Microhistory and cinematic experience: two or three things I know about Carlo Ginzburg

When speaking of ‘cinematic experience’, I take my cue from a recent study by the Canadian media scholar Jaimie Baron entitled The Archive Effect. Her interest, in brief, lies in the way in which audiovisual media in general and archival footage in particular have reconfigured our relation to the past, beginning at the invention of cinema, if not earlier, and continuing right up to our digital present. In Baron’s interpretation, this development has had a profound impact on the prevailing ‘regime of historicity’, to employ François Hartog’s well-known term. Most immediately, it has contributed to broader changes in the conception of what constitutes a historical archive. “The notion of an archive as a particular place and of archival documents as material objects stored at a particular location,” Baron argues, “has ceased to reflect the complex apparatus that now constitutes our relation to the past through its photographic, filmic, audio, video, and digital traces.” Even more profoundly, the growing pervasiveness of audio-visual media would seem to have affected our very sense of historical experience – the manner in which the past becomes present to us.

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Taking this hypothesis as a point of departure, my own thesis could be summarized as follows: If the relation between past and present, history and archive, has indeed been reconfigured under the impact of audiovisual media, as Baron argues, then microhistory – at least as practiced by the Italian historian Carlo Ginzburg (* 1939) – can be considered an advance indication of that change; an early response on the methodological seismograph to an imminent tectonic shift in historiography’s own historic conditions of possibility. In order to flesh out this assertion, I will first have to touch on two especially salient themes in Ginzburg’s own historical and methodological reflections: The relation between history and literature on the one hand, and words and images on the other.

“Microhistory and cinematic experience: two or three things I know about Carlo Ginzburg”, in Magnus Bärtås & Andrej Slávik (eds.), Microhistories (Stockholm: Konstfack, 2016), s. 40–69 (30 s.), ISBN 978–91–85549–20–7. Read the entire text here.