3.4. Microhistory




Andrew Popp, Copenhagen Business School

Professor of history at CBS. Editor at Enterprise and Society. Interests in British history: economic lives, affect and emotions, everyday life. Sometimes attempts to write microhistory

Susan Ingalls Lewis, State University of New York at New Paltz

Professor Emerita of History. Focus on nineteenth-century businesswomen, from microentrepreneurs to women prominent in local enterprises. Retired to work on multiple scholarly projects.

The chair of this session is Sven Kube (Florida International University)

Description of workshop 

There is no sustained tradition of the conscious or explicit adoption of microhistorical approaches and methods to business history topics. This workshop will explore why and how scholars working on business historical topics might apply microhistorical approaches. Microhistory is often also quite commonly misunderstood, or - at the very least - differently defined. The co-convenors of this session may not even agree on a shared definition. But we can probably say a few simple things. Microhistory is not simply about scale. Nor can it be straightforwardly equated with history from below. Case studies are common approaches in business history, but case studies are rarely also microhistories. Sources are important but do not alone constitute microhistory. 

For one of the co-convenors, Andrew Popp, key concepts include that of the exceptional-normal, a method of clues, and the so-called double-movement across scales. Andrew’s opening remarks will focus on recent (and ongoing!) attempts to work with sources that are both banal and anomalous, leading to the building of an argument about the role of affect in capitalism from 200 letters between a young couple from Ohio 

Susan Ingalls Lewis suspects that all history is really microhistory (just as Tip O'Neill, once the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, famously said “all politics is local”). For her, the essence of microhistory is its basis in the stories of individuals and localities -- which business history needs! Business history can be as amenable to microhistory as any other branch of the discipline. As a business historian, Susan works on microentrepreneurship by building up (through records linkage) mini-biographies of individuals who left no letters, diaries, or account books, using both quantitative sources (like the census and city directories) and qualitative sources (like the R.G. Dun & Co. credit ledgers, obituaries, and wills). She is also pursuing projects based on twentieth-century girls’ series novels, the 1870 diary of an African American domestic servant and hotel cook, and a collection of more than 700 letters between two Jewish teenagers from the Bronx during World War II.

For more information or if you wish to participate in this workshop, please check this document.