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What is the difference between micro and macro history

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MICRO HISTORY is a study or account of the history of a very specific subject; also a study of a very small cultural change. MACRO HISTORY is a form of large scale history dealing with large groups of cultures over very long time period.

CONCEPTUAL TERMS

MICRO HISTORY is a study or account of the history of a very specific subject; also a study of a very small cultural change. It is the intensive historical investigation of a well-defined smaller unit of research, most often a single event, community of a village, family, or person.

MACRO HISTORY is a form of large scale history dealing with large groups of cultures over very long time period. Macro history includes the scale of world history and historical sociology, as well as the even larger scales of “big history” which embrace geological and even cosmological time.

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INTRODUCTION

Historians differ fundamentally around the decision they make about scale. Doing history forces historians to make choices about the scale of history with which they are concerned. For instance, Williams Hinton provides what is almost a month to month description of the Chinese Revolution in Fanshen village – a collection of a few hundred families. This history is limited in time and space, and can appropriately be called Micro history.

The book covers a few years and the events of a few hundred people. Goudsblom and De Vries provide an environmental history of the world “Mappae Mundi: Human and their Habitats in a Long-Term Socio-Ecological Perspective: Myths, Maps and Mode.In each of this case, the historian has chosen a scale that encompasses virtually the whole of the globe, over millennia of time. These histories can certainly be called Micro history.

CHARACTERISTICS OF MACRO HISTORY AND SHORTCOMINGS

Macro history is interdisciplinary, because it crosses the boundaries between the humanities and the science. As a teaching field, macro history can enrich students’ sense of their own identity and place in the larger scheme of things.[1]

As a research field, the methodology of macro history will be closer to that of historical sociology than to that of archival historical research.

Part of the problem with writing history is that its traditionally written from a macro perspective – presidents, senators, generals, business leaders, wars and grand geopolitical and economic themes.

Micro history also tends to better focus on the humanity of the situation, and thus will often paint a more pessimistic view of things that macro history would.[2]

Military macro history looks better than military micro history, for the strategic picture of campaigns and maneuvers are more appealing than the down-and-dirty life of the soldiers on the front-line.

A good military micro history piece can frequently be described as “anti-war” for it shows the personal carnage that war creates better.

Civilian micro history will look at the hard realities of lives in different eras, many liberal-leaning historians will gravitate towards that micro history give a more complete view of history than our standard macro history and to use the look at the lives of the commoner of the past to cast doubts about the modern socio-economic order.

Macro history hides a lot of the social and the social and economic pathologies behind cold statistics

Micro history, if done with the wrong spin, wallows in those pathologies to make an ideological point.[3]

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CHARACTERISTICS OF MICRO HISTORY AND SHORTCOMINGS

Micro history, as a subfield of history, has the potential to become a valuable field of study as increasing number of students enter post-secondary and graduate education in the world.[4]

By examining the history of everyday life, micro history is providing historians with a new possibly paradigmatic, dimension to traditional research that address directly many of the current criticisms leveled at history in general.

Micro history takes specific look at a place, person or event in history that illustrates or explains larger themes in macro history. For example, a micro history on a particular naval port of the British Empire would contribute to an understanding of the British navy as a whole.

Micro history is the intensive historical investigation of a well-defined smaller unit of research, most often a single event, the community of a village, or an individual.

Giovanni Levi, Carlo Ginzburg and Simons Cerutti were individuals who pioneered the approach. However, it is agreed that mirco history originally developed in Italy in the 1970s, though in 1959, an American historian, George R. Stewart published Pickett’s Change: A Micro history of the Final Attack On Gettysburg, July 3, 1863, which tells the story of the final day of the battle of Gettysburg.

Micro history and micro historians focus on the small units in the society, therefore it approach is the small scale of investigation.

Notable micro historians include Wolfgang Behringer, Alain Corbin, John J. Curry, Robert Darnton, Cynthia A. Kierner among others.

The word “Micro history” is usually associated with a group of Italian scholars from the 1970s who abandoned broad examinations of big structures, events and people, in favor of the detailed observation of smaller units, such as a village, family or an individual  person.

Micro history is an advantageous methodology to utilize in answering to specific historical enquires, yet it has severe limitations when applied to a larger scale or time period.

Micro history puts on the agency of groups and individuals and their contingency within the contemporary social, economic, political and religious circumstances.  Therefore, micro history changes our understanding of traditional longue duree narratives by returning the particularities to events which have been incorporated into broader perspectives.

The first provocation for the development of micro history was the increasing use of longue duree structuralist histories. Longue duree histories take a board perspective over large geographies and time periods in order to identify patterns, ideologies or mechanisms which influence human behavior & events during certain epochs.

Although, micro history is extremely useful to correct overly generalized teleology, it is simply not a corrective method.

Micro history has also become popular for its political uses. Particularly for leftist historians using a smaller scale of investigation has allowed them to question the now orthodox teleology of the modernizing process. By narrowing the field of investigation, micro history allows one to find the exception to teleological narrative and siege the political justification with the concrete evidence that a smaller scale enables.[5]

Micro histories have been used by historians to combat the post-modern challenge.

Micro history operates on a smaller scale, therefore, it is less selective in its choice of sources and places a greater emphasis on placing the evidence within it contemporary context.

Despite its valuable utilities micro history still has severe limitations. If micro history is applied to a line of inquiry that it does not suit it, the outcome will ultimately be misrepresentation.

