Speaker: Professor Tom Robisheaux (Duke University)
Ever since the early work of Carlo Ginzburg and Natalie Davis one of the most controversial, and least understood, features of microhistory is its revival and creative use of narrative. To microhistory’s critics the embrace of narrative brings history dangerously close to fiction and literature. The subjectivity of story telling, the inability of narrative to penetrate the underlying patterns in a society or culture, the idea that story imposes a pre-determined aesthetic pattern on the past, among other objections, all call into question the ability of narrative microhistories to solve difficult historical problems. This paper examines the uses of narrative among microhistorians—not for reasons of aesthetic or appeal—and then argues for the power of carefully crafted narratives as creative tools of historical analysis. After a brief discussion of the uses of narrative in early microhistory, the paper engages the objections to narrative and then explores some of the playful experiments with narrative analysis characteristic of some of the “new wave” of microhistories after 2000. The paper closes with a plea not just for a serious engagement with narrative but for new and even more creative uses of story in the writing of microhistory.
For additional information please contact IHR.Events@sas.ac.uk.