Microhistory: Social Histories of Just One Thing

To borrow from Wikipedia, "Microhistory is the intensive historical investigation of a well defined smaller unit of research (most often a single event, the community of a village, a family or a person)."
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flag this list (?)
1,262 books · 1,971 voters · list created November 10th, 2008 by Blueguitar411 Ross (votes) .
2378 likes · 
Lists are re-scored approximately every 5 minutes.


Blueguitar411 37 books
18 friends
Marie 2126 books
131 friends
Susanna - Censored by GoodReads 2965 books
733 friends
Sally 5486 books
131 friends
Angel 1963 books
87 friends
Karen 614 books
10 friends
Amy 290 books
24 friends
Sherri 735 books
51 friends

More voters…


Comments (showing 1-50 of 59) (59 new)


message 1: by Blueguitar411 (last edited Nov 10, 2008 09:05AM) (new)

Blueguitar411 Ross This list is my brainstorming session before setting up a display in the case outside the small branch library where I work.

Written by me (public librarian in New York) my Dad (urban planner and should-be history teacher in Toronto) and my librarian friends on Facebook.

Please add books, comments..!


message 2: by Angel (new)

Angel This is one of my favorite book categories to read. Glad someone made a list for it.


message 3: by Doris (new)

Doris and where are the classics? Cheese and worms by Ginzburg, Martin Guerre by Zamon-Davis and Montaillou by Ladurie?


message 4: by Stephen (new)

Stephen I love this book category as well. In fact I write these sorts of books, although they have gone somewhat out of favour for publishers lately. The list should include Scurvy: How a Surgeon, a Mariner and a Gentleman Solved the Greatest Medical Mystery of the Age of Sail, by Stephen R. Bown


message 5: by Damaris (new)

Damaris what a great list!! i really enjoyed it. honestly all i can see are gaps where more single-minded books need to be written... where is pepper? cats?


message 6: by Jessica (new)

Jessica Good list! I found more than a few to add to my own "To-be Read List". However, I would recommend that you include: "Chicago: A Biography" by Dominic A. Pacyga.


message 7: by Deanna (new)

Deanna Great list! I'm glad to learn that I'm not so odd, friends tease me because I love books on the history of random inanimate objects...


message 8: by Gregory (new)

Gregory Rothbard I think these type of books are my favorite types. They follow one idea and show their connection to the whole historical moment. In an ideal world, I wish U.S. High School History was taught throw one of these books, and the the teacher could fill in the dates and other important markers for the kids to know. History is hard to learn because it is taught as disjointed moments; these books present memorable history.


message 9: by Jim (new)

Jim Great list. Added a bunch to my to read list.


message 10: by Lobstergirl (new)

Lobstergirl Bear in mind what microhistory is, and also social history. A book covering the entirety of the British Empire is neither.


message 11: by James (new)

James Oranges, by John McPhee (and really most of McPhee's excellent work).


message 12: by Bluth (new)

Bluth Thank you for making this list.Found a few new additions to my reading pile.


message 13: by Ali Raza (new)

Ali Raza The list is very interesting read.some topics are quite amazing!


message 14: by Jeppe (new)

Jeppe What an odd list. Most of these books have nothing to do with microhistory at all, but are just regular works of history, popular or otherwise.


message 15: by Kay (new)

Kay Jeppe wrote: "What an odd list. Most of these books have nothing to do with microhistory at all, but are just regular works of history, popular or otherwise."

I agree. These aren't microhistories.


message 16: by Manchespoetra (new)

Manchespoetra jj


message 17: by Steve (new)

Steve Parsons Funny to me how many of these titles that contain the words "That Changed the World."


message 18: by Gary F (new)

Gary F This list is an absolute treasure as this genre is my favorite to read.


message 19: by Claire (new)

Claire Love this list


message 20: by Fiona (new)

Fiona Hurley Great list, but some of these books are not microhistories:
- Guns, Germs and Steel: It doesn't cover "just one thing" but has a much broader scope, more of a "macrohistory" than a micro.
- Year of Wonders: historical fiction
- The Diary of a Young Girl: memoir


message 21: by Catherine (new)

Catherine I love delving into this genre. Many thanks for generating such a comprehensive list. I had already read many of them and am delighted to add so many more to my wish list.


message 22: by Pixelina (new)

Pixelina I think I want to read ALL of these lol.


message 23: by Ashley (new)

Ashley Kay wrote: "Jeppe wrote: "What an odd list. Most of these books have nothing to do with microhistory at all, but are just regular works of history, popular or otherwise."

