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The Space Between: Connecting Microhistory and Global History

Workshop: 26-28 February, 2016, Warwick in Venice, Palazzo Pesaro Papafava, Venice

A short report of the proceedings can be found here.(PDF Document)

Conference panorama

Warwick-in-Venice was the site for a closed workshop on microhistory and global history, jointly organised by Maxine Berg (Warwick) and John-Paul Ghobrial (Oxford). The workshop provided a forum for reflecting on key questions of scale and distance in historical writing. We do so by bringing microhistory and global history in conversation with each other, at a time when both approaches have captured the imagination of scholars across a wide variety of subjects.

Underlying this workshop is a set of deeper questions related to the practice and future of early modern global history, itself a subject of current and controversial debate. As a field, ‘global history’ is now at more risk than ever of becoming a catch-all phrase for several highly divergent types of history, ranging from micro histories of objects to so-called ‘big’ or ‘deep’ history written at the level of planetary change. The coherence of the field has been a subject of great concern for practitioners and critics alike, and these debates revolve around significant differences in opinion over the appropriate methods, sources, and goals of global history. Where some regard global history as a forum for writing large-scale syntheses based mainly on secondary sources, other scholars have insisted that global history must preserve a close engagement with philology, local context and, above all, primary sources at its core. Lurking beneath these two extremes are fundamental disagreements about critical issues of scale, distance, and the relationship between the general and the particular in historical analysis.

There are now real opportunities for a conversation between microhistory and global history, two historical approaches that are frequently seen as distinct. Now a new generation of historians is seeking to engage with global history, while drawing on their training in the methodologies of microhistory. Global historians who sought the transnational, cultural and economic connections between peoples are exploring ways of conveying individual histories, events and locales within a global framework. Bringing together a range of scholars working across different contexts, the workshop responds directly, therefore, to one of the most pressing conceptual challenges facing historians today, that is, how is it possible to link the study of the micro-scale level of everyday life to macro-narratives of historical change? We hope this workshop will lead on to a future series of seminars and workshops on these themes.

The workshop has been made possible by generous grants from the Global History and Culture Centre at Warwick, a conference grant from the Fritz Thyssen Stiftung, funding support from the ERC project on ‘Stories of Survival: Recovering the Connected Histories of Eastern Christianity in the Early Modern World’, which is based in the Faculty of History at Oxford, and funds from the Warwick Humanities Research Centre and the Warwick GRP ‘Connecting Cultures’.

A report of the proceedings can be found here.