Jahrbuch für Geschichte des ländlichen Raumes 9 (2012)

RHN 17/2013 | Publication

Editor: Institute of Rural History, St. Pölten

Editors of this issue: Ewald Hiebl / Ernst Langthaler

Issue 2012: Im Kleinen das Große suchen. Mikrogeschichte in Theorie und Praxis / Searching for Large Issues in Small Places. Microhistory in Theory and Practice

Language: German (with English abstracts)

Website: http://www.ruralhistory.at/de/publikationen/jglr

Orders and review copies: StudienVerlag


Otto Ulbricht: Diverging Paths of Microhistory. Aspects of the History of Reception

This contribution looks at the new direction microhistory in Germany and the United States has taken. As a consequence of the characteristics of microhistory and the respective conditions prevailing in the two countries, microhistory took on different shapes as early as the beginning of the 1990s. By now scholars in Germany have turned away from studies in villages and try to use microhistory in inquiries of subjects with global dimensions. Here, microhistory is used in different ways and for different purposes, but always with a stress on agency. To broaden the scope of microhistory, it has been proposed to try it for subjects that are not well documented in contrast to the source material used in general. Such endeavours are not seen in some of the latest studies from the United States where there was a strong interest in the narrative right from the beginning. The understanding of microhistory as the study of the everyday experience of common people presented as a narrative can still be found as the examination of two recent examples shows.

Angelika Epple: Global Microhistory. Moving Toward a Relational History

Microhistory and global history are usually considered as opposed to each other or as a mere re-launch of the well-known micro–macro controversy. This article argues instead that both approaches share a broad common ground: Both approaches overcome methodological nationalism by dissolving the history of fixed and enclosed units into the history of relations. This common ground is easily overlooked because microhistory and global history emerged in very different academic settings. Whereas from the late 1970s onward, microhistory developed mainly in opposition to social history, global history emerged more than a decade later, building on the spatial turn. Despite the common ground, it is difficult to combine the two approaches. By borrowing basic theoretical tools from gender history this article succeeds in developing a concept of a global microhistory that draws on both approaches and overcomes the respective shortcomings of micro- and global history.

Margareth Lanzinger: Re-Positioning the Local in the Actor-Network Space – Global-Historical Challenges and Illyrian Tax Policies

The essay argues for a new understanding of the global which goes beyond its separation from other levels of spatial analysis. According to Latour’s actor-network theory, the global can be conceptualised as a network of interconnected localities where people act and interact within place-specific contexts. The essay illustrates this argument with reference to the negotiations between the French central bureaucracy and local elites of rural communities in the ‘Illyrian Provinces’ in former Tyrol and Salzburg during the Napoleonic Wars in the early nineteenth century.

Ernst Langthaler: From Container to Network? Space in Microhistorical Perspective

The ‘spatial turn’ in the social and cultural sciences has emphasised two aspects of our notion of space: first, space as a product of social and cultural practices (in contrast to space as a determining factor); second, space as an inter-related network (in contrast to space as a container). Microhistory offers a well-suited toolbox for putting praxeological and relational theories of space into research practice. From this perspective, the essay outlines a research design which comprises a bundle of inter-connected local microhistories. The author exemplifies this ‘trans-territorial microhistory’ by the emergence of a globalised agro-food chain from soybean production to pork consumption in the twentieth century.

Lukáš Fasora: Microhistory and the History of Working-Class Culture.Examples from Current Czech Research

The author uses microhistory to understand working class and working-class culture. The major drawbacks for microhistorical research are the small number of authentic primary sources from the lower social classes in the nineteenth century and the frequent political manipulation of sources related to the history of the working class and its interpretation in the twentieth century. The current state of research into themes using microhistorical methodology demonstrates a lack of thorough methodological debate and exposes problems within Czech historiography. It is from this frame of reference that the author analyses the historiography of the past decades and suggests possible trends for microhistorical research. The article makes a number of references to works from Czech historical studies using microhistorical methods in working-class contexts.

Christoph Boyer: History as a Science?

The essay presents some preliminary ideas on the possibility of history as a science sensu stricto, i.e. as an explanatory enterprise. Historical explanations ought to be based on laws (in the ideal case) or at least on ‘regularities’ (in the normal case). There is no principal problem in transferring the Hempel-Oppenheim concept of scientific explanation to the realm of history. Beyond single explanations, historians ought to construct more general explanatory theories with a broad ‘range of action’. The concept of individuality (i.e. of persons or events) and the concept of contingency can be integrated into such a theoretical framework without difficulties. The ‘scientific approach’ implies that the historian’s business should not be limited to producing micro-descriptions of a multi-faceted past (which is allegedly not accessible to generalization). But this should not be misunderstood as a verdict against microhistory: Micro-approaches may be theory-based in the same way as macro-approaches.

