Microhistory

Introduction: What is microhistory?

The Protestant Reformation and Catholic Counter-Reformation. These six words immediately begin to conjure up all types of imagery in our heads. For some, the most immediate thought is of Martin Luther nailing his Ninety-Five Theses to the door of All Saints' Church in Wittenberg. For others, the rampant Inquisition sweeping through continental Europe is the first event brought to mind. The historical basis of these two incidents are highly debatable, but nonetheless they still hold paramount place in popular belief. One thing that does not immediately come to mind for most people is the affects this utter doctrinal turmoil had on the philosophy of the ordinary population. Rarely in history do we get an insight into the minds of normal people, especially without some sort of influence from above. Carlo Ginzburg gives us this insight with his field-defining masterpiece ‘The Cheese and the Worms’. The reason this book is such an iconic example of microhistory, and one that will later be examined on this webpage, is because it perfectly showcases the religious beliefs of sixteenth-century peasants in their highly chaotic environment. Ginzburg examines the small to contribute a whole new dimension to the whole, and this is the very foundation of what the term ‘microhistory’ means.

Microhistory is the study of a very small, well-defined focal point. This could include a very particular event, an individual, or even a small community. One must then ask themselves a very simple question: why? What exactly makes microhistory a worthwhile field of research? History tends to focus on the large – the Reformation, nationalism, the World Wars. But all of these studies are made up of countless smaller pieces of a jigsaw. The Reformation would have been drastically different if not for the widespread promotion of simonies. Nationalism would have followed a different path if not for the increased education of ordinary Europeans. And the true horror of the Nazi regime can only be understood through case studies of places like Jedwabne in occupied Poland. In short, we need to understand the small if we wish to see the large. However, sometimes microhistory can go beyond illuminating understood historical truths. In 2006, Icelandic microhistorian Sigurdur Gylfi Magnusson commented that ‘Micohistorians tend to focus on outliers rather than looking for the average individual’ (Gylfi Magnussonm, 2006). When outliners to established history are uncovered, it can actually challenge broad historical assumptions. According to Georg G. Iggers, microhistory exists because ‘social scientists have made generalizations that do not hold up when tested against the concrete reality of the small-scale life they claim to explain’ (Iggers, 1997).

Microhistory therefore plays two crucial roles – firstly, it contributes to large-scale history, and secondly it challenges and alters wider historical assumptions.

In comparison to other historiographical approaches, microhistory is actually relatively young. In 1887 two brothers, Adam and Charles Black, argued the importance of ‘local and our family historians’ to modern understanding of the past (Black, 1887). The first explicit use of the word ‘microhistory’ did not come until 1959, when an American scholar named George R. Stewart wrote a book entitled ‘Pickett’s Charge: A Microhistory of the Final Charge at Gettysburg, July 3, 1863’ (Stewart, 1959). In over 300 pages Stewart described in minute detail the events of this single, 15 hour battle. He described Pickett’s Charge in incredible detail, despite the fact that it only lasted 20 minutes. However, it was in the period between 1970 and 1990 that microhistory truly established itself as a mainstream field of study. According to Giovanni Levi, this was due to a new focus on social rather than economic history from the 1970s onwards (Levi, 1991). Microhistory then stepped into the limelight to offer new insights into the social interpretations of our past. In the next twenty years works were published that are today widely accepted as some of the greatest microhistories to date, including the contributions of Carlo Ginzburg and Robert Darnton. In the 1980s and 1990s microhistory also became increasingly important to some historians (especially in France) who began to use it as a way of analysing cultural histories, often through examining historical individuals. Around this time, two Germans named Alf Luedtke and Hans Medick developed a new branch of microhistory entitled Alltagsgeschichte, which focused on how everyday culture had impacted large social and political movements.

Over the past fifty years microhistory has become a leading historical discipline. It has captured public attention and perfectly complements modern interest in the history of culture and society. In the twenty-first century the small has become bigger than ever. Microhistory, therefore, is now more important than ever.

Further reading

  • Black, Adam, and Charles Black. “The Brocas Book.” The Edinburgh Review, Volume 166, page 235, July 1887.
  • Ginzburg, Carlo. The Cheese and the Worms: The Cosmos of a Sixteenth-Century Miller. Johns Hopkins University Press (New Ed edition), 1992.
  • Ginzburg, Carlo, and John Tedeschi and Anne C. Tedeschi. “Microhistory: Two or Three Things That I Know about It.” Critical Inquiry, Vol. 20, No. 1 (Autumn, 1993): 10-35.
  • Gylfi Magnussonm, Sigurdur. “What Is Microhistory?” History News Network, 7 May 2006. http://historynewsnetwork.org/article/23720.
  • Iggers, Georg. Historiography in the Twentieth Century: From Scientific Objectivity to the Postmodern Challenge, page 107. Wesleyan University Press, 2012.
  • Levi, Giovanni. "On Microhistory." In New Perspectives on Historical Writing, edited by Peter Burke, 93-114. University Park: Pennsylvania State Press, 1991.
  • Stewart, George R. Pickett's Charge: A Microhistory of the Final Attack at Gettysburg, July 3, 1863. Oxford University Press, 1959.

Sections

The Great Cat Massacre: A Review

Naturally intriguing in its shocking title, The Great Cat Massacre makes up one of the six essays written in 1984 by the historian, Robert Darnton. Within this essay, Darnton focuses on one very specific and detailed event in history in order to learn more about the popular consciousness and mentalities of the Third Estate in eighteenth-century Paris. The Great Cat Massacre stands as an infamous episode re-published by Darnton which attempts by unlocking the humour of two apprentices working in a printing shop in Paris to reveal the mind set of this class within Parisian society.

The Return of Martin Guerre

The film, ‘The Return of Martin Guerre,’ released in 1982, was not only a popular film but a film adapted from a piece of microhistory. The story revolves around a case of identity theft, when the said Martin Guerre, a sixteenth century peasant, left his wife in 1549 in the small village of Artigat, South-West France after an incident where he was accused of stealing grain from his father.

The Kings of the Dead on the Battlefield of Agnadello pp. 71-100, by Ottavia Niccoli, from (Microhistory & the Lost Peoples of Europe, Edited by Edward Muir and Guido Ruggiero)

Giovanni and Lusanna: Love and Marriage in Renaissance Florence

The story of Giovanni and Lusanna is a useful example of micro-history. Gene Brucker released this book in 1986, at the height of micro-historical writing. Microhistory in the 1980s was a ‘relatively nascent field of historical inquiry’ (Guido Ruggiero,1987, p. 910), but was gaining a wide following. 

Book Review: ‘The Murder of Helen Jewett: The Life and Death of a Prostitute in Nineteenth-Century New York’ by Patricia Cline Cohen

The book The Murder of Helen Jewett: The Life and Death of a Prostitute in Nineteenth-Century New York by Patricia Cline Cohen is a very good example of micro-history and as the title suggests it is about the murder of Helen Jewett, a prostitute, in 1836. In this book Cohen informs the reader of the death of Helen Jewett, killed by a hatchet, the trial of the man accused of her murder, one of her clients Richard P. Robinson, who was not convicted for the crime, her earlier life in Augusta and how she came to become a prostitute; also covered are the lives of those around her, for example Robinson and more of her clients, such as George P. Marston.

