ph.D.), with emphasis on microhistory. Recent publications: „From Children’s Point of View: Childhood in Nineteenth Century Iceland.“ Journal of Social History, 29 (Winter 1995), pp. 295-323. Menntun, ást og sorg. Einsögurannsókn á íslensku sveitasamfélagi 19. og 20. aldar. Sagnfræðirannsóknir 13 (Reykjavík, 1997). “Félagssagan fyrr og nú.” Einsagan – ólíkar leiðir. Átta ritger›ir og eitt myndlistarverk. Ritstjórar Erla Hulda Halldórsdóttir og Sigur›ur Gylfi Magnússon (Reykjavík, 1998), pp. 17-45. „Einvæðing sögunnar.“ Molar og mygla. Um einsögu og glataðan tíma. Atvik 5 (Reykjavík, 2000).

Bibliography


George Reid Andrews: “Social History and the Populist Movement: Contesting the Political Terrain”, Journal of Social History, Special Issue: Social History and the American Political Climate–Problems and Strategies 29 (1996 supplement), pp. 109-113.

Joyce Appleby, Lynn Hunt og Margaret Jacob: Telling the Truth about History, New York, 1994.

Barry W. Bienstock: “Everything Old is New Again: Social History, the National History Standards and the Crisis in the Teaching of High School American History”,  Journal of Social History, Special Issue: Social History and the American Political Climate–Problems and Strategies 29 (1996 supplement), pp. 59-63.

Lynne Cheney: “The End of History”, Wall Street Journal, Oct. 20, 1994.

Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari: Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, Minneapolis, 1983.

 Den jyske Historiker. Mikrohistorie 85 (1999).

Geoff Eley: “Labor History, Social History, Alltagsgeschichte: Experience, Culture, and the Politics of the Everyday – a New Direction for German Social History?”, Journal of Modern History, 61 (1989), pp. 297-343.

Michael Grossberg: “Taking Stock: Five Years of Editing the AHR”, Perspectives, 38 (September 2000), pp. 17-18; 36-38.

Lynn Hunt: Politics, Culture, and Class in the French Revolution, Berkeley, 1986.

Lynn Hunt: Politics, Culture and Class in the French Revolution,  Berkeley, 1984.

Lynn Hunt, ed.: New Cultural History, Berkeley, 1989.

Lynn Hunt: “The Challenge of Gender. Deconstruction of Categories and Reconstruction of Narratives in Gender History”, Geschlechtergeschichte und Allgemeine Geschichte. Herausforderungen und Perspektiven. Herausgegenben von Hans Medick und Anne-Charlott Trepp, Göttingen, 1998, pp. 57-97.

Charles Krauthammer: “History Hijacked”, Washington Post, Nov. 4, 1994, editorial.

Congressional Record: Senate, Jan. 18. 1995, S1025–S1040.

Georg G. Iggers: Historiography in the Twentieth Century. From Scientific Objectivity to the Postmodern Challenge, London, 1997.

Richard Jensen: “The Culture Wars, 1965-1995: A Historian’s Map“, Journal of Social History, Special Issue: Social History and the American Political Climate–Problems and Strategies 29 (1996 supplement), pp. 17-25.

Hartmunt Kaelble: Historical Research on Social Mobility. Western Europe and the USA in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries. Translated by Ingrid Noakes, New York, 1981.

Peter Kriedte, Hans Medick, Jürgen Schlumbohm, eds.: Industrialization Before Industrialization, Cambidge, 1981.

Jürgen Kocka: “What is Leftist About Social History Today?”, Journal of Social History, Special Issue: Social History and the American Political Climate–Problems and Strategies 29 (1996 supplement), pp. 67-71.

John Leo: “It´s the Culture, Stupid”, U.S. News and World Report, Nov. 21, 1994.

John Leo: “Red, White and Blue”, Newsweek, Nov. 7, 1994, p. 54.

John Leo: “History Standards are Bunk”, U.S. News and World Report, Jan. 18, 1995.

Giovanni Levi: “On Microhistory”, New Perspectives on Historical Writing. Edited by Peter Burke, University Park, PA, 1991, pp. 93-113.

