As the debate between Microhistory and Global History is raised this week, I would like to focus on Struck, Ferris and Revel’s article, ‘Introduction: Space and Scale in Transnational History’ as the foundation for contemplating scale in history, then look to Tonio Andrade’s case study, ‘A Chinese Farmer, Two African Boys and a Warlord: Toward a Global Microhistory’ to asses whether or not micro perspectives help or hinder our research in creating a global/transnational history.

The introduction article was extremely helpful in pinning down the definition of Transnational History and elaborating further on the aspects that surround this method/perspective/approach (still being debated). The article explained reasoning behind the growing trend towards a transnational approach and methodological issues that have surfaced since. The article states the importance of the nation has diminished in understanding history and thus the new question of what scale to focus on becomes apparent. As a new transnational approach is being used and explored, its undefined perimeters have left the scale and space of historical study up for debate. Where should we find a balance between global, national and local histories that adequately incorporates each tier to give the overall best analysis of a subject? The writers concluded the article by arguing the need for a ‘micro-process perspective […] in order to facilitate macro scale understanding’. The fluctuation of scale will continue, but for now, perhaps we take a serious look at a micro perspective of history to help us building a larger understanding.

As we take the questions posed in the introduction article we can look to Andrade’s case study surrounding a Chinese Farmer and war in 17th century Taiwan as a unique micro history of an individual’s experience in an intercultural situation. Throughout Andrade’s article, the advantages and disadvantages a micro perspective are illuminated. Andrade is an overwhelming advocate for studying ‘the human dramas that make history come alive.’ (574) In looking at archives, diaries, and personal accounts, the situations and events the protagonist encounters surface to represent hidden multinational connections. As Sait’s story unfolds, we continuously draw links between Chinese, Dutch, African, Portuguese, Indian and many more. The story represents the potential of understanding transnational connections through micro histories. When we look at the Andrade article it gives us a chance to really divulge in any individual perspective and use it as a starting place to look closer at history and hidden transnational connections. But also it leaves us with all of these questions concerning micro histories. Where do we start? What or do any perspectives take precedent? How do these smaller histories connect into one large history, as there still seems to be potential for disconnects? While these local and individual accounts allow us to look under the microscope of history and focus on truly uncovered knowledge, it almost offers too many options to create a solid method of study.

I am still unconvinced at how a solely micro approach is the most beneficial way to understanding parts of a whole, but one part of Andrade’s argument did successfully justify the need for spatial diversity. Andrade urges historians to ‘experiment with stories of individual lives in global contexts.’ (574) This idea of experimentation with different scales, stories, and documents is the key to Transnational History I’ve found so far. As the introductory article suggests, ‘transnational history is not a strict method’. Its beauty is in its abstract and undefined perimeters dedicated to finding connections and links between people, places and things. We must, as historians, continue to experiment with different scales and spaces, periods and narratives, to possibly find new these multicultural/multinational connections in our shared global history.

Practicing Microhistory

One thought on “Practicing Microhistory

  • February 16, 2016 at 8:59 am

    Very interesting remarks! Indeed, the question “where do we start?” is not an easy one to answer. Ferris/Revel/Struck and Osterhammel offer some suggestions-let’s talk about them in the classroom. Since you have read Andrade’s and Peltonen’s texts in conjunction, what about the concept of “exceptionally typical” introduced in the latter? Does it make sense to understand Sait’s story? Would you find it useful in general?

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