When I was first introduced to the field of micro history last year in MI2001, I found the concept fascinating and I took great pleasure in reading Natalie Zemon Davis’ The Return of Martin Guerre. Once again, this past week, I found myself enthralled in our readings on the connections between micro history and global history. Up until this point, I had failed to see the connections between the two approaches to writing history. Now it seems somewhat obvious that these two approaches are complementary, and when used in conjunction with each other, a history can be produced which pays attention to the individual threads which make up the fabric of a historical narrative. The inclusion of micro-historical perspectives can greatly enhance the possibilities of exploration offered by global history, as Christian De Vito and Anne Gerritsen’s concept of “micro-spatial history” demonstrates. Perhaps micro history holds authors more accountable to the people, ideas, and spaces they seek to shed light on. As John-Paul A. Ghobrial argues – “micro-historical methods can offer what Francesca Trivellato has called a ‘healthy dose of critical self-reflexivity into the practice of global history.” 

While I agree with Ghobrial’s sentiments, I think that micro history can have even more profound outcomes in that it allows historians to include a great deal of empathy and human connection in their writing. By telling the story of a single human being or a specific object, a time and place that is geographically and chronologically distinct from the one the reader occupies can be transplanted into the realm of the familiar. While reading Tonia Andrade’s piece, “A Chinese Farmer, Two African Boys; and a Warlord: Toward a Global Microhistory”, I found myself enthralled in the text, almost as if I were reading a novel centered around the life of this Chinese farmer named Sait. The tragic story of this man’s death not only gave me a window into life in the Dutch colony of Taiwan in 1661, but it also allowed me to understand the perspectives offered by different segments of the population living there and gave me the opportunity to consider some of the reasons why the Dutch commanders failed to defeat the Chinese forced led by Koxinga. This work called upon me to consider the common humanity shared between me and this Chinese farmer, and certain details, such as the descriptions of Koxinga’s torture tactics really stuck with me. I think a micro historical approach, in addition to contributing valuable insights into the field of global history, might be very effective in piquing the wider public’ interest in historical studies. 

Turning now to my project, I think I want to write on something relating to the adoption of children across international borders or the differences between foster care systems worldwide and how this relates to varying cultural practices. In either case, I hope to incorporate a microhistorical perspective so that the individuals – the children, adoptive parents, foster parents, or whatever it ends up being about – shine through in my final project. However, Hannah’s recent blog post weighs heavy on my mind and I wonder if I will be able to do justice to these individuals as a American woman who only speaks english and has no personal experience in the realms of surrogacy, adoption or foster care. My knowledge on these subjects is restricted to research I did in high school on the American foster care system, focused primarily on the issues inherent in this national system. In any case, I hope these factors won’t be enough to stop me from creating a project which allows readers to see into a foreign place and time which is not theirs, just as Andrade’s piece did for me this week. 

Thoughts on micro history, brief reflections on possible project ideas

One thought on “Thoughts on micro history, brief reflections on possible project ideas

  • February 16, 2021 at 8:24 am

    Grace, good, good, good. Let us talk about your potential idea as a topic…and keep the “project” idea in mind. Forster parents, adoption, care systems…all this can work. You seem inspired by Andrade which is great. That challenge may be finding the small-scale study, institution or cluster. But there is the “project” option in this module – rather than an essay (narrative, empirical) showcase the importance / relevance of these topics for transnational, global or comparative approaches, how it could be done, whether or not there is gap thus far in the literature.

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