This week’s readings focused on labels, attempts to try and make send of time and space. I don’t think it’s a surprise to anyone that historians love a definition. Even though global history is larger than borders, it still is confined to space, and uses existing terms and methodologies with this. The discussion of space within Space and Scale in Transnational History really made me think this week, about how easy it is to get bogged down in the metaphorical. It is easy to detach different schools of thought from reality, which is where microhistory really stands apart.
By rooting an understanding of different actors (an IR term but I couldn’t think of a historical equivalent) and ideas within a localised understanding, it makes history more accessible. Microhistory gives us access to people’s lives. Even though it is global and not confined to borders, does not mean that we do not understand and recognise what they are. I really enjoyed Owen’s use of Steven Walsh as a current example of a transnational ‘connector’. Even though he has travelled to several different countries, he is still confined to nations on a spatial level. The national associations help to narrow down the search and make the spread of infection easier to understand. Additionally, his own nationality has assisted in his recovery. There is also an element in the fact that he is British, and therefore his treatment and subsequent recovery would perhaps be different that to those who he unknowingly have affected. These national authorities are forced to take responsibility whether they would like to or not. What this further re-emphasizes is the argument that transnational is still inherently national, only that more players are involved. To disregard national borders is to disregard space that has been carefully carved by previous historians and actors.
Microhistory allows us to see specific examples and case studies of perhaps much bigger issues. Global emergencies are only made real when we see individuals. Twenty-four hour news coverage means that often we become detached from stories that are constantly evolving for weeks or months. Yet when the whistle-blower doctor Li WenLiang died of the virus last week, it caused an international outcry against the Chinese government. It turned a lot of the coverage from fear to rage, anger at how this could have been further prevented. This particular case, his death provokes questions of more than just disease, but wider cultural understanding and the political climate. Only through a specific lens and focus are we able to debate this, something microhistory allows us to do on a very big scale.