The Rape of Mary M. 
Article by Lindsey Earner-Byrne

Mary M was an orphan, looking after her uncle and blind elderly aunt. During the Irish civil war (1922-1923) her house was attacked by supposed Republicans, and after finding nothing of value, they raped Mary M.  She subsequently got pregnant, and deciding to keep it hidden from all she knew, and stole from her aunt in order to afford the travel fare to Dublin. There she found a rescue centre, Saint Patrick’s Guild, run by Mary Josephine Cruice. She returned there later to give birth to her son, Cyprian. She didn’t realise until after the birth the cost of keeping her child at the centre, and in desperation asked the archbishop of Dublin, Edward J. Byrne, for aid. We know all of this, because of a series of letters, one from Mary M herself the others from her priest, that were sent to the archbishop.

 

The Cheese and the Worms- Looking into what went on in Mennochio’s head?

By analysing the beliefs of the Fruilian miller Mennochio thoroughly, as in through this text, The Cheese and the Worms, Ginzburg allows entrance into the oral culture of the 16th Catholic peasants at the height of the counter-reformation, as well as insight into the minds of Humanist influenced heretics.


The Great Cat Massacre: A Review

Rue Saint Séverin in the Latin Quarter where the events take place

Briefly, The Great Cat Massacre holds its origins with the growing frustrations of two apprentices, Jerome and Leveille who work in terrible conditions in the printing shop and are treated with such little respect that even cats have better conditions than the apprentices. Moreover, the master in contrast to this is repeatedly shown to have a very comfortable living standard in comparison with the apprentices which further adds to their resentment. With this, the apprentices decide to seek revenge on the master and disturb him and his wife during the night by making cat noises and keeping the master awake. As a result, the master requests that the apprentices deal with this problem and orders them to kill all the stray cats that were supposedly making the noise. But the master warns the apprentices that his wife’s cat, ‘la grise’ should not be harmed by the apprentices. The apprentices then decide that this request has given them an opportunity to ceremoniously murder the cats including ‘la grise’ as a form of symbolic action against the cats being put above them in terms of their treatment in the workshop. Consequentially, Jerome, Leveille and the other apprentices massacre the local cats including ‘la grise’ in a festival style ceremony which included the cats being put through a mock trial and execution as a form of entertainment for the apprentices. The master then find out about the cat massacre and scolds them for doing this instead of working but the apprentices appear to get no real punishment for the massacre.

Firstly, the events gives us an insight into the resentment of the working class apprentices, Jerome and Leveille over the appalling conditions that the master imposed upon them in the printing workshop. A large part of the text is devoted to discussing these terrible conditions including the ‘scraps of slop’ that the workers were given to eat which were so unappealing that cats refused to eat them. Darnton also describes the hard manual labour and long days that the apprentices endured whilst ‘the bourgeoisie were able to sleep late.’ Moreover, this resentment of the bourgeoisie comes to a head when the wife of the master’s cat, ‘La Grise’ is maliciously killed by the apprentices secretly despite warning from the master that only stray cats should be killed and not his wife’s favourite cat. With this, we are able to view the rising tensions that existed between the proletariat and bourgeoisie classes. This tension was further spurred on by the growth in French industry creating larger workshops where the conditions of workers was considered less of a priority for the owners. Though Darnton denies that this cat massacre case is an early sign of the proletariats action against the bourgeoisie that was to trigger the French Revolution, the rising tensions of the working class in France is nonetheless a major theme of this episode.

The Great Cat Massacre also reveals a lot about the popularity of the Carnival period as the actions of the apprentices all seem to be focused on evoking humour from their fellow workers. For example, a lot of attention is given to the apparent hilarity of the execution of the cats. The apprentices had a mock trial for the cats – ‘complete with guards, aconfessor, and a public executioner.’ The dramatic fashion in which the cats are killed creates a sense of the massacre being like a carnival for the apprentices. This cruel humour that is shared by the apprentices therefore enables Darnton to give an insight into humour in the working class culture of Paris.

Due to the ‘thick description’ style of Darton’s essay, he is able to not only reveal an insight into major themes including class tensions within France but he is also able to pick up on very minor traditions within French society. Doing this enables Darnton to give his reader a more authentic insight into the consciousness of people within that society.  For example, the reader is provided with some background information on cats in the eighteenth century. He explains that cats were thought of in French culture as being both symbolic of witchcraft and therefore were often tortured as a way of showing hatred for witches at this time. Cats were also symbolic of the upper class because of the connotations of having to indulgently care for them as pets. By giving us this background into the history of cats, we are able to get an insight into why the apprentices chose to retaliate against their masters in the form of a cat massacre.

Painting by François Boucher (d. 1770) in the New Orleans Museum of Art.

 

Though Darnton has received criticism for basing his essay on a semi-fictional autobiography of Contat the apprentice, other critics like Thomas Schaeper do not see this essay as a “bit of frivolous nonsense.” Schaeper is therefore able to see that Darnton’s essay not as an insignificant piece of microhistory. Instead, it is an insightful account of an event in history that enables us to see how different the mind-set of people in eighteenth century France is to our modern mind-set of today.

Bibliography

Arnold, John H. History:  A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000)

Darnton, Robert. The Great Cat Massacre and other episodes in French Cultural History. (New York: Basic Books, 1939).

Schaeper, Thomas J. "The Great Cat Massacre and Other Episodes in French Cultural History (Book)." Library Journal 108, no. 21 (December 1983).

Further Reading

Arnold, John H. “The Killing of Cats; or, is the past a foreign country” in History: A Very Short Introduction. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000).

 


The Return of Martin Guerre

Title page of Arrest Memorable, a contemporary account of the case 

 

The film, ‘The Return of Martin Guerre,’ released in 1982, was not only a popular film but a film adapted from a piece of microhistory. The story revolves around a case of identity theft, when the said Martin Guerre, a sixteenth century peasant, left his wife in 1549 in the small village of Artigat, South-West France after an incident where he was accused of stealing grain from his father. Roman Catholic law did not allow for his wife, Bertrande, to remarry; she simply had to wait for Martin’s return. He returned around eight years later to reclaim his property and his wife with no question regarding his real identity, and he enthralled his neighbours with stories of this time away and his new ability to read and write. As time passed, accusations were made by new visitors to Artigat who claimed to know the real Martin Guerre who they said was alive and living in Flanders, which was followed by his uncle charging the new ‘Martin Guerre’ of being a fraud. There are accusations that ‘Martin’ is in fact Arnaud, from a neighbouring village and therefore the case is taken to court, where Martin’s wife, Bertrande, testifies that this is the real Martin Guerre. However, as one witness takes to the stand, Bertrande changes her alibi and testifies that this witness is the real Martin Guerre, thus Arnaud is sentenced to death. The reason for Arnaud wishing to be Martin; is understood to be due to the extensive monetary value of the Guerre holdings, and so Arnaud spent three years developing a new identity for himself.