I agree. These aren't microhistories."


Books like "Quiet" aren't even history, much less microhistory. Still, more winners than losers.


message 24: by Grumpus (last edited Mar 24, 2014 04:50AM) (new)

Grumpus McGrouchy A few books are listed twice.
Overall a fairly interesting list.

More Steven Johnson may be needed.

Also: "Speed Tribes: Days and Night's with Japan's Next Generation."
A book about bōsōzoku, Japanese motorcycle 'gangs.'


Susanna - Censored by GoodReads It's easy to add books to lists; at the top of the list, at the tab next to "all votes."


message 26: by Grumpus (new)

Grumpus McGrouchy Oh, thanks for that.


message 27: by Rainbowheart (new)

Rainbowheart Ok, this list is a huge mess. Many of the books aren't microhistories at all. I'm going to try to go through and remove some of them. Suggestions?


message 28: by Ashley (new)

Ashley Rainbowheart wrote: "Ok, this list is a huge mess. Many of the books aren't microhistories at all. I'm going to try to go through and remove some of them. Suggestions?"

I've wanted to do that several times, but I can't figure out how and don't know the etiquette there. Part of me thinks we should be democratic and leave anything with multiple votes, but I really don't know.


message 29: by Rainbowheart (new)

Rainbowheart Hi Ashley, I'm a librarian, so I have powers to do cleanup on lists. As long as the book is clearly miscategorized, it's considered kosher to remove them. I think a lot of people who voted were unaware of the definition of "microhistory," specifically the "one thing" and "sweeping" parts. Biographies shouldn't be on here, nor should accounts of particular historical incidents.

I see some people up above mentioned Guns, Germs, and Steel, and I would agree. That appears to be a macrohistory, not a microhistory. Quiet by Susan Cain is not a history at all. So I'm going to go ahead and delete those two. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks as well. That's a biography of a woman, not a sweeping social history of a thing.

If anyone else has ideas, please post here in the comments.


message 30: by Laura (new)

Laura Rainbowheart wrote: "Hi Ashley, I'm a librarian, so I have powers to do cleanup on lists. As long as the book is clearly miscategorized, it's considered kosher to remove them. I think a lot of people who voted were una..."

I'm not particularly invested in keeping these lists clean and accurate (whatever that means), but "Immortal Life..." is absolutely a microhistory. It is a history of HeLa Cells, through which Skloot is able to tell a history of race and medicine in 20th century America. Not looking for revisions or corrections, just felt that was important to say.


message 31: by Chandler (new)

Chandler I've heard this genre referred to as "Microhistory" before. At least I think it's the same thing. Is there a difference?


message 32: by Lobstergirl (new)

Lobstergirl Well now someone (not the list creator) has completely changed the title, description, and meaning of the list. !?!

None of the books I voted onto the list a long time ago are histories of commodities. I don't read histories of commodities...but I do sometimes read "microhistories," which was what I was voting.


message 33: by Lobstergirl (new)

Lobstergirl Chandler wrote: "I've heard this genre referred to as "Microhistory" before. At least I think it's the same thing. Is there a difference?"

The title used to be "Microhistories." Someone changed it.


message 34: by Rainbowheart (new)

Rainbowheart It's confusing. Is the original list creator still around? I think there was some debate over whether single items were actually microhistories or not. I got a PM from someone recently about that. Maybe we should split this up into two separate lists. Keep this one for microhistories, and make a new list for commodity histories?


message 35: by Lobstergirl (new)

Lobstergirl The creator hasn't been onsite since 2013, looks like.

I think a history of a single item is certainly a microhistory. The problem as I see it is narrowing the header to "commodities." A microhistory doesn't have to be a history of a commodity, or a thing. It can be a history of bad manners, like one of the books I voted on. Wiki has a definition:

Microhistory is the intensive historical investigation of a well defined smaller unit of research (most often a single event, the community of a village, a family or a person).

