14 October 2011

Motown and Microhistories

Those who know me know that I always have music playing. In the kitchen. In my bedroom. In the shower. In the car. On my iPod at work. In the SLIS Information Commons doing homework in the afternoons. Right now my current obsession is Motown. Maybe I'm just a sucker for anything from the 1960s, but I seriously love it. My sister and I used to clean my grandma's house while we listened to Diana Ross and the Supremes. Maybe that's where it came from. I'm the hunt for some vinyl -- Sam Cooke or The Ronettes, especially. If you want to make me one very happy camper, you know what to send my way! The Ronettes station on Pandora is the current playlist to my life. It's perfect for getting ready in the morning, fixing supper, or even writing the papers that seem to consume my life this weekend.

I am currently in the process of writing a paper on a specific genre (to use a word with a musical connotation) of history. I chose to write about microhistory because I wanted to read books that were actually enjoyable. So basically, I'm asking three questions: 1) What is microhistory? 2) Do microhistories about people achieve the same results as microhistories about particular events? and 3) Can a microhistory be written about an event that is well-known (and known to be transformative)?

Now that I've sufficiently bored y'all to tears let me tell you about the article and books I'm using. Jill Lepore's JAH article, "Historians Who Love Too Much" is a wonderful tongue-in-cheek look at the differences between microhistory and biography. I'm using it as the framework for my definition of microhistory. To think, she got started thinking about the topic while holding a lock of Noah Webster's hair in the Special Collections library at Amherst College.

The first book is a microhistory of a family. Tiya Miles' book Ties That Bind is the story of an Afro-Cherokee family in the nineteenth century. Through the story of Shoe Boots and his wife (who was also his slave), readers receive more Cherokee history than they have probably ever experienced. They also get to see just how complex race relations truly were in the United States. I'll admit, I didn't know that American Indians even owned slaves.

To look at a microhistory of a particular event, I chose something a little closer to home in James Green's Death in the Haymarket. Like the title implies, it tells the story of the Haymarket Riot in Chicago. In a sense, though, this book is like a biography of the Second City. At the same time, it truly opened my eyes to labor history in a way that other books could not.

I hope everyone is having a great weekend! I'll be locked in my apartment writing till Monday morning!

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