Wednesday, March 10, 2010

This history...isn't small enough!


I think it might be time to talk about Carlo Ginsburg. Have you heard of this gentleman? He's not exactly a shrinking violet, at least in the circles you'd expect to hear of him. Mister Ginsburg is kind of the frontrunner of "microhistory"-- that is, examining small cases, particularly to extrapolate from them to a larger context. He also does a kind of...backwards masking? Backwards unmasking, I suppose I should say. Let me explain, in a typically roundabout way. One of the things Carlo Ginsburg discusses in detail is "witchcraft." His book The Night Battles: Witchcraft and Agrarian Cults in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries & another one; Ecstasies. Deciphering the Witches' Sabbath get into it, particularly.

Now, there isn't a lot of actual historical data on pagan religions in Europe-- the Church going through a lot of effort to make sure it was that way. What Ginsburg figures is-- "hey! There might not be a lot of primary data, but there is a TON of secondary data-- in the form of witchhunt trials!" See, the Church kept records of their inquisitions. You are thinking at this point "Oh, great, nice unbiased piece of historical context," in a sarcastic tone of voice. & you are right of course-- but Carlo Ginsburg gets that. His point is-- well, if multiple accounts separated geographically keep trumping up certain charges-- then that means that the pop cultural view of European shamanism must include that. It makes a lot of sense, the way he spools it out-- he does, of course, a much better job explaining than this rough gloss does. So I recommend you check it out.

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