Andrea Griesebner: From Letter to Research Project. Reconstruction of a Research Process or Microhistory at Work

The starting point of the article is an undated letter from the eighteenth century that the author had accidentally found in a local archive at the end of the 1990s. In awkward handwriting and with unusual phonetic spelling a wife is responding to her husband’s request for divorce. Noteworthy was not only the self-confidence expressed in the letter, but also the fact that the couple was living in a Catholic territory, where other denominations were not tolerated until 1781. The article focuses on the research process undertaken to figure out how and why a couple could possibly negotiate a divorce, in the light of the fact that Catholicism deems marriage a sacrament and does not allow divorce. The description of microhistory at work reveals not only how historians can find new sources about so-called ‘ordinary’ people, but also sheds light on the alternate legal institution of ‘separation from bed and board’, one that had lost its importance with the introduction of civil marriage in 1938. This might explain why it was nearly forgotten in Austrian historiography until recently. The author demonstrates how the contextualization of an unimportant letter written by an ordinary woman can unlock a new field of research, namely the marriage jurisdiction of the courts of the Catholic Church (until 1783) and that of the secular courts (after 1783). While starting at the micro-level to contextualize the above-mentioned divorce letter, the analysis of the marriage litigation takes the meso-level as its starting point. The article makes clear that the back and forth between the micro-, meso- and macrolevels of investigation does not only reveal valuable insight into the diverse perspectives of a single source, but also opens up a window into social and cultural relations, which are invisible to approaches limited to one level of society.

Norbert Schindler: The Controversy over the Wetterläutverbot in Salzburg in 1785. Microhistory in Action

The article examines the 1785 controversy in Salzburg surrounding a new law that prohibited the use of church bells to warn people of bad weather. The court protocols from this year highlight a decade-old conflict and provide an example of an ongoing peasant rebellion. Despite careful preparation, the rural folks resented the government’s new law and understood the prohibition as an encroachment on their village autonomy. Traditional peasant rituals surrounding weather predictions could not simply be discarded as superstitions. The conflict between the state and peasant culture highlights how peasants approached weather and protection from natural disasters differently. After the outlawing of the use of church bells as an early warning system, peasants started to blame the government for any destruction and demanded compensation.

Norbert Franz: Rural Communities and the Modern State in Nineteenth Century France: Two Villages in Comparative Perspective

The article treats two fundamental processes of modern state-building in comparative perspective: the integration of rural communities into modern state administration and the expansion of modern state activities to traffic and cultural infrastructure at the local level. The article explores these processes in two villages near Bar-le-Duc in Eastern France. First it asks if these processes can actually be found in these small administrations. Next, the author investigates the possible extent of the collaboration between local administrative representatives and the upper levels of state administration. Thereby, the article treats the paramount question if the modern bureaucratic state arrived everywhere, even in the last village of the countryside, far away from the centres of political power. Based upon the quantitative analysis of the local financial reports and the qualitative analysis of other administrative sources, this case shows the following results: Both local administrations were integrated parts of the state administration. They tended to strengthen their activities in traffic and cultural infrastructure, especially for primary schools. In case of conflicts with the state administration the local authorities developed wide scopes to achieve their goals. They succeeded under the condition that the local political elites where supported by the majority of the local population.

Robert Hoffmann: „Es ist dies der Ausfluß meines ‚in sich lebens‘ gegenüber des äußeren Gesellschaftslebens.“ From the Diary of a Merchant

The diary of Alexander Haidentaller, the owner of a small general store, presents an extraordinary primary source. It allows the social historian to gain rare insight into the life of a merchant and follow the monologue of an ordinary man who kept a diary and recorded his own reflections over the period of several decades. Haidentaller wrote about the trials and joys of his private life, he wrote about his business, his finances and about political events. He also wrote about his extended family and about his own health and state of mind. The diaries fill eleven volumes and consist of more than 4,000 handwritten pages. The entries cover the years from 1903 to 1946. The diaries illustrate both the author’s wish to document his daily experiences and his desire for permanent self-reflection.