The historian Natalie Zemon Davis studied the case in great detail and derived the story from Jean De Cora’s ‘Arrest Memorable,’ which was written by the rapporteur at the trial. This provides a primary source for the formalities of the case of Martin Guerre. The Return of Martin Guerre was remarkable because it was “not a tale of adventure or imaginary fable, but a pure, true story”. This remark was the blurb from an edition of the judge’s book about the case which soon became a sixteenth-century bestseller. Natalie Zemon Davies was also influential in the writing of the screenplay which transformed her work into a popular film, and she has written of her experiences of this. Davis states she believes that the knowledge of history is something that people continue to struggle for, and describes how film can be a powerful medium for portraying the past to an audience. Historians aim to explain why events of the past happened, what difference it had on the world and to understand why events were reported differently by contemporaries. Davis also explains the importance of how a historian can only speculate and imagine how things may have been at the time. Nothing in history can be certain for a variety of factors, meaning the transformation of historical literature into film can be especially challenging, stressing the importance of ‘good history-telling without sacrificing the needs of good film-making.’

‘A history film can transform memory, can take responsibility for its resemblance to persons living or dead, and let the viewers in on the secrets of authenticity.’

A notable factor missing from the motion picture is that Bertrande was more Arnaud’s accomplice than a victim of his falsity. It is well concealed within the narrative of the motion picture that Arnaud and Bertrande in fact concocted a fabricated lie which they used to manipulate and deceive those in the trial. Davis’s book tells a tale of devotion and collaboration; whereas Jean de Cora’s traditional account is of greed and deceit. Cora believes Bertrande was a dupe, and given the weakness of her sex was easily deceived by the cunningness of men which made her innocence of any wrongdoing. On the other hand, according to Davis, Bertrande played a double agent deceiving her son, relatives, friends and neighbours. Davis argues that she was in a league with the imposter; and thus as guilty as him. Davis brings to light how Bertrande must have known; remarking how “there is no mistaking the touch of the man on the woman” determining that Bertrande was as guilty as Arnaud. Yet, fairly disregarded by the motion picture, this concept is not projected to the audience; meaning that the viewers believe Bertrande to be none the wiser; and that she believes Martin did in fact return.

One of the many challenges Natalie Zemon Davis would have encountered when studying the case of Martin Guerre is that this piece of microhistory took place in early modern France, where literacy in 1600 was only around twenty five percent. Only two sources exist, and from this many different accounts of the story can be derived, and Zemon Davis examines a new perspective on the story with greater focus on Guerre’s wife, Bertrande. In her telling of the story, Bertrande is crucial to the deception and the case of identity theft. Her sly character and ability to manipulate the system when the case begins to turn against her imposter husband means she is spared the death penalty, in comparison to earlier interpretations which perhaps suggested she was a victim of the case.

“Natalie Zemon Davis…has scoured the legal and notarial records of south-western France to recreate for the reader not merely a highly entertaining story but a vivid picture of the world which fashioned its principal characters. Her observations on property rights, inheritance, customs, family relationships and the mechanisms of the law are welded together by a rare blend of historical craft and imagination… Professor Davis’s ability to combine lively narrative, wit, historical reflection and psychological analysis will ensure for this book a wide audience. It is truly captivating story with which to pass a rainy weekend; it is also a brilliantly professional reconstruction of the rural world of sixteenth-century France, which will both stimulate and inform for many years to come.”—David Parker, The Times Literary Supplement - http://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?isbn=9780674766914&content=reviews 

The film notably adds new dimensions to the tale; leading an audience to ponder on how a seemingly normal man could become such a complex imposter, and why Bertrande would in fact accept him as her husband. There are wide discrepancies between the book and the film, which can be easily noticed upon reading and viewing. An example of the Martin Guerre narrative is present in the film; the book is far more detailed. The book begins with the contextual information needed to base an opinion upon protagonists, starting in the year 1527 explaining how everything came to be in Artigat. The film however begins with the marriage of Bertrande and Martin, eliminating key contextual background for the audience to establish the current situation of the characters. Another notable fact is inaccuracies; the book places the marriage in 1538, which agrees with reports compiled by Coras, yet the film places the marriage at 1542. Another interesting factor is how the book notes that Martin was no older than 14; and Bertrande even younger than this. Yet in the film, actors portraying these characters as being both in their 30’s, which does not agree with the book. The justification used for the age controversy is that two children playing a role of characters within marriage and intercourse could have incited heavy criticism in today’s society.

The case of Martin Guerre concerns micro-historians focusing solely on a social issue in the town of Artigat. The issue of stolen identity affected the town of Artigat, but different versions of events can be seen through the two versions of this microhistory - the publication and the motion picture. Robert Finley addresses how the two versions show visible contrast in their efforts to portray the microhistory in saying “these two versions of the story of Martin Guerre could hardly be more different.” This is the struggle of studying microhistory as a concrete narrative, as shown in the motion picture and the book both taking different perspectives on the story of Martin Guerre.

Natalie Zemon Davis raises questions to the audience over how the village came to accept the imposter, and how even his wife accepted him into their home. The book and subsequent film of the story of Martin Guerre also allows audiences an insight into the workings of a legal system before the availability of finger print scanning and technology. Not only do Davies’ study and the film aim to portray the story of Martin Guerre, as a piece of microhistory it is significant in giving audiences an awareness of the social structures in place in a 16th century French village; including the varying importance’s of the church, family, marriage, property and money. Furthermore, it is possible to argue that through this case studies’ transformation into film, it is possible that it can influence a wider and more public audience than a microhistory text, perhaps aimed at an audience of academics on the subject. The purpose of the film is to both provide an alternative interpretation; as it was not directed by either Davis or Cora. The film is to provide an entertaining tale; whilst portraying the narrative simply to allow the audience to emphasis, sympathise, appreciate and educate an audience of the story of Martin Guerre. The purpose of the book is to provide a historical recall of events using the primary records to reconstruct the reality of the sixteenth century that Martin Guerre was impersonated in. However, there are a great deal of inaccuracies within the film. There is a fluent transparency between the book and the film with how Arnaud came to learn about Martin Guerre. The film dismisses many historical facts; but conveys the basic message.

Further Reading

Natalie Zemon Davis, The Return of Martin Guerre (Harvard University Press, 1982). 

Marnie Hughes-Warrington, Fifty Key Thinkers on History (London, 2000).

Robert Finlay, The Refashioning of Martin Guerre’, The American Historical Review, Vol. 93, No.3, (1988) pp. 553-571.