In terms of "splitting" the list, certainly I would say revert this one back to what it was. Others can start a new list for commodities (I tend not to read books like that).

I hope no one deleted books from the list that were microhistories, but not specifically about commodities...


message 36: by Rainbowheart (last edited Mar 27, 2015 11:05PM) (new)

Rainbowheart I agree, the Wikipedia definition seems pretty clear. As far as I can tell, the person who changed the title didn't delete any books, so it looks like all the votes are still here. Reverting back to the list's original title makes sense to me.


message 37: by Lobstergirl (new)

Lobstergirl I changed it, and added the definition to make it more clear. It was confusing before, because the header contained both the words "microhistory" and "sweeping," which are contradictory.


message 38: by Rebecca (new)

Rebecca These books are still not microhistories. Ah. The great Goodreads debate.


message 39: by Rebecca (last edited Apr 10, 2015 06:55AM) (new)

Rebecca Lobstergirl wrote: "I changed it, and added the definition to make it more clear. It was confusing before, because the header contained both the words "microhistory" and "sweeping," which are contradictory."
I am also a librarian and I am the one who took microhistory out of the title. I thought it was a simple way to clarify the issue. These books and the definition you put in are just incorrect. Microhistory is not defined as "the social history of just one thing" any more than "flower" is defined as "an Italian food made using leftovers that has become an American staple." No matter how much people may come to think so, a flower is still not a pizza. This list itself seems to be the origin of the confusion about what microhistory is. If you look back at original comments, you'll see confused people asking things like "where is the cheese and the worms?" and noting "these are not microhistory."
Also, many of these books are cultural histories, not social histories. Most of them look at vast periods of time, making the subtitle, but not the word "microhistory" the only thing that was correct about the list of books. Books like sugar, salt, cod, etc. are better termed general cultural history, food studies or commodity history. I actually think we should just change the title to popular books about history, since people's efforts to add actual microhistories, along with various journalistic studies and history of science, have made the whole thing into a huge muddle.
Pretty much any book about any topic is going to be about "just one thing." That definition is close to meaningless if you are trying to define a genre in non-fiction writing.
Microhistory refers to a specific school of historical research and writing created in the 1960s-1970s. The main proponent and theorist who defined it is an Italian historian named Carlo Ginzburg. Please look at this website: http://microhistory.org/ which includes a bibliography.


message 40: by Lobstergirl (last edited Apr 10, 2015 05:06PM) (new)

Lobstergirl Rebecca, first of all, I didn't start the list. The person who started it used the label Microhistory. People began voting for books they thought were microhistories. Some of these included histories of commodities, but many didn't. Then you changed the list title to refer to commodities. Well, none of the books I voted for, when the list was about Microhistories, were about commodities. So all of a sudden, my books did not apply to the list. Your attempt to "clarify the issue" clarified nothing, but instead rendered many people's votes suddenly invalid, which isn't fair to them, or to the list creator. As a librarian you can't just change the title and description of a list to fit your perception of what the list has become after it has accumulated a bunch of books. Librarians first and foremost need to defer to the wishes of the list creator. I think it was a little brazen of you to make such a radical change to the title and the list.

I suggest if you want a different list, whether it's commodity histories or whatever, that you start it yourself rather than hijacking this list.


message 41: by Rebecca (last edited Apr 10, 2015 07:03PM) (new)

Rebecca Lobstergirl wrote: "Rebecca, first of all, I didn't start the list. The person who started it used the label Microhistory. People began voting for books they thought were microhistories. Some of these included hist..."