Hans Heiss: A Global Place. Franzensfeste/Fortezza: Fortress, Village, Metaphor

The small village of Fortezza/Franzensfeste is located in the middle of the Alps, along the Brennero road, the most important route to connect Northern and Southern Europe. The 900-people-village (2011) got its name from the giant building of a fortress, erected between 1833 and 1838 to protect the important alpine passage, which had revealed its strategic role during the Wars of the Austrian Empire in the years from 1797 to 1809. The enormous construction of the Fortress was completely unnecessary and the fortress has never been involved in any military operation. At the time of the building of the fortress the village of Franzenfeste did not exist. This stretch of the valley had only a few settlements. There were only a couple of farmsteads near the train station that made a living of poor agriculture, and a few inns. The village came into existence only later, with the construction of the railway and the train station in 1867 and with the immigration of workers and poor families from Vorarlberg and Tyrol. The population of Franzensfeste/Fortezza grew rapidly after 1867, but fluctuated because of constant immigration and emigration. When the village and the entire region of Southern Tyrol were under the rule of Austria, railway workers and employees were politically mostly engaged in the Social Democratic Party, which created conflicts with the mostly conservative authorities. After the annexation of Southern Tyrol by the Italian Monarchy in 1919, things changed rapidly: Austrians left Fortezza – which is since then the official name – and Italians quickly became the majority. Fascism and World War II left their traces in Fortezza, which after 1945 experienced a boom period fuelled by transport and tourism. After 1995, when in the context of the European Unification Fortezza lost its status as a control area, the village fell into economic depression. Today, the place has gained new importance as the starting point for a great tunnel under the Brenner pass. Furthermore, the population is changing with the influx of immigrants. Constant instability and fluctuating population are the trademark of the village, with its own traces of modernity.

Stefan Eminger: The Upper and the Lower Village. A Case Study of Local Politics in Lower Austria between Monarchy and Communal Reform, 1900–1960

The article focuses on the ‘exceptional normal’ (Edoardo Grendi). In the small rural village Münichsthal a rivalry between two socially, ethnically and ideologically similar groups subsisted. This rivalry shaped village politics for generations. At first glance, the only difference between the two groups seemed to be the local district, respectively the neighbourhood. Starting with this local conflict, the article focuses on aspects of village politics. The article discusses the following questions: Who were the actors of village politics? How were these and other groups constituted? How did party politics interfere with local realities? How did the village respond to these interventions ‘from outside’ and ‘from above’ and, vice versa, how did the larger political apparatus deal with regional and local Eigensinn (Alf Lüdtke), especially during the crisis of 1918, 1934, 1938 and 1945? How did village politics transform over time?

Peter Melichar: A Case for Microhistory? The Written Record of Otto Ender

How do you deal with the biography of famous politicians? How can you get rid of what Pierre Bourdieu called the ‘biographical illusion’? Otto Ender, now forgotten, was a politician between the two world wars, who played a prominent role as Head of the District of Vorarlberg, Chancellor of the Republic and Minister in the Dollfuss cabinet. This article asks, using this politician as an example, whether it is justifiable to use microhistorical detail by utilising the biography of the famous. Can microhistory, which up to now mainly concentrated on rural society and the poor, also be used for the analysis of public persons or even political and/or urban elites? In this case, Otto Ender’s notes revealed recommendations, rejections and also anti-Semitic practices. It is thus clear, as a conventional biography of a politician is leaked out, just assumed as a given fact, what in the course of history proves to be effective and therefore meaningful.

Brigitte Entner: A Village in Turmoil – Resistance as a Collective Practice?

At the end of 1942 in the Slovenian-speaking communities of Bad Eisenkappel-Vellach/ Železna kapla-Bela and Zell/Sele in Carinthia, a mass arrest of about 200 men and women took place. Nazi authorities believed these people to be supporters of the resistance. On April 29, 1943, twelve men and one woman were executed in Vienna. According to the collective memory, these people were the only victims from the village because of their resistance to the Nazis. There were, however, more than 40 men and women who lost their lives in concentration camps. Their resistance against the Nazi regime is now forgotten, because they are seen as victims of Nazi persecution. This article investigates the different kinds of resistance within one village, e.g. the cooperation between the Catholic opposition and the Communist resistance. It shows how the memory of these events continued after the war and how it changed according to the bilateral relations between Yugoslavia and Austria, the climate of the Cold War, the national conflict in Carinthia and the revision of history in Slovenia since 1991.

Franz Pötscher: Mauthausen – Life Near the Concentration Camp. A Narrative History

The interactions between Nazi concentration camps and their near surroundings have gained increasing attention in the last years. The author deals with this topic by narrative interviews with people who lived in the settlements near the camp of Mauthausen. Building on four of these interviews, the article focuses on locations along the path from the railway-station to the camp. The interviewees were children, teenagers or young adults in those days. They had various points of contact with the sphere of the camp: as neighbours, play- and class-mates of the children of SS-officers, as an apprentice in the SS-company DEST, in everyday occupational life, or because they were living directly beside the camparea. They all have memories of various contacts and incidents in relation to the concentration camp. It is often striking and surprising how close the people living in these areas were to the atrocities. The interviews refer to many aspects that are not documented in any other way. Therefore, these sources – with all their uncertainties – are indispensable for a microhistorical approach to this subject.

Niklas Perzi: Kautzen and Český Rudolec