A ‘New York Times’ review of ‘The Return of Martin Guerre’ - http://www.nytimes.com/movie/review?res=9802E5D7123BF933A25755C0A965948260

Several short reviews and comments on Natalie Zemon Davies writing and an overview of the story - http://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?isbn=9780674766914&content=reviews

Natalie Zemon Davies talks of her experiences transforming her work into a motion picture and the struggles and values of doing so - http://web.stanford.edu/dept/HPS/HistoryWired/Davis/DavisAuthenticity.htm


The Kings of the Dead on the Battlefield of Agnadello pp. 71-100, by Ottavia Niccoli, from (Microhistory & the Lost Peoples of Europe, Edited by Edward Muir and Guido Ruggiero) Hello, World!"

  • Within her work Niccoli seeks to explain the recordings of an apparition which occurred sometime she believes in early December 1517. She uses a variety of accounts to try and date exactly when the first sighting of such an event happened.  

  • This text sees Niccoli try and explain records which reference sightings of apparitions sometime she believes around early December 1517 in the area of Bergamo in Norther Italy.

  • What makes this a piece of microhistory is Niccoli’s specific focus on the localised and more widespread effect on the population of the sighting, at how they reacted to it, the rate at which news of this phenomenon spread and even more specifically she tries to establish where the origins of the supposedly sighted wild army come from and why they are seen where they are.

  • Within her work she uses a large variety of sources which discuss the events which occurred and Niccoli attempts to argue and describe what there meaning is and what the apparitions symbolise. 

  • She uses one source in particular, a letter of correspondence between a noble of the area to a friend, in which he describes what he has heard a witness say. As well as this source she also references other sources by different authors along with different types of source including: pamphlet publications, diary entries, papal meeting records and song. 

  • She discusses the potential origin of these sources as well as why they may have been produced. She also attempts to explain how people discussed the events, how in this matter individuals varied with their descriptions, and whether they believe it to have actually happened.

  • She highlights early on the extent to which in such a short space of time news of such apparitional sightings spreads and how far this stretches having reached the ears of Pope Leo X by January 21 1518 where it was discussed at a papal meeting with his cardinals.
  • Niccoli uses this as a theme for her analysis also by concentrating on the reasons of how and why such stories were conveyed and its significance.
  • Niccoli tries to identify when exactly the first sighting of this undead army of spectres occurs, but due to the nature of the sightings itself and the way in which they are recorded and spread, this proves very difficult.
  • The main focus of her writing is of the Wild Army, a multi-cultural mythic undead army which she locates at one of its earliest points with Tacitus when he describes a wild Germanic army: the Harii who fought in dark colours and with a hellish appearance to intimidate their enemies.

  • Once she begins to break down the letter from the pamphlet, Niccoli hones in on the wild army myth as she believes that the accounts of the apparition refer to it.

  • She focusses on the potential origins of the wild army myth, which she believes resides deeply in specific Germanic culture, but which in turn has over time spread across Europe through the Roman Empire and beyond, a myth she believes survives through to the sixteenth century and is known in Northern Italy.

  • Niccoli believes the reference to the wild army to have stemmed in part from the location of a nearby battlefield at Agnadello of which local people may have potentially witnessed and which may remain in the living memory.

  • She comments that such sightings of spectral battles and armies at areas where battles have been fought to be a fairly common occurrence and she lists various other recorded instances. He notes that the area of Bergamo as mentioned lies near the battlefield of Agnadello, where in 1509 a Venetian army fought against a force of French Cavalry and Swiss Infantry (only eight years previous).

  • Her main focus is of this myth of there being Kings of the Dead. This is sourced from the description made within the published pamphlet letters of a clash between two spectral undead armies. One led by a single demonic like king and the other by three or four princes of similar standing and one sovereign over them. Both of these descriptions pay homage to the myth of the wild army, but just two different versions.

  • Niccoli uses the example as a study of how apparitions such as the one recorded at Bergamo were viewed by people at different tiers of social standing, as well as more specifically the Wild Army and its myth and later how this used within a contemporary context within sixteenth century religious politics.

  • The ancient Tacitus version sees the wild army to be led by a single king and his following is made up of warriors who die in battle. Following the Christianisation of the myth, the following of the army changes to all those who have died prematurely, such as suicides and children dying without baptism.

  •  It is interesting how the account can view both spectral armies to be viewed as armies of the dead as she later explains in writing, with two different versions of armies of the dead coming together in a contemporary apparitional sighting but both with hugely varied culturally and historical backgrounds.

  •  Another version of the wild army is recorded by William of Auvergne at the end of the 1230’s where he says that the kings of the dead can be called by necromancers and when summoned the kings spring forth along with their armies from their area of origin and are named after that region, so the East, West, South and North. The principal among these is the king of the Orient.

  • The final section of her work focusses on the effects of the sighting in a much larger context.

  • She looks at how the letters detailing this sighting were viewed by the Catholic Church and how the Church sought to use the recorded sightings as an prophetic image of a potential religious war approaching with the Islamic world (for such sightings of spectral battles was seen to symbolise a coming battle, conflict or struggle.)

  • She mentions that the Catholic Church began publishing the letters which references the sightings in Bergamo.

  • She also comments on a meeting held between Pope Leo X and his advising cardinals and bishops to discuss the significance and importance of the sightings.

  • She suggests that Pope Leo X identified it to represent his concerns of a future war between the cross and the crescent as Islamic influence grew in the Mediterranean.

  • She also advocates that the pope would have used the sightings in Bergamo as evidence for people of this ‘coming war’ in attempts to drum up support to potentially fund and take part in a crusade, this also in the backdrop of troubles in Europe surroundingMartin Luther which would follow in the same year.

  • What makes this work micro-history is its examination of a particular obscure apparition sighting and then seeks to explain and highlight the similarities this particular case has with others. The high level of attention placed on the wild army and the changes the myth has undergone is also a good example of micro history. By looking at this one case, historians are able to view a whole history within itself surrounding this one event, and how people at the time as well as those before themselves saw it. 


Giovanni and Lusanna: Love and Marriage in Renaissance Florence

Brucker, G. (1986). Giovanni and Lusanna: Love and Marriage in Renaissance Florence, Berkeley: University of California Press. 

The story of Giovanni and Lusanna is a useful example of micro-history. Gene Brucker released this book in 1986, at the height of micro-historical writing. Microhistory in the 1980s was a ‘relatively nascent field of historical inquiry’ (Guido Ruggiero,1987, p. 910), but was gaining a wide following. The intrigue in micro-history lay with its ability to make historical eras and events more accessible and compelling to the readers. As with all pieces of micro-history, an insight into both its small influence and a larger insight into the world around the couple can be taken from this particular novella. As stated by Dr Niamh Cullen, ‘the relationship is a microcosm of Renaissance Florence: a patriarchal society of fierce misogyny and strict rules regarding both sex and marriage and huge gulfs between the classes’ (Cullen, 2010). Within this society, it is Lusanna’s determination and defiance of social structures which shine through – proving that women did not simply fall easily into their designated roles.