I know you didn't make the list. I wasn't trying to invalidate anyone's votes or remove anyone's books - quite the opposite. Rather than trying to correct the list by deleting everything that is not a microhistory (probably about 90% of the list) I thought I would change the title to reflect what's in the list. I'm sorry that the title I came up with, which I thought applied to most of the books people wanted to include (Salt, Beer, etc) doesn't apply to the books you put there. So, why not change the title to something more general that embraces all the books on the list?
Keeping the title as "microhistory" makes it easier for people to find the list, but then it's perpetuating an actual mistake. This mistake is erasing the field of microhistory which is a real thing and is entirely different from most of what appears on this list. Really, as Jeppe says a few comments above, almost nothing on this list is a microhistory. There are almost 900 books on the list with 1400 people voting for them, and I haven't counted, but I'd guess that 10 of the books are actually microhistories.
As for deferring to a list creator's wishes, does that apply when the list creator has changed the definition of a word for an academic subfield in order to use it to mean some books that he/she likes? What if the original list editor was just making a mistake? Is it possible to correct a mistake on the internet?
If you look back into the edits that is actually what happened. The definition was adapted from Wikipedia which defines Microhistory as a detailed historical study of an "individual event, person or community." The list creator changed "person or community" to a "trend or concept."
There is a huge difference between writing about an individual person in one specific place and time and connecting their actions to a broader culture (microhistory) and writing about a trend, object, food, or concept over a long period of time. (cultural history, general history, or whatever you want to call it)
If you think I am making this up, please look at the following website: http://microhistory.org
There's also a decent article on the History News Network about the field that you can read here: http://historynewsnetwork.org/article...


message 42: by Lobstergirl (new)

Lobstergirl Deleted Year of Wonders which is fiction.


message 43: by Lobstergirl (new)

Lobstergirl Rebecca wrote: "Rather than trying to correct the list by deleting everything that is not a microhistory (probably about 90% of the list) I thought I would change the title to reflect what's in the list. I'm sorry that the title I came up with, which I thought applied to most of the books people wanted to include (Salt, Beer, etc) doesn't apply to the books you put there. So, why not change the title to something more general that embraces all the books on the list? "

But that's not the way listopias are supposed to work. The parameters of the list are not supposed to change as people add, mistakenly, what they think should be on the list. The list creator's intent is what determines the parameters. I agree that the list creator was a bit confused about what microhistory is, but that doesn't invalidate her intentions. I understand a reluctance to delete books on a list if they comprise 90% of the list. I agree there are a ton of books on the list which do not belong, and are not microhistory. But deleting them is the correct action. Retitling the list to fit completely different parameters is not the correct action.


message 44: by Rebecca (new)

Rebecca There are 15 books on this list that are even close to the definition of microhistory and that's with a very loose definition, The problem is that microhistory not the defined as the history of "just one thing. "The list is perpetuating a mistaken definition of the term and is also erasing and obscuring actual microhistory, None of the classic works of microhistory appear on the list.


message 45: by Lobstergirl (new)

Lobstergirl (Copying this from the thread about listopias in Feedback Group.)

"The Cheese and the Worms" does appear above. on that list (which I believe you are calling the first microhistory list, the one with 893 books on it, created November 10, 2008). I know because I voted for it, eons ago now.

I don't want to belabor this issue forever (I'd like to stop now, really), but maybe you should just concentrate on the microhistory list you created, since it seems to be the only one that can satisfy your very stringent definition of microhistory. I would be in favor of culling some of the books on the 893-list that use much too wide an understanding of microhistory, but I certainly don't want to see the list shrunk down to a tiny handful of books.


message 46: by Lobstergirl (new)

Lobstergirl Deleted The Filter Bubble: What the Internet Is Hiding from You which is not even history.


message 47: by Moloch (new)

Moloch Is it absolutely out of the question to title this list just "Social Histories of Just One Thing"?


message 48: by Catherine (new)

Catherine Thank you Ladies for taking the time and expending so much effort to ensure that each and every list in Listopia complies with stringent parameters. What a mission you have set for yourselves! I am just a casual user of GoodReads. I admire the dedication that members feel about accuracy within the lists. I have no idea how many lists have been created over the years. There appear to be thousands!


message 49: by Rebecca (new)

Rebecca Moloch wrote: "Is it absolutely out of the question to title this list just "Social Histories of Just One Thing"?"
I don't see why not. I think that would keep the spirit of the list and stop people from feeling they had to delete books from it.


message 50: by Lobstergirl (new)

Lobstergirl How about we leave the title as is, since the list creator chose to use the term microhistory.

Rebecca, you've created your own Microhistory list. Do you really need to dictate the terms of two such lists?


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