Giovanni Levi: “The Origins of the Modern State and the Microhistorical Perspective”, Mikrogeschichte – Makrogeschichte komplementär oder inkommensurable? Herausgegeben und eingeleitet von Jürgen Schlumbohm, Göttingen, 1998, pp. 53-82.

Jan Lewis: “The Double-Consciousness of the Academic Historian”, Journal of Social History, Special Issue: Social History and the American Political Climate–Problems and Strategies 29 (1996 supplement), pp. 51-57.

Alf Lüdtke: “Introduction. What is the History of Everyday Life and Who are Its Practitioners?”, The History of Everyday Life. Reconstructing Historical Experiences and Ways of Life. Edited by Alf Lüdtke. Translated by William Templer, Princeton, NJ, 1995, pp. 3-40.

Sigurður Gylfi Magnússon: “The Continuity of Everyday Life: Popular Culture in Iceland 1850-1940”, Ph.D. diss., Carnegie Mellon University, 1993.

Sigurður Gylfi Magnússon: “Félagssagan fyrr og nú”, Einsagan – ólíkar leiðir. Átta ritgerðir og eitt myndlistarverk. Ritstjórar Erla Hulda Halldórsdóttir og Sigurður Gylfi Magnússon, Reykjavík, 1998, pp. 17-45.

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             National Center for History in the Schools: National Standards: United States History and National Standards: Exploring the American Experience, Los Angeles, CA, 1994.

Gianna Pomata: “Close-Ups and Long Shots: Combining Particular and General in Writing the Histories of Women and Men”, Geschlechtergeschichte und Allgemeine Geschichte. Herausforderungen und Perspektiven. Herausgegenben von Hans Medick und Anne-Charlott Trepp, Göttingen, 1998, pp. 99-124.

Gianna Pomata: “Telling the truth about micro-history: a memoir (and a few reflections)”, Netværk for historieteori og historiografi, Arbejdspapirer nr. 3. April 2000 (Copenhagen, 1999), pp. 28-40.

Jacques Revel: “Microanalysis and the Construction of the Social”, Histories. French Constructions of the Past. Edited by Jacques Ravel and Lynn Hunt, New Yourk, 1996, pp. 492-502.

Roy Rosenzweig: “The Best of Times, The Worst of Times”, Journal of Social History, Special Issue: Social History and the American Political Climate–Problems and Strategies 29 (1996 supplement), pp. 99-107.

Richard L. Rudolph, ed.: The European Peasant Family and Society: Historical Studies, Liverpool, 1995.

Jim Sharpe: „History from Below“, New Perspectives on Historical Writing. Edited by Peter Burke, University Park, PA, Press, 1991, pp. 24-41.

Peter N. Stearns: “Introduction”, Journal of Social History, Special Issue: Social History and the American Political Climate–Problems and Strategies 29 (1996 supplement), p. 3.

Peter N. Stearns: „Uncivil War: Current American Conservatives and Social History“, Journal of Social History, Special Issue: Social History and the American Political Climate–Problems and Strategies 29 (1996 supplement), pp. 7-15.

Charles Tilly: “Micro, Macro, or Megrim?”, Mikrogeschichte – Makrogeschichte komplementär oder inkommensurable? Herausgegeben und eingeleitet von Jürgen Schlumbohm, Göttingen, 1998, pp. 33-51.

Louise A. Tilly: “History as Exploration and Discovery”, Journal of Social History, Special Issue: Social History and the American Political Climate–Problems and Strategies 29 (1996 supplement), pp. 115-118.

Joe W. Trotter: “Reflections on the African American Experience, Social History, and the Resurgence of Conservatism in American Society”, pp. 85-90.

John K. Walton: “The Lion and the Newt: A British View of American Conservatives’ Fear of Social History”, Journal of Social History, Special Issue: Social History and the American Political Climate–Problems and Strategies 29 (1996 supplement), pp. 73-84.

Judith P. Zinsser: “Real History, Real Education, Real Merit–or Why is “Forest Gump” so Popular?” Journal of Social History, Special Issue: Social History and the American Political Climate–Problems and Strategies 29 (1996 supplement), pp. 91-97.

