Proposal preview

Applied microhistory: Theoretical, ethical and methodological issues.

As time puts things into perspective, the heated and sometimes misleading historiographical debates of the 1970s and 1980s on micro-history and its alleged focus on small subjects have faded away. Yet in the meantime historical micro-analysis has emerged as a useful method to approach a very diverse set of questions in different fields of social sciences and humanities. Economic history, positioned as it awkwardly is between the two cultures of history and economics, offers the ideal ground to develop the methodological potential of micro-historical method.
Micro-analysis focuses in fact on the reduction of scale as an instrument to answer theoretical general questions, maintaining a dynamic tension between ‘emic’ and ‘etic’ perspectives. In so doing, it offers a logical procedure to infer general considerations from specific cases, regardless of their statistical representativeness. At the same time, it offers the possibility to assess the scope limiting conditions of economic models and theories, highlighting the contextual determinants of their validity (Wickham 2017). Last but not least, this approach implies a contingent view of the relationship between agency and structure, highlighting the creativity of the former and the complexity of the latter in an anti-deterministic perspective that takes at heart the complex and chaotic nature of economic dynamics.
This workshop aims at discussing the contribution of micro-analytical historical approaches to research in economic history on different historical contexts and with reference to different theoretical approaches in the social sciences, moving from the most classical focus on local communities to the challenge of studying at micro level global connections and institutions (Trivellato 2011), and from the original connection with anthropology (Handelman 2005) to applications to sociology (Emigh 1997; Ermakoff 2014) and organization studies (Decker 2015).
In this perspective, potential contributors are invited to address the methodological issues implied in the use of a micro-analytical approach with reference to a diverse range of research fields, focusing on the theoretical contribution it can provide, but also on the changes micro-analysis goes through when translated into different domains. An important topic for discussion concerns also the ethical problems that emerge when the reduction of scale somehow abolishes the distance that economic history usually establishes with its human subjects and their choices (Di Martino, Popp, Scott 2017).

Decker, Stephanie (2015) Mothership reconnection: Microhistory and institutional work compared. In T.G Weatherbee, P.G. McLaren, & A.J. Mills (Eds.), The Routledge Companion to Management and Organizational History (pp. 222-237). London: Routledge.
Di Martino, Paolo, Popp, Andrew, & Scott, Peter, Economic history “as if people mattered”. In P. Di Martino, A. Popp, P. Scott (eds.), People, Places and Business Cultures: Essays in Honour of Francesca Carnevali (forthcoming). Martlesham: Boydell Press.
Emigh, Rebecca Jean (1997) The power of negative thinking: The use of negative case methodology in the development of sociological theory. Theory and Society, 26(5): 649-684.
Ermakoff, Ivan (2014) Exceptional cases: Epistemic contributions and normative expectations. European Journal of Sociology, 55(2): 223-243.
Handelman, Don (2005) Microhistorical anthropology: Toward a prospective perspective. In D. Kalb & H. Tak (Eds.), Critical Junctions: Anthropology and History beyond the Cultural Turn (pp. 29-52). New York: Berghan Books.
Trivellato, Francesca (2011). Is there a future for Italian microhistory in the age of global history? California Italian Studies Journal, 2(1).
Wickham, Chris (2017). Economic history and microhistory. In P. Di Martino, A. Popp, P. Scott (eds.), People, Places and Business Cultures: Essays in Honour of Francesca Carnevali (forthcoming). Martlesham: Boydell Press.


Introduction: Giovanni Favero and Paola Lanaro (Ca’ Foscari University of Venice)

Koji YAMAMOTO (University of Tokyo)
Distrust and the taming of capitalism before its triumph: A micro-historical approach to economic development.

Markéta SKOREPOVA (University of South Bohemia in Ceske Budejovice)
A way to the ordinary people. Microhistory in the context of the Czech rural history.

Yasin ARSLANTAS (London School of Economics)
Reconciling microhistory with cliometrics: Methodological notes and a case study from the Ottoman Empire history.

Keti LELO, Giuseppe STEMPERINI and Carlo M. TRAVAGLINI (Roma Tre University – CROMA)
Urban analysis of 18th to 19th century Rome through the use of cartographic, descriptive and quantitative sources

Catherine BISHOP (University of Sidney) and Jennifer ASTON (Northumbria University)
The Problem with counting: Transnational methodological experiments analysing 19th Century business and gender.

Discussion: Francesca TRIVELLATO (Yale University)


  • Giovanni Favero, Università Ca' Foscari Venezia,, Italy
  • Paola Lanaro, Università Ca' Foscari Venezia,, Italy

Session members

  • Koji Yamamoto, University of Tokyo,
  • Catherine Bishop, University of Sydney,
  • Yasin Arslantas, London School of Economics,
  • Markéta Skořepová, University of South Bohemia in České Budějovice,
  • Carlo M. Travaglini, Università Roma Tre,
  • Keti Lelo, Università Roma Tre,
  • Giuseppe Stemperini, Università Roma Tre,

Proposed discussant(s)

  • Francesca Trivellato, Yale University,