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Matti Peltonen, Department of Social Science History, University of Helsinki, History under Debate-conference in July the 14-18, 1999 in Santiago de Compostela, Spain

Tema 6

Matti Peltonen

, Department of Social Science History, University of Helsinki,

SUMMARY: The Coming of New Microhistory

One of the most interesting phenomena in late 20th century historiography is what came to be known as "the new microhistory". It started with a group of studies published around the year 1975 including works such as Emmanuel Le Roy Laduries Montaillou, E. P. Thompsons Whigs and Hunters, Carlo Ginzburgs The Worms and the Cheese and Natalie Zemon Davis Culture and Society in Early Modern France. Those works were first received as a revival of the history of mentality represented, for instance, by the founders of the Annales School (Marc Bloch and Lucien Febre) or the Dutch historian Johan Huizinga with his The Waning of the Middle Ages, although the word mentality was now given in its plural form. Especially under the influence of two Italian historians, Giovanni Levi and Carlo Ginzburg, more stress was given to the methodological aspect of these studies and the label "microhistory" gained popularity in the 80s and 90s. My paper will discuss the following aspects of the "new ". First, what was new in the new microhistory according to the practitioners of the approach. Secondly, two prominent figures, Walter Benjamin and Michel de Certeau, are examined as precursors of new microhistory. They are both well-known, but not as microhistorians. Furthermore, Benjamin is more frequently seen as a philosopher of history, not as an historian. That view neglects the methodological ideas Benjamin developed while working on the Passagen Arbeit. Michel de Certau was more close to the group of new microhistorians, and his La Possession du Loudun preceded their work only by some five years. The Benjaminian approach, seeing the world consisting of monads, multi-faceted pictures, differs greatly from Michel de Certeaus Braudel-inspired methodology highlighting marginal areas as epistemologically important. Finally, some problems of the new microhistory are taken up.