Pop Microhistories: Great Big Stories about Extremely Specific Subjects
The term has meant different things to different people over the years. First used by historians to describe close investigations into the lives of common people, early examples of the practice include Carlo Ginzburg's The Cheese and the Worms: The Cosmos of a Sixteenth-Century Miller and Natalie Zemon Davis's The Return of Martin Guerre. The Center for Microhistorical Research at the Reykjavik Academy has published online a large bibliography of this type of “true” microhistory.
Over the past twenty years or so, a less academic form--also often called microhistory--has emerged and taken the publishing industry by storm. Authors of these popular microhistories use the story of an ordinary object or a single specific concept to create a highly readable narrative that illuminates a larger cultural history. Recent examples include Tubes: A Journey to the Center of the Internet by Andrew Blum and On Paper: The Everything of its Two-Thousand Year History by Nicholas A. Basbanes. I’ve listed a few good pop microhistories below. You can find many more suggestions in our online booklist, available at denverlibrary.org/lists.
- Banana: The Fate of the Fruit that Changed the World by Tom Koeppel
- Indigo: In Search of the Color that Seduced the World by Catherine E. McKinley
- Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil by Tom Mueller
- The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee
- Spice: The History of a Temptation by Jack Turner
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