The book dictates a court case brought by Lusanna against Giovanni; she claims that the two were married and Giovanni has now committed bigamy by marrying again. Brucker asserts that marriage disputes in fifteenth-century courts were not uncommon. The difference with the case of Lusanna and Giovanni was vast amount of information and facts about the case that have survived, with over 300 pages detailing the events. Lusanna was the working-class daughter of an artisan called Maestro Benedetto di Girolamo and Giovanni Della Casa a scion of a prominent merchant family. As Brucker states, ‘young men of his wealth and social rank were in great demand as potential husbands for Florentine girls of aristocratic lineage’ (p.10). Lusanna was already married to linen-cloth manufacturer, Andrea di Antonio Nucci. Despite this, and the class difference, in 1442 or 1443 Giovanni became smitten with Lusanna and began to court her. For a man of his wealth and status to marry a woman like Lusanna, would be considered a highly unbalanced marriage. As Brucker makes clear, it is important to remember that marriage in these times was more a matter of economics than emotions. It was often a woman’s dowry payment rather than attractiveness which would interest potential suitors. In Lusanna’s case, being the only girl in her family meant that her dowry payment was 250 florins – a relatively sizeable sum. While this did benefit her, it would still not have been enough to match the status of Giovanni. Lusanna and Giovanni both present their side to the case.

Lusanna’s account is the one which Brucker insinuates he believes is true. Giovanni and Lusanna: Love and Marriage in Renaissance Florence has faced some criticism with reviewers arguing that Brucker does not address the fact that the accounts of each person would have been molded by the legal process. Thomas Keuhn states that the ‘sources remain valuable and usable, but their value and use also remain problematic’; he goes on to say that the ‘biased, partial, and contradictory (or even suspect) nature of the evidence’ cannot just be ignored (Kuehn,1989,p.533). Ultimately, Brucker is accused of ‘being too prone to regard these legal texts as reflecting reality rather vie them as constructs designed to further an agenda’ (p. viii). Brucker argues that when ‘there is little neutral or value- free data available to us; we must use our judgment, our sense of the parameters of interpretive possibilities, of what is plausible and what is not. And we must be willing to admit in some cases that we cannot explain an act or an event or a motive’ (p. viii). Lusanna’s defence presents her as a virtuous woman who was tricked by a much more powerful man. She attracted the attention of Giovanni while her husband has still been alive. Her brother Antonio recalls how Giovanni would follow his sister in the streets and frequently approach her. After the death of her husband, he began visiting Lusanna at her home. Antonio would not allow an illicit relationship and forced Giovanni to ‘give her a ring’ (p. 16). The couple married, but in a secret ceremony performed by his Giovanni’s friend Fra Felice Asini. Giovanni claimed it was kept secret to prevent Lusanna from receiving scold for not being in mourning and Giovanni’s father disapproving of her lower status, but it was always intended to be made public. The wedding was in many ways peculiar; no dowry was paid, it was clandestine and celebrated only four months after the death of her first husband. Due to the secret nature of the ceremony, the only witnesses who could testify on Lusanna’s behalf were her family and close relations – this seriously affected the reliability of her claim. After Giovanni’s father’s death in 1455, the marriage was still not made public. Eventually Lusanna found that Giovanni had re-married a woman of a higher social status.

Giovanni’s version was clearly very different. In this account, Lusanna is presented as a woman who had many lovers, and a poor reputation in her community. Nearly all eighteen witness called by Giovanni’s procurators report that Lusanna was a woman of low moral character. The witnesses for Giovanni’s defence claim that they had a 12-year affair starting in 1443, whilst she was still married to Andrea. While Giovanni admits to the affair, he denies that they ever married. The witness all claimed that the affair was well known in the community and many called Andrea a cuckold (horns had even been nailed over the door of their house). Many of the witnesses claim Giovanni had promised to marry her if Andrea was to die and even suggested that Lusanna was responsible for her first husband’s death. They all assert that the death of her husband had not changed the nature of their relationship and deny that the supposed ceremony had every taken place. Giovanni’s account states that his marriage to Marietta Rucellai did not signal the end of the relations between Lusanna and Giovanni. He promised to find her a husband and the two continued their relationship for a short while.

Giovanni’s main defence in this case was that while he is was young, virile, handsome and rich, Lusanna is instead old (at least forty), sterile and of a much lower social condition. He asserts that ‘it is not credible that [Giovanni] would have ever accepted her as a wife, for he would have married a prostitute to the grave dishonour of himself and his family’ (p. 50). Lusanna’s procurator argued back that such disparity in marriage was not uncommon in Florence, men with a social status like Giovanni’s would often marry beautiful women of a lower background as they may not need a dowry payment. Ultimately, the marriage between the two was found valid and ‘was contracted according to the form of the law and the sacred canons’ (p. 63). Giovanni’s second marriage to Marietta Rucellai was nullified and he was fined a total of 1,400 florins for his bigamy. Giovanni then took his case to higher courts in Rome where he was able to overturn the decision, the marriage and the fine was nullified.

The case gives us an extremely useful insight into fifteenth century Florence. Giovanni’s account shows prominently how marriage and love are entirely separate. Giovanni marries for money, reputation and status; it is probably true that he did in someway love Lusanna but this love was not enough to warrant an unbalanced marriage. It also shows how a woman was severely disadvantaged in court. Giovanni tries to damage Lusanna’s claim by presenting her as adulterous, this claim however does not affect him; a man could often get away with such a crime. Furthermore, Lusanna and her kin’s status meant that her claim loses validity against Giovanni’s. A woman of a lower class has significantly less power in the justice system. This is ultimately proved by Giovanni being able to overturn the decision. However, while Lusanna’s case may not have been won, it is not anyway diminished in its effectiveness and importance. By disputing his claim that they were not married, she was ‘challenging the basic tenet of social order’ (p. 111). As Sara Butler states, ‘she demonstrates that not all Renaissance women were the docile, domestic creatures we are so frequently faced with in the writings of Renaissance intellectuals’ (Butler, 2007, p.139). Brucker clearly intends Lusanna to appear courageous and determined against the ‘elaborate mechanisms designed to control and discipline members of her sex and class’ (p. 121).        

Bibliography

  • Brucker, G. (1986), Giovanni and Lusanna: Love and Marriage in Renaissance Florence, Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • Cullen, N., ‘Giovanni and Lusanna: A Microcosm of Renaissance Florence’. https://puesoccurrences.wordpress.com/2010/03/23/giovanni-and-lusanna-a-microcosm-of-renaissance-florence/).
  • Ruggiero, G. (1987), review of ‘Giovanni and Lusanna: Love and Marriage in Renaissance Florence by Gene Brucker’, Speculum, 62.4, pp. 910-912.
  • Butler, S. (2007), review of ‘Gene Brucker, Giovanni and Lusanna: Love and Marriage in Renaissance Florence, with a new preface. University of California Press, 1986; rpt. 1988 and 2005.’ Medieval Feminist Forum 43, no. 1, pp. 138-140.
  • Keuhn, T. (1989), ‘Reading Microhistory: The Example of Giovanni and Lusanna’. The Journal of Modern History, Vol. 61, No. 3, pp. 512-534.  

