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To See the World in a Grain of Sand: Reading and Writing Microhistories


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How much can we learn about the past through the story of a single person, place, object or event? For example, what can the inquisition of a heretical Italian miller tell us about popular beliefs in the age of Reformation? Since the 1970s, historians have attempted to show that such ‘microhistories’ can in fact reveal much about the grand sweep of history. By narrowing their focus to magnify the small, the particular and the local, these scholars have proven that studies of seemingly inconsequential subjects can have a major impact on our understanding of history.

Our short course, To See the World in a Grain of Sand: Reading and Writing Microhistories, will examine both the microhistories themselves and the extensive scholarship that has been produced explaining, refining, justifying and critiquing this approach. In most weeks, we will examine a particular microhistory. In addition to recent innovative works of ‘global microhistory’ and ‘object biography’, we will read several classics from the genre, including:

  • Carlo Ginzburg’s The Cheese and the Worms
  • Natalie Zemon Davies’ The Return of Martin Guerre
  • Martin Darnton’s The Great Cat Massacre.

The primary focus will be on the period c.1500 to c.1800, but there will also be sessions on medieval and modern topics. The course will include at least one session with a scholar discussing their own experience of writing microhistory and a workshop based on a selection of primary sources, where we will discuss how we might write our own.

This course is ideal for anyone with an interest in history.

Assessment is via a 5000-5500-word essay (100%).

30 credits at level 7

  • Entry requirements

    Entry requirements

    Most of our short courses have no formal entry requirements and are open to all students.

    This short course has no prerequisites.

    As part of the enrolment process, you may be required to submit a copy of a suitable form of ID.

    International students who wish to come to the UK to study a short course can apply for a Visitor visa. Please note that it is not possible to obtain a Student visa to study a short course.

  • How to apply

    How to apply

    You register directly onto the classes you would like to take. Classes are filled on a first-come, first-served basis - so apply early. If you wish to take more than one short course, you can select each one separately and then register onto them together via our online application portal. There is usually no formal selection process, although some modules may have prerequisites and/or other requirements, which will be specified where relevant.