If micro history is used to understand the changing attitudes towards Jews and Germany from the early modern period to the present day, it would fail to be representative as the focusing of microscopic details on a few localities cannot give context to attitudes and events across that scale of space and time. One city will rather have a different experience from the others and without a broad overview to encapsulate these experiences, micro history would fallaciously render them homogeneous.

Micro history can only be advantageous when scale of investigation is narrow which means it can only be used to answer certain questions

Naomi Lamoreaux has astutely argued that it is not enough for micro history to be a corrected tool. If it is to be recognized on alternative historiographical method, it must alter our understanding, which means it must tackle the big questions of history, as other disciplines attempt to.

It is worthy of note, that the big questions in history are rarely about the significance of one small locality and the interactions that occurred between its residents. The big question, i.e. significant questions, in history cover large geographies and multiple events, all across long periods of time, which is why they are significant questions because they are relevant to a wider audience. Yet for micro history to answer such questions, it must be able to do an in-depth study on a small area that is representative of the whole coverage of the inquiry.[6]

Though advocate of micro history like Richard Brown claim that micro history is interested in making connections with the broader understanding of history, the methodology that is involved can create a rather misleading picture.

One of the greatest pull factors for micro history is its claim to recreate the experience and interaction of the lives lived in the past. Rather than studying institutions and faceless ideologies, micro history claim to give individuals of the past a voice. It must be farther questioned whether micro history, or indeed any form of history, could really recreate the experience of a life and give human agency to historical process, as the document obtainable in villages are often baptism records, birth records, tax records, court records, etc., these records can hardly claim to represent the nuances and intimate interactions that culminate the experience of life.[7]

It is important for historians to adopt a broader approach than micro history allows, in order to create a greater understanding of the global community that we live in presently. Increased use of micro history gives life to the claim that “historians know more and more about less and less”[8]

It is also necessary to have a larger scale perspective as this is more accessible for those not familiar with the discipline. Despite the best efforts of authors, it can be extremely confusing to read a micro history as an introduction to a new subject as it rarely gives the context necessary to obtain a base of knowledge. So therefore, if micro history was the only history that was available, this discipline would be in accessible and fragmentary.[9]

A further danger of the increasing use of micro history is a return to “antiquarianism”. Some micro histories are more concerned with historical facts than historical truths. Thus micro histories can lose their relevance to the present in their attempt to resurrect the experience of the past.

CONCLUSION

Both macro history and micro history are useful when both are accurate, without the writer trying to trust history in his or her own ideological direction.

REFERENCE

  1. uvic.ca/vv/student/vicbrewery/content/microhistory.htm University of Victoria, assessed on 11/02/2017
  2. Wikipedia, wikipedia.com/microhistory.htm. accessed on 11/02/2017
  3. What is Micro History assessed at goodreads.com/genres/microhistory assessed on 11/02/2017
  4. Carlo Ginzburg, John Tedeschi and Anne C. Tedeschi Microhistory: Two or Three Things that I Know About It’ Critical Inquiry. Vol. 20 No. 1 Pp 10-35
  5. oxfordjournals.org accessed on 11/02/2017
  6. Brown, Richard D. ‘ Microhistory and the Post-Modern Challenges’. Journal of the early republic Vol. 23, No 1 2003 p. 11
  7. Gregory, Brad S. ‘Is Small Beautiful? Microhistroy and History of Everyday Life’. History and Theory Vol. 28 No. 1 1999 P. 100-110
  8. Advantages and disadvantages of micro history assessed at booksie.com/posting/richard-blundall/microhistory-advantages-and-disadvantages-450795 accessed on 11/02/2017
  9. sociostudies.org accessed on 11/02/2017
  10. The three scales of history assessed at understandingsociety.blogspot.com/2009/07/scale-in-history-micro-meso-macro.html assessed on 10/02/2017
  11. The Definition of Macro History assessed atyourdictionary.com/macrohistoty assessed on 10/02/2017
  12. ‘Micro history and Macro history’ assessed at markbyron.typepad.com/main/2003/02/microhistory_an.html assessed on 10/02/2017

Footnotes

[1]www.yourdictionary.com/macrohistoty assessed on 10/02/2017

[2]‘Micro history and Macro history’ assessed at markbyron.typepad.com/main/2003/02/microhistory_an.html assessed on 10/02/2017

[3] Understandingsociety.blogspot.com/2009/07/scale-in-history-micro-meso-macro.html assessed on 10/02/2017

[4]Wikipedia, www.wikipedia.com/microhistory.htm. accessed on 11/02/2017

[5]Microhistory: Two or Three Things that I Know About It’ Carlo Ginzburg, John Tedeschi and Anne C. Tedeschi: Critical Inquiry. Vol. 20 No. 1 Pp 10-35

[6]Brown, Richard D. ‘ Microhistory and the Post-Modern Challenges’. Journal of the early republic Vol. 23, No 1 2003 p. 11

[7] What is Micro history assessed at www.goodreads.com/genres/microhistory assessed on 11/02/2017

[8]Gregory, Brad S. ‘Is Small Beautiful? Microhistroy and History of Everyday Life’. History and Theory Vol. 28 No. 1 1999

[9]Micro history assessed at Web.uvic.ca/vv/student/vicbrewery/content/microhistory.htm University of Victoria, assessed on 11/02/2017

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