Event, Place, and Narrative Craft: Method and Meaning in Microhistory

Short Seminar

July 19–25, 2005

To address a challenge first proferred by Leo Tolstoy in War and Peace, SAR President James F. Brooks and his co-organizers Chris DeCorse and John Walton convened a seminar of twelve leading archaeologists, sociologists, ethnographers and historians. In his magisterial novel, Tolstoy argued that “to elicit the laws of history we must leave aside kings, ministers and generals, and select for study the homogeneous, infinitesimal elements which influence the masses.” Tolstoy’s reflections resonate today in growing dissatisfaction with global perspectives and meta-narratives, and led these scholars to their interest in events, biographies, and local vantage. The research and writing genre known as microhistory provided this seminar a unique forum for cross-disciplinary discussion and experimentation with narrative styles; in locations ranging from West Africa, the Yucatán, medieval Italy, Argentina, and California, to Brazil, Virginia, Spain, and Boston, they showed how “small worlds” may conceal sweeping stories, rich in the details of daily life and capable of yielding unexpected depth of insight.

James F. Brooks, Chair President, School for Advanced Research
Christopher R. N. DeCorse, Chair Department of Anthropology, Syracuse University
John Walton, Chair Department of Sociology, University of California-Davis
Mary C. Beaudry Department of Archaeology, Boston University
Kathleen Blee Department of Sociology, University of Pittsburgh
Paul K. Eiss Department of History, Carnegie-Mellon University
Rebecca Jean Emigh Department of Sociology, University of California, Los Angeles
Linda Gordon Department of History, New York University
Kent G. Lightfoot Department of Anthropology, University of California, Berkeley
Richard Maddox Professor, Department of History, Carnegie-Mellon University
Dale Tomich Department of Sociology, State University of New York, Binghamton

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