 



[1] National Standards: United States History and National Standards: World History, National Center for History in the Schools, Los Angeles, CA, 1994; National Standards: United States History and National Standards: Exploring the American Experience, National Center for History in the Schools, Los Angeles, CA, 1994.

[2] Peter N. Stearns: “Uncivil War: Current American Conservatives and Social History“, Journal of Social History, Special Issue: Social History and the American Political Climate—Problems and Strategies 29 (1996 supplement), pp. 7-15.

[3] Lynne Cheney: “The End of History”, Wall Street Journal, Oct. 20, 1994. See also: John Leo: “It’s the Culture, Stupid”, U.S. News and World Report, Now. 21, 1994; “Red, White and Blue”, Newsweek, Nov. 7, 1994, p. 54; Charles Krauthammer: “History Hijacked”, Washington Post, Nov. 4, 1994, editorial; Congressional Record: Senate, Jan. 18. 1995, S1025-1040; John Leo: “History Standards are Bunk”, U.S. News and World Report, Jan. 18, 1995.

[4] Peter N. Stearns: “Introduction”, Journal of Social History, Special Issue: Social History and the American Political—Problems and Strategies 29 (1996 supplement), p. 3.

[5] Peter N. Stearns: “Uncivil War”,  p. 9.

[6] Peter N. Stearns: “Uncivil War”,  p. 11.

[7] Richard Jensen: “The Culture Wars, 1965-1995: A Historian’s Map”, Journal of Social History, Special Issue: Social History and the American Political Climate—Problems and Strategies 29 (1996 supplement), pp. 17-25.

[8] Richard Jensen: “The Culture Wars”,  p. 24.

[9] Gary B. Nash: “The History Standards Controversy and Social History”, Journal of Social History, Special Issue: Social History and the American Political Climate—Problems and Strategies 29 (1996 supplement), pp. 39-49.

[10] Gary B. Nash: “The History Standards Controversy”,  p. 44.

[11] Still, at the close of the article, Nash gives a positive view of social history: “It is precisely the multi-layered, multi-faceted social history of the last generation that has transcended semi-official versions of this country’s development.” Gary B. Nash: “The History Standards Controversy”,  p. 47.

[12] Jan Lewis: “The Double-Consciousness of the Academic Historian”, Journal of Social History, Special Issue: Social History and the American Political Climate—Problems and Strategies 29 (1996 supplement), pp. 67-71.

[13] Jan Lewis: “The Double-Consciousness”,  p. 51.

[14] Barry W. Bienstock: “Everything Old is New Again: Social History, the National History Standards and the Crisis in the Teaching of High School American History”, Journal of Social History, Special Issue: Social History and the American Political Climate–Problems and Strategies 29 (1996 supplement), pp. 59-63.

[15] Jürgen Kocka: “What is Leftist About Social History Today?”,  Journal of Social History, Special Issue: Social History and the American Political Climate–Problems and Strategies 29 (1996 supplement), pp. 67-71.

[16] Jürgen Kocka: “What is Leftist About Social History Today?", p. 67.

[17] John K. Walton: “The Lion and the Newt: A British View of American Conservatives’ Fear of Social History”, Journal of Social History, Special Issue: Social History and the American Political Climate–Problems and Strategies 29 (1996 supplement), pp. 73-84.

[18] Joe W. Trotter: “Reflections on the African American Experience, Social History, and the Resurgence of Conservatism in American Society”, pp. 85-90; Judith P. Zinsser: “Real History, Real Education, Real Merit–or Why is “Forest Gump” so Popular?”, pp. 91-97; Roy Rosenzweig: “The Best of Times, The Worst of Times”, pp. 99-107; George Reid Andrews: “Social History and the Populist Movement: Contesting the Political Terrain”, pp. 109-113; Louise A. Tilly: “History as Exploration and Discovery”,  pp. 115-118. All of these articles are in the Journal of Social History, Special Issue: Social History and the American Political Climate–Problems and Strategies 29 (1996 supplement).

[19] Roy Rosenzweig: “The Best of Times, The Worst of Times”, p. 105. The same is also to be found in an article by George Reid Andrews, where he exhorts social historians and historians to unite and start a campaign against the enemy, and suggest that the American Historical Association be used for that purpose. See in George Reid Andrews: “Social History and the Populist Movement: Contesting the Political Terrain”, p. 111.

