a gamut of histories

came across a quote by Thomas Carlyle, which, with startling prescience, prefigures the rise of microhistory by about 70 years.

The Time is approaching when History will be attempted on quite other principles; when the Court, the Senate and the Battlefield, receding more and more into the Background, the Temple, the Workshop and the Social Hearth will advance more and more into the foreground, and History will not content itself with shaping the answer to the question: How were men taxed and kept quiet then?  But will seek to answer this other infinitely wider and higher question: how and what were men then?  Not our Government only, or the ‘house wherein our life was led’, but the Life itself we led there, will be inquired into.
Thomas Carlyle, Critical and Miscellaneous Essays, 1899

I have thoughts on microhistory, which will be penned soon. For now it is sufficient to note that I have been reading Theodore Zeldin’s An Intimate History of Humanity, which I picked up on a whim for £2 at a bizarrely Escherian bookstore in Cambridge (all the shelves falling into one another at outrageous angles). It is a tremendous read, a whole other historical kettle of fish altogether — there is no packaging of the past into trim boxes of empires, civilizations, classes and economies; instead, the book addresses itself to profoundly humanist questions like “How humans have repeatedly lost hope, and how new encounters, and a new pair of spectacles, revive them” or “How the art of escaping from one’s troubles has developed, but not the art of knowing where to escape to” or “What becomes possible when soul-mates meet”. There are so many ways to write glorious history.


3 responses to “a gamut of histories

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