The first thing that came to mind when doing this week’s readings was the idea of scale. When thinking about microhistory versus global history, they seemed to me like opposite ends of a scale – one put a magnifying glass over the reading of history, the other aimed to capture the vastness of the field, the interconnectedness of expanses of time and space. However, the readings provided a refreshing take on how global history and microhistory can join forces and as De Vito and Gerrisen postulated: “Combin[e] the global historical perspective with micro-analysis.” I do think that this concept holds a lot of merit – by putting global history on a human scale, we can counteract this reputation of global history as being focused on grand-narratives and structural forces and ‘breathe the life’ back into historical writing.  

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Andrade’s nail-biting tale about the Chinese farmer – how such a seemingly insignificant player in history could have been connected to a series of important decisions was an incredibly interesting perspective. However, I did find that a lot of Andrade’s commentary seemed to me incredibly speculative: what if the Dutch had listened to Sait, what if Sait had waited rather than (presumably) killing himself…  And I can’t help but wonder if perhaps this is the biggest set-back of combining micro-history with global history and attempting to draw broader conclusions – can we ever really know what someone was thinking? 

On the other hand, I did think that Kreuder-Sonnen was more successful in her attempt to tie together one individual’s story with the concept of the transnational and national. Through her analysis of one man’s memoirs and his attitude towards bacteriology and the ‘use’ of scientific discovery I was provided insight into how the national was conceived by Polish scientists. However, here again I thought there was limitations to how useful this narrative was in explaining a larger phenomenon – the growth of national sentiment in Poland. Bujwid was certainly an anomaly in his attitude and treatment of scientific exchange – he disregarded any sense of patriotism and used imperial structures to gain what he needed to advance his own scientific agenda. However, Kreuder-Sonnen makes clear that this was unusual – it was possible to forego the national cause as Bujwid however this did not mean that many others felt the way he did – therefore how useful is his narrative to us really? However, I am stuck again with whether we can see this as a limitation – is microhistory meant to explain wider phenomenon? I assume that is its purpose for global history, but if we are simply using examples to prove a bigger point then are we reducing these personal stories of human courage and struggling to mere case studies? Beyond this, who gets to decide if a story is exceptional enough to be included as such an example?  

I’m not sure if microhistory is meant to be aggregated to macro-level analysis – however I think that it can provide extremely interesting viewpoints and add depth to our understanding of attitudes and behaviours at a given time – without Bujwid’s story we would never have known that ‘pure’ science free of national impetus was indeed the intent of some scientists. Microhistory is an extremely compelling if not temperamental perspective to use when attempting global and transnational historical writing, and I think used wisely it could give back some human agency to a seemingly limitless field.  

Histories of scale – Global history through micro perspectives