[20] George Reid Andrews: “Social History and the Populist Movement: Contesting the Political Terrain”, p. 109.

[21] Jacques Revel: “Microanalysis and the Construction of the Social”, Histories. French Constructions of the Past. Edited by Jacques Revel and Lynn Hunt, New York, 1996, p. 493.

[22] Jacques Revel: “Microanalysis and the Construction of the Social”, pp. 493–494.

[23] Peter Kriedte, Hans Medick, Jürgen Schlumbohm, eds.: Industrialization Before Industrialization, Cambridge, 1981); Hartmunt Kaelble: Historical Research on Social Mobility. Western Europe and the USA in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries. Trans. Ingrid Noakes , New York, 1981.

[24] See for a discussion on proto-industry. Richard L. Rudolph, ed.: The Europen Peasant Family and Society: Historical Studies, Liverpool, 1995.

[25] Peter N. Stearns was the primary supervisor of my doctoral dissertation (Ph.D.) and I got the feeling that he had never been overly enthusiastic about the statistical approach used by many historians even though he took part in creating a department with such an emphasis. Stearns’ field of interest was vast and he had an ability to delve into research in new areas and make decisive contributions. My other supervisor, John Modell, had much deeper roots in historical demography and is one of the foremost scholars in that area in the U.S. In spite of differing emphases both of these gentlemen were patient with me and gave my research enthusiastic support.

[26] Jacques Revel: “Microanalysis and the Construction of the Social”, p. 494.

[27] Sigurður Gylfi Magnússon: “The Continuity of Everyday Life: Popular Culture in Iceland 1850-1940”, Ph.D. diss., Carnegie Mellon University, 1993.

[28] As I will not go into a detailed explanation of the defining features of microhistory in the present paper, I would like to point out a special issue of Den jyske Historiker 85 (1999), dedicated to microhistory (it was called „Mikrohistorie“). In it there are quite a few articles that discuss the different approaches of microhistorians. See also seminar papers from the Netværk for historieteori & historiografi, called “Microhistory – Towards a New Theory of History?”, Arbejdspapirer nr. 3. April 2000, Odense.

[29] In the following, I will rely on recent books published by the Max-Planck-Institut für Geschichte in 1988, in the book-series: Göttinger Gespräche zur Geschichtswissenschaft. I am referring in particular to articles by Gianna Pomata, Lynn Hunt, Charles Tilly, and Giovanni Levi.

[30] This is explained in detail in an article I wrote for an Icelandic reader on the subject of different methods in microhistory. See in Sigurður Gylfi Magnússon: “Félagssagan fyrr og nú”, Einsagan – ólíkar leiðir. Átta ritgerðir og eitt myndlistarverk. Eds. Erla Hulda Halldórsdóttir and Sigurður Gylfi Magnússon, Reykjavík, 1998, pp. 17-45. See also Geoff Eley: “Labor History, Social History, Alltagsgeschichte: Experience, Culture, and the Politics of the Everyday – a New Direction for German Social History?”,  Journal of Modern History, 61 (1989), pp. 297-343; Giovanni Levi: “On Microhistory”, New Perspectives on Historical Writing. Edited by Peter Burke, University Park, PA, 1991, pp. 93-113; Jim Sharpe, „History from Below“, New Perspectives on Historical Writing. Edited by Peter Burke, University Park, PA, 1991, pp. 24-41; Alf Lüdtke: “Introduction. What is the History of Everyday Life and Who are Its Practitioners?”, The History of Everyday Life. Reconstructing Historical Experiences and Ways of Life. Edited by Alf Lüdtke. Translated by William Templer, Princeton, NJ, 1995, pp. 3-40.

[31] Giovanni Levi: “The Origins of the Modern State and the Microhistorical Perspective”, Mikrogeschichte – Makrogeschichte komplementär oder inkommensurable? Herausgegeben und eingeleitet von Jürgen Schlumbohm, Göttingen, 1998, p. 69.

