What is Microhistory?


Author: Jesse Paul
Journal: Social Evolution & History. Volume 17, Number 2 / September 2018

DOI: https://doi.org//10.30884/seh/2018.02.04

The following paper is a michrohistorical intervention in one aspect of David Graeber’s meta-narrative in Debt: the First 5,000 years. Graeber posits four overarching cycles of world history based on the alternation of the systematic use of coinage and virtual credit money. This grand narrative is set explicitly in the context of world-systems analysis and has received surprisingly little attention from scholars. In this intervention, I define what microhistorical practice is, I situate microhistory in the intellectual context of intervening in large grand narratives – either to shed light on them, problematize them, raise new questions about them, or perhaps even in some cases overturn them. Microhistorians do not avoid narrative, but they seek a return to narrative through a close analysis of small events situated within larger frameworks. Finally, I explore preliminary and approximate applications of microhistory to the Axial Age bullion cycle, one cycle in the great alternations between credit and coin. I focus on one specific philosopher – Plato, and create a microhistorical account of his actual relationship with Archytas, a Pythagorean philosopher, who I claim, is the living inspiration for the philosopher king’s in Plato’s utopian imaginary Kallipolis, the famous ideal city-state of his Republic.