Book Review: ‘The Murder of Helen Jewett: The Life and Death of a Prostitute in Nineteenth-Century New York’ by Patricia Cline Cohen

The book The Murder of Helen Jewett: The Life and Death of a Prostitute in Nineteenth-Century New York by Patricia Cline Cohen is a very good example of micro-history and as the title suggests it is about the murder of Helen Jewett, a prostitute, in 1836. In this book Cohen informs the reader of the death of Helen Jewett, killed by a hatchet, the trial of the man accused of her murder, one of her clients Richard P. Robinson, who was not convicted for the crime, her earlier life in Augusta and how she came to become a prostitute; also covered are the lives of those around her, for example Robinson and more of her clients, such as George P. Marston.

Firstly, as already mentioned The Murder of Helen Jewett is a good piece of micro-history and this is seen through Cohen’s, almost, investigation, which Kathy Peiss calls ‘detective work’ (Peiss, 1998). The reader is not only given the details of the life and death of Helen Jewett but also of the life in New York and the developments which were ongoing in the city. As Peiss, a reviewer of the book, states ‘we are treated to fascinating sidebars about early mail service, reading habits and the rise of the penny press, among others’ (Peiss, 1998). These ‘sidebars’ (Peiss, 1998) are what make this a piece of micro-history, as Cohen develops her writing to go onto the wider context of many different elements which effected not only Jewett’s life, but other contemporaries as well.  The development of the Post Office, which Cohen describes, is embedded in her discussion ofthe communication via letters between Jewett and Robinson and some of her other clients. Cohen tells how that the Post office ‘was well established in the 1830s’  but letters could go missing, and she tells the reader this happened occasionally to Jewett’s letters (Cohen, 1998).

Another way in which this is a good example of micro- history is that the reader also learns about the legal system at the time, how the crime scene was handled, with the public being allowed to visit, and how evidence was used in court and how the then town of Augusta, Maine, developed. In addition to this throughout the book there is a constant theme of gender and the expected roles in society. Reviewer Jim G. Burns comments the ‘Gender bias [which] came into play at the five-day trial’ and how ‘Jacksonian-era attitudes toward sexuality and the sexes’ are explored in Cohen’s work (Burns, 1998). Also Peiss mentions these themes saying ‘Ultimately, the significance of this book lies in its depiction of a male world of sexual, gender and class privilege, a world that was rarely challenged, except in such unusual circumstances as a sensational murder’ (Peiss, 1998). As a result, this is a good piece of micro-history for there are many different areas of the wider context brought in by Cohen which are relevant and effected of Jewett’s life and death, and subsequent events.

Furthermore, this is not only a book with one mystery there is also the question of who was Helen Jewett, which was not her real name, and who had seduced her. This line of investigation by Cohen is done alongside her description of the press’s concern over both of these questions after her murder. So the reader is told both the inquiries of the cotemporary press and Cohen’s own investigation. It is ultimately assumed that Jewett’s name was Dorcas Doyen, who had been a servant to Judge Nathan Weston in Augusta, this was the assumption of the press at the time as well. This is a very interesting area, as through this the reader is given a detailed description of Jewett’s (Doyen’s) early life. There is never any certain answer to who had seduced Jewett, with Harlow Spaulding, and even Judge Weston, his son Nathan, the Judge’s once son-in law Fredrick A. Fuller named as some of the men who could have been responsible. This allows Cohen to explore different areas and thus we are given a detailed account of the history of Augusta and the lives of many different relatives. As a result, the finding of Jewett’s real name and past allows for there to be further exploration to the wider context in other areas of contemporary American life.

Another interesting point about this text is the different ways in which micro-history can be read. As through the style of writing used by Cohen this becomes a literary construction almost like a novel with the characters set in nineteenth-century New York. In fact Cohen mentions how after the trial the story of Helen Jewett’s murder was made into a stage play and Peiss talks about how the readers ‘will see Robinson and Jewett primarily as actors reading from scripts, rather than individuals with a coherent sense of self’(Peiss, 1998). So it must be remembered when reading this piece of micro-history that these are lives and events that did take place.  However, there is a very beneficial side to micro-history that can be seen in Cohen’s work. This is that the reader does not just get told how the Post Office ran in the 1830s, or of the legal proceedings which took place with a few examples, or of the social standing of prostitutes and gender roles of the time. All of this information is embedded in the narrative of people’s lives. This is in some way the real positive of micro-history; not only do you learn this information but you see it in the context of people’s everyday lives. 

Overall The Murder of Helen Jewett: The Life and Death of a Prostitute in Nineteenth-Century New York by Patricia Cline Cohen is a good example of micro-history, for it demonstrates the balance between looking at the intimate lives of the people concerned whilst looking at the wider context. If you are not completely sure, what micro-history is I believe The Murder of Helen Jewett to be a good place to start.

Bibliography

Cohen, Patricia Cline, The Murder of Helen Jewett: The Life and Death of a Prostitute in Nineteenth-Century New York. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1998.

Burns, Jim G., review on by Patricia Cline Cohen, Library Journal, July, 1998, Vol. 123 Issue 12, pp.111-112

Peiss, Kathy, Review of ‘The Murder of Helen Jewett: The Life and Death of a Prostitute in Nineteenth-Century New York’ by Patricia Cline Cohen, The Women’s Review of Books, Nov, 1998, Vol. 16, Issue 2.


The Rape of Mary M.

Mary M was an orphan, looking after her uncle and blind elderly aunt. During the Irish civil war (1922-1923) her house was attacked by supposed Republicans, and after finding nothing of value, they raped Mary M.  She subsequently got pregnant, and deciding to keep it hidden from all she knew, and stole from her aunt in order to afford the travel fare to Dublin. There she found a rescue centre, Saint Patrick’s Guild, run by Mary Josephine Cruice. She returned there later to give birth to her son, Cyprian. She didn’t realise until after the birth the cost of keeping her child at the centre, and in desperation asked the archbishop of Dublin, Edward J. Byrne, for aid. We know all of this, because of a series of letters, one from Mary M herself the others from her priest, that were sent to the archbishop.

Not, on face value, the kind of story which would traditionally makes it into the history books. And yet, over the course of the twentieth century, who history was written about, what history was seen as being for, and the evidence and sources used in constructing history all expanded. The emergence of microhistory as an approach was part of these changes – the use of the micro-scale to view the ‘normal exceptions’ of historical experience, widening the historians view beyond the macro-scale and political; while using archival evidence, in this case the letters produced by Mary M, to reveal these histories.

Earner-Byrne argues this story is so significant because of these letters, through this piece we can give the victims in history a voice, often denied in the writing of traditional history. Earner-Byrne sees the story of Mary M as both revealing of one individual’s particular experiences, and standing for a large history of sexual violence, institutional complicity and the role of religion in modern Ireland. In essence then, Earner-Byrne is trying to show us that this story is relatable and applicable to contemporary society enough to be taken seriously and applied widely, as well as unusual enough for us to learn about specific details that can teach us about the whole society at the time. This is perhaps the main tenants of microhistory.

We get a huge amount from this piece; Mary M’s reaction to her situation, which we can read in her letter, highlights the views of the time.