[32] Gianna Pomata: “Telling the truth about micro-history: a memoir (and a few reflections)”, Netværk for historieteori og historiografi. Arbejdspapirer nr. 3. April 2000, Copenhagen, 1999, pp. 28-40.

[33] Gianna Pomata: “Telling the truth about micro-history: a memoir (and a few reflections)”, p. 31.

[34] Gianna Pomata: “Telling the truth about micro-history: a memoir (and a few reflections)”, p. 32.

[35] Gianna Pomata: “Telling the truth about micro-history: a memoir (and a few reflections)”, p. 34.

[36] Gianna Pomata: “Telling the truth about micro-history: a memoir (and a few reflections)”, p. 34.

[37] Giovanni Levi: “The Origins of the Modern State and the Microhistorical Perspective”,  pp. 75-78.

[38] Giovanni Levi: “The Origins of the Modern State and the Microhistorical Perspective”,  p. 80.

[39] See e.g.: Charles Tilly: “Micro, Macro, or Megrim?”, Mikrogeschichte – Makrogeschichte komplementär oder inkommensurable? Herausgegeben und eingeleitet von Jürgen Schlumbohm, Göttingen, 1998, p. 33-51.

[40] See, e.g., Lynn Hunt: Politics, Culture, and Class in the French Revolution, Berkeley, 1986. See also Lynn Hunt ed.: New Cultural History, Berkeley, 1989.

[41] Lynn Hunt: Politics, Culture and Class in the French Revolution, Berkeley, 1984.

[42] Hunt’s position is made quite clear in book that discusses recent developments in history. See in Joyce Appleby, Lynn Hunt and Margaret  Jacob: Telling the Truth about History, New York, 1994,.

[43] Lynn Hunt: “The Challenge of Gender. Deconstruction of Categories and Reconstruction of Narratives in Gender History”, Geschlechtergeschichte und Allgemeine Geschichte. Herausforderungen und Perspektiven. Herausgegenben von Hans Medick und Anne-Charlott Trepp, Göttingen, 1998, pp. 57-97.

[44] Lynn Hunt: “The Challenge of Gender”,  p. 81.

[45] See e.g. Gianna Pomata: “Close-Ups and Long Shots: Combining Particular and General in Writing the Histories of Women and Men”, Geschlechtergeschichte und Allgemeine Geschichte. Herausforderungen und Perspektiven. Herausegegenben von Hans Medick und Anne-Charlott Trepp, Göttingen1998, pp. 99-124.

[46] Georg G. Iggers: Historiography in the Twentieth Century. From Scientific Objectivity to the Postmodern Challenge, London, 1997, p. 143.

[47] It should be noted that Gilles Deleuze, the philosopher, and Felix Guattari, the psychoanalyst, use the term “singularization” in their „schizoanalysis“, but perhaps in more radical sense. The “process of singularization” questions the regular hierarchy, the orders of values and actually calls for the inversion of the system of values. See for example, Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, Minneapolis, 1983.

[48] When historians use the term fragmentation/fragment it seems to me that they are more often referring to developments within the discipline of history that has led to construction of multiple sub-disciplines focusing on research in limited areas of everyday life. Here the term has another meaning; it is supposed to refer to the fragments preserved from the past, glimpses of memories that we think we have touched upon. I am suggesting that these fragments be the main subject for historians in the future. About the former understanding of the term, see a recent article by the editor of The American Historical Review (AHR): Michael Grossberg: “Taking Stock: Five Years of Editing the AHR”, Perspectives, 38 (September 2000), pp. 17-18; 36-38.

SUMMARIES:
Academic liturgy
From Re-evaluation to Disintegration
History War
Metastories
Dreams of Things Past
Education, Love and Grief
Pieces and Molds
The Sound of Divine Revelation
Microhistory - Conflicting Paths
Brothers from the Stranda Commune
Modes of Living in Reykjavik, 1930-1940
Away. Faraway! - And to Another Continent
The Contours of Social History
Method facing a Dilemma
"I am 479 Days Younger than Nilli."...
Modern fairy tales...
Dissertation: The Continuity of Everyday Life
LINKS:
microhistory.org
The Reykjavík Academy
Íslensk heimasíða
© 2006 - Sigurður Gylfi Magnússon