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Small Worlds

Method, Meaning, & Narrative in Microhistory

Edited by James F. Brooks, Christopher R. N. DeCorse, & John Walton

Growing unease with grand theories of modernization and global integration brought twelve scholars from four disciplines to the School for Advanced Research for an experiment with the research genre known as microhistory. These authors now call for a return to narrative, detailed analysis on a small scale, and the search for unforeseen meanings embedded in cases. The essential feature of this perspective is a search for significance in the microcosm, the large lessons discovered in small worlds. Urging the recognition of potential commonalities among archaeology, history, sociology, and anthropology, the authors propose that historical interpretation should move freely across disciplines, historical study should be held up to the present, and individual lives should be understood as the intersection of biography and history. The authors develop these themes in a kaleidoscope of places and periods—West Africa, the Yucatan peninsula, Italy, Argentina, California, Brazil, Virginia, and Boston, among others. They illuminate discrete places, people, and processes through which both the intimacy of lived experience and the more distant forces that shaped their days can be viewed simultaneously.

2008. 346 pp., 27 illustrations, 2 tables, notes, references, index, 6 x 9

Contributors: Mary C. Beaudry, Kathleen Blee, James F. Brooks, Christopher R. N. DeCorse, Paul K. Eiss, Rebecca Jean Emigh, Linda Gordon, Michael Harkin, Kent G. Lightfoot, Richard Maddox, Dale Tomich, John Walton

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“This is a volume that should be cited in the literature for decades to come.”
—Peter R. Schmidt, University of Florida

“Small Worlds should prove to be a most valuable volume for students and scholars…, particularly those who now question broad generalizations…. [The book] will not only provide fresh guidelines to new levels of understanding but also foster a comparative approach to experience in small worlds all over the globe.”
—Howard Lamar, Yale University


  1. Introduction
    John Walton, James F. Brooks, and Christopher R. N. DeCorse
  2. Lived Hegemonies and Biographical Fragments: Microsteps toward a Counterhistory of the Spanish Transition from Dictatorship to Democracy
    Richard Maddox
  3. The Hidden Weight of the Past: A Microhistory of a Failed Social Movement Group
    Kathleen Blee
  4. To Write Liberation: Time, History, and Hope in Yucatán
    Paul K. Eiss
  5. Varied Pasts: History, Oral Tradition, and Archaeology on the Mina Coast
    Christopher R. N. DeCorse
  6. Arson, Social Control, and Popular Justice in the American West: The Uses of Microhistory
    John Walton
  7. The Floating Island: Anachronism and Paradox in the Lost Colony
    Michael Harkin
  8. Biography as Microhistory, Photography as Microhistory: Documentary Photographer Dorothea Lange as Subject and Agent of Microhistory
    Linda Gordon
  9. “Above Vulgar Economy”: The Intersection of Historical Archaeology and Microhistory in Writing Archaeological Biographies of Two New England Merchants
    Mary C. Beaudry
  10. What Influences Official Information? Exploring Aggregate Microhistories of the Catasto of 1427
    Rebecca Jean Emigh
  11. Anomalies, Clues, and Neglected Transcripts: Microhistory and Representations of the Cuban Sugar Frontier, 1820–1860
    Dale Tomich
  12. Seductions and Betrayals: La frontera gauchesque, Argentine Nationalism, and the Predicaments of Hybridity
    James F. Brooks
  13. Oral Traditions and Material Things: Constructing Histories of Native People in Colonial Settings
    Kent G. Lightfoot
There are no working papers for this book at the present time.