Firstly there is her perception that her ordeal is a punishment from God, the ‘torments of hell’. She cannot find solace in God, or prayer, as all she can think about is her corrupt existence after her rape. This shows us the way in which she saw her religion, how Catholicism affected her sense of guilt and sin.

These opinions give us an insight into wider society. We can see through her wishing her son to be taken by the angels, the personified issue of infanticide.  One in three illegitimate children in 1923 in Ireland died before they reached a year old, much higher than the average, and the reasons for this are not all clear. This was a huge societal issue and through the letter we can see how women who commit infanticide may have felt, or what that may have gone through.

We see her clear fear at losing her place within society, mindful as she was of the level of ostracism present in Irish society towards victims of rape. There was no real difference in the way society treated the sexually immoral, and the sexually abused, and even less for the illegitimate products of either act. Mary’s reaction tells us of the level this societal disapproval of illegitimate children must have been, not even trusting her aunt or uncle who she looked after.

For Earner-Byrne the letter gives archival grounds for the challenging of the work of historians like Moira Maguire who have produced work undermining the legitimacy of women’s claims to rape. Earner-Byrne argues that if it is this easy to dismiss rape cases today, in a society informed by gender studies and power abuse, how easy must it have been at the time, for those who committed rape to cover it up by undermining the character of the victim. She plainly argues that we must assess our current understanding of rape and abuse, to properly assess history.

Conclusion

This piece has clear intentions, as shown by its last paragraph in which she comments that while history has its ‘silences’, ‘Mary M’s letters give life to an experience that history has tended to frame as a mere footnote to bigger battles’ and that we ‘must make space’ for marginalised voices.

Earner-Byrne evidently sees microhistory, at least in this piece, as speaking for the marginalised and dispossessed. That through this sort of investigation we can move the historiographical narrative away from the male, white, middleclass centred focus it can often have. History for her then is not yet simply an objective portrayal of events, it is the voice of the powerful, and microhistory can challenge that narrative, that big history, with its little history.

Bibliography

L. Earner-Byrne, ‘The rape of Mary M.: A microhistory of sexual violence and moral redemption in 1920’s Ireland’, Journal of the History of Sexuality Vol 2., 2015, pp. 75-98.


The Cheese and the Worms- Looking into what went on in Mennochio’s head?

 By analysing the beliefs of the Fruilian miller Mennochio thoroughly, as in through this text, The Cheese and the Worms, Ginzburg allows entrance into the oral culture of the 16th Catholic peasants at the height of the counter-reformation, as well as insight into the minds of Humanist influenced heretics.

Domenico Scandella, nicknamed Mennochio, developed a heretical universe of his own through a hybridisation of pre-existing beliefs based on the oral culture of the Peasantry, coupled with texts he had access to, such as Mandeville’s Travels, and the Fioretto della Bibia. These texts help explain the heretical universal outlook which he developed, and so, contrasting the warped information attained about society through numerical quantative data, provided insight into the mind of a heretic. This text, the first fully self-conscious work of microhistory, revealed the fecundity of focusing on the “normal exception”. This term refers to the principal in microhistory of, contrasting quanatative data collection which focuses on surveying the lives of the regular in society, by focusing on the life of an outlier, in this case Mennochio, a miller, who by occupation, lived on the periphery of his village community of Fruili in modern North-Eastern Italy. This allowed one to build up a more accurate and representative picture of the ideas and consciousness of the people’s inhabiting this area in the period. Consequently, Ginzburg strives to analyse and evaluate what went on inside “Mennochio’s head”.

A fundamental understanding of the intellectual developments of the period can be constructed through examining the threads that the heretics of a Humanistic background which linked them to the world of the peasants. This is seen through the works of, and recorded Inquisitorial interrogations of Mennochio, a “normal exception” who had the capacity to read and write and so could absorb high cultured literature, writing down the ideas he developed from these materials. As well as this, bolstering his understanding of the pre-existing superstitious oral culture of the Peasantry.

Putting these sources, along with the recorded responses in the Fruili community of those who knew of and spoke to Mennochio, under microscope analysis, allows us to understand the thoughts of this heretic. He had read a text entitled the Fioretta della Bibbia, describing the “doctrine of the four elements”[1], that is earth, water, air and fire, which exist and have always existed, even before the events outlined in the Biblical Book of Genesis. Furthermore, through this close analysis of Mennochio’s life, Ginzburg can pinpoint when he read and what he read through the recordings of the date of the purchases of what he bought, such as the Supplementum Supplementi delle cronicle, by the Humanist, Foresti in 1584[2]. It explains, from the influence of Ovid, that “Before earth, sea and the sky which covers everything existed, nature had an appearance throughout its expanse that the philosophers called Chaos”[3]. Foresti, a humanist scholar, reflected the ongoing cultural Renaissance and reintegration of classical thought at the time. He consequently impressed upon Mennochio with a universe that was more Ovidian than Biblical, though the concept of an eternally existing primordial chaos, a “great and inchorate matter”, pre-existing the events described in Genesis[4].

The impact of these texts on Mennochio was profound, and exemplified the fear felt by the Catholic Church in the counter-reformation to suppress such ideas. This can be seen in his first recorded inquisitorial interrogation, for he says:

“I have said that, in my opinion, all was chaos…and out of that bulk a mass formed-- just as cheese is made out of milk—and worms appeared in it, and these were the angels. The most holy majesty decreed that these should be God and the angels, and among that number of angels, there was God, he too having been created out of that mass at the same time…”[5]

The continuing analysis of the interrogation of Mennochio also provides insight into the in depth and thorough degree of reasoned questioning with which Inquisitors applied their suspects.  For the Inquisitor probed Mennochio’s cosmogony, attempting to establish whether the chaos was a heretical conception if it had always co-existed with the accepted belief of the eternal God. The heretical Mennochio replied that the Ovidian chaos and God “were always together, that they never separated”[6]. Revealing insight into Mennochio’s syncretic belief system.

Furthermore the analysis of other texts which Mennochio was known to have read present an unforeseen dimension of toleration in medieval society, and accepted medieval thought of the peasantry. The “tale of the three rings”, along with Mennochio’s reflections on Mandeville’s book Travels, reveals to us the surprising degree of religious tolerance found in Medieval times[7].

Firstly, through examining the work Mennochio, as Ginzburg discovers in the impact on the miller of the text Travels, he is known to have read. Allows one consequently to comes to an understanding of the “almost ethnographic tone” of medieval thought in relation to their conception of foreign lands, and foreign belief systems. Ginzburg examines the fantastical cultures presented in Travels, revealing that the inhabitants of the distant Chana worshipped a deity, half ox, half man, the ox being “the holiest beast on earth, and most useful among all others”, while man, “is the most noble of the creatures and has dominion over all the beasts”[8]. Crucially, Ginzburg’s evaluation of this text known to have been read by Mennochio reveals, on the wider scope, how many Medieval Christians too, superstitiously attributed beneficial or malicious powers to certain animals.

