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The Future(s) of Microhistory: A Symposium

Collage of historical images

Overview and Schedule

November 17–18, 2017
University of Rochester

Since the rise of cultural studies and the “anthropological turn” in the 1970s, microhistorical studies have provided an avenue to examine the human experience through what Edoardo Grendi termed the “exceptional normal.” The emphasis of microhistory on symbolic culture and detailed narrative offered a new style of analysis to the historical profession while challenging long-held assumptions about the role of social scientific approaches that emphasized large-scale studies.

Now that many scholars accept microhistory as an established mode of historical thought, the time is ripe to evaluate new developments and consider the future of microhistory. A generation of historians have read, internalized, and used the approach. But, at a time when more and more scholars are interested in global issues, questions have arisen about the relationship between microhistory and “connected” or “big” history.

This conference on “The Future(s) of Microhistory” brings together a relatively small group of established historians from a range of specialties. We will discuss the current and prospective relevance of microhistory and microhistorically-inflected work at a time when scholars are turning toward transnational questions while digital history and studies based in big-data continue to grow in influence.

For more information, see the symposium schedule below and our participants page.

This event is free and open to the public. No registration is required.

Friday, November 17

8:30–9 a.m.
Hawkins-Carlson Room, Rush Rhees Library

9–9:15 a.m.
Remarks by Thomas C. Devaney, University of Rochester
Remarks by President Joel Seligman, University of Rochester

Session 1

9:15–10:45 a.m.
Chair: Anna Rosensweig, University of Rochester


  • Ronald Angelo Johnson, Texas State University
    “Look Abroad, See Back Home: Diplomacy as a Lens into Cultural and Racial History”
  • Nabil Matar, University of Minnesota
    “Arab Captives in the Early Modern Mediterranean: Between Micro- and Macro-History”

10:45-11 a.m.

Session 2

11 a.m.–12:30 p.m. 
Chair: Peter Christensen, University of Rochester 


  • Jennifer W. Kyker, Eastman School of Music
    “What's a Hero?: Music, Memory, and Martyrdom in Postcolonial Zimbabwe”
  • Robert Harms, Yale University
    “Glocalization in History” 

Lunch (for participants)
12:30–1:30 p.m.
Rare Books and Special Collections, Rush Rhees Library

Session 3

1:30–3 p.m.
Chair: Dahpon Ho, University of Rochester


  • Huaiyin Li, University of Texas at Austin
    “Microhistory, Peasant Society, and the Study of Rural China”
  • Sigurður Gylfi Magnússon, University of Iceland
    “Far-reaching Emotions and Microhistory”

3–3:15 p.m.

Session 4

3:15–4:45 p.m.
Chair: Gabrielle Cornish, Eastman School of Music


  • E. Natalie Rothman, University of Toronto
    “Localizing Dragomans: Shifting Scales in a Shifty World” 
  • Claudia Verhoeven, Cornell University
    “Microhistory and Mass Violence: The Manson Murders and the My Lai Massacre” 

4:45–5 p.m.


5–6 p.m.
Chair: Carrie Knight, University of Rochester


Dinner (for participants)
7 p.m.
Lento, Village Gate Square

Saturday, November 18

9–9:30 a.m.

Session 5

9:30–11 a.m.
Chair: Pablo Sierra Silva, University of Rochester


  • Elaine Forman Crane, Fordham University
    “From Micro to Macro (or how a local incident took on international dimensions)”
  • Joan C. Bristol, George Mason University
    “Focusing Different Lenses on Esperanza Rodriguez, a mulata Jew in Seventeenth-Century Mexico”

11–11:15 a.m.

Session 6

11:15 a.m.–12:45 p.m.
Chair: Thomas Fleischman, University of Rochester


  • Lisa Jakelski, Eastman School of Music
    “The Individual in the Transnational: Music and Politics at the 1968 Warsaw Autumn Festival”
  • Laurie Marhoefer, University of Washington
    “Microhistory and Histories of Sexuality and Racism”

Lunch (for participants)
12:45–1:45 p.m.
In the Humanities Center, Rush Rhees Library

Session 7

1:45–3:15 p.m.
Chair: Laura Smoller, University of Rochester


  • Michela Andreatta, University of Rochester
    “Microhistories of Books: The Case of Early Modern Jewish Studies”
  • Guido Ruggiero, University of Miami
    “From Women Priests and Bird Hunting to Machiavelli and the Rinascimento Itself: Thinking Big with Microhistory”

3:15–3:30 p.m.

Session 8

3:30–5:00 p.m.
Chair: Thomas Hahn, University of Rochester


  • Richard W. Kaeuper, University of Rochester
    “Back to the Future: Undergraduate Studies in British Medieval Government Documents”
  • Michael J. Jarvis, University of Rochester
    “A Big War in a Small Place: Microhistory, Digital History, and the Virtual St. George’s 1775 Project”

5:00–5:15 p.m.
Remarks by Katrina Ponti, University of Rochester

Dinner (for participants)
6:30 p.m.
Brown Hound Bistro, Memorial Art Gallery