Furthermore, fascinating insight into the Medieval/Early-Modern world view, impossible to gather via quantative research would be beliefs about the existence of creatures with the heads of a dog and human bodies, referred to as Cynocephalus. Again, and potentially breaking our preconceived notions of the prejudices of ignorant past societies, toleration is again applied by Mandeville to them, as he notes them as “reasonable people with good understanding”[9].

This image of a Cynocephalus, the exotic beast described in Mennochio’s work reveals the fundamentally qualitative edge microhistory brings to the study of the past. Contrasting those who desire to gather information about the past through quantitative data, as in through Cliometrics, which applies economic theory to the past, microhistory helps build up a picture based on qualitative data[10]. Looking for qualitative data and so applying as Cliometricians Engerman and Fogel in Time on the Cross, to history allows the historian to apply Popper’s scientific method to history. Treating history as a science is supported by renowned historians such as E.H Carr, who describes history as a progressive science[11]. They consequently put forward a thesis arguing that slavery in the Southern United States was a lot more efficient than in work in free farms, and moreover slaves health care and nourishment far superior to the majority of free blacks! This objective approach of the Cliometrician consequently was met by a large backlash from the African American community, for missing out the qualitative implications induced by the captivity of slavery. However, on the flip side of this viewpoint, as R.G Collingwood emphasized, if history is to be regarded as an art, art by definition, can only be produced by those who have experience of the subject. Engerman, and Fogel’s use of Cliometrics, that is quantative data, which applies economic theory to history, misses out the experiential and qualitative edge needed to be captured, to build up a depiction of the past. Such expressions of the contemporary world view as the existence of Cynocephaulus, in the Oriental land of Chana, reveal qualitative insight into the way Mennochio and others of the sixteenth century North Eastern Italy viewed their world. Something, that although unquantifiable, is arguably far more meaningful in building up a depiction of the objectively extinct past.

The captured expression of Mennochio’s fundamental belief in tolerance is too captured in this following work. Reflecting upon the individual psychological impact and the deepness of the belief in tolerance is exhibited in Maimonides adaptation of “the tale of the three rings”, by his 2nd trial with the Inquisition. Maimonides relayed this story presented in the 14th century text by Boccacio’s Decameron:

“There was once a great lord who declared his heir would be the person found to have a certain precious ring of his; and drawing near to his death, he had two other rings similar to the first one made, since he had three sons, and he gave a ring to each son; each one of them thought himself to be the heir and to have the true ring, but because of their similarity it could not be known with certainty. Likewise, God the Father has various children whom he loves, such as Christians, Turks, and Jews and to each of them he has given the will to live by his own law, and we do not know which is the right one.”[12]

The impression the Decameron text had on Mennochio, through this event and then the trial and subsequent intellectual clash between the Medieval beliefs of religious tolerance exhibited by Mennochio, against the Catholic Inquisitor, a vanguard of the counter-reformation, allows Ginzburg to understand this as symbolic. It reveals how the counter-reformation and the consequential Confessionalization of early modern Europe was a two-front war against Renaissance Humanist high culture and the medieval tolerance of the past.

Finally, one can understand that through Ginzburg looking into the life of this exceptionally outspoken individual, who held views in great contrast to the Orthodox Catholic accepted faith, was able to hold these views for roughly three decades before being reported to the Church’s authorities. Furthermore, it is revealed that it was not the priest of the village that would denounce him, but another cleric, who would finally accuse him. This indicates how such beliefs were locally not considered heretical, and so how differently local beliefs varied from the mainstream Catholic theological doctrine.

Carls Ginzburg then concludes this point, encapsulating the methodology of microhistory, by making wide claims about a society upon the basis of microscopic examination by evaluating that:

“To the peasants of Montereale, Mennochio’s statements, despite their peculiarity, must not have seemed so alien to their existence, to their beliefs and hopes”.[13]

This last evaluative statement, which reflects profoundly upon the, usually well-hidden psyche of a long-dead peasant folkloric culture is brought to the forefront when the cosmos of a sixteenth-century miller, is examined under the microscope.

Bibliography

Translated by John and Anne Tedeschi, The Cheese and the Worms The Cosmos of a Sixteenth-Century Miller (Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press, 1992

Weiss, T. (2001), “Review of American Negro Slavery” Project 2001: Significant Works in Economic History. Available from: https://web.archive.org/web/20111220190203/http://eh.net/node/2749

E.H Carr, “What is history?”, accessed: March 20 2016. Available from: http://www.trfa.org.uk/sixthform/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/HISTORY-What-is-history-E.H-Carr.pdf

The mind-set of the sixteenth century Italian peasant can be explored through the utilisation of qualitative data gathering via micro-historical enquiry. 

The story of Mennochio’s trial adds a new dimension to the process of cultural homogenisation driven by the ongoing Counter-Reformation.

Endnotes

 

[1] Mennochio: The Cheese and the Worms, 52.

[2] Ibid, 52.

[3] Ibid, 53.

[4] Ibid, 53.

[5] Translated by John and Anne Tedeschi, The Cheese and the Worms The Cosmos of a Sixteenth-Century Miller (Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press, 1992)6.

[6] Ibid, 54.

[7] Ibid, 59.

[8] Ibid, 24.

[9] Ibid, 48.

[10] Thomas Weiss (2001), “Review of American Negro Slavery” Project 2001: Significant Works in Economic History

[11] E.H Carr, “What is history?”, accessed: March 20 2016. Available from: http://www.trfa.org.uk/sixthform/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/HISTORY-What-is-history-E.H-Carr.pdf , 127.

[12] The Cheese and the Worms The Cosmos of a Sixteenth-Century Miller, 49.

[13] The Cheese and the Worms The Cosmos of a Sixteenth-Century Miller, 121. 


Useful Weblinks

http://www.microhistory.org/

 This website provides a small bibliography of works surrounding microhistory and microhistory journals. it also provides recently published work with brief introductions in order to help fully understand the text. The websites aim is to attempt to define microhistory as a whole.

 

http://historynewsnetwork.org/article/23720put

 A brief but detailed explanation of the history of microhistory and explanation of the study itself. Also examines microhistory’s advantages. The article promotes microhistory’s use in American history as a whole.

 

http://www.microhistory.eu/

Put together by leading scholars in the field of microhistory, this website allows users to get hold of historians working within the field of microhistory, and has a large growing bibliography of articles and works by many historians. This site is constantly being added to.

 

https://manyheadedmonster.wordpress.com/2012/12/01/microhistory-size-matters/

A brief overview of what is microhistory with help from masters students and academic historians. Also gives a small bibliography and overviews of each work. The website allows for users to email their historians in order to answer burning questions or seek explanations. 

 

https://earlyamericanists.com/2015/01/19/serial-microhistory-and-the-perils-of-historical-research

This blog entry focuses on the work of Sarah Koenig’s in research and reporting , or putting together Serial, a series of podcasts and a piece of microhistory, that follow Hae Min Lee disappearance and looks at the much broader aspects of the story, for example what life was like in pre 9/11 Muslim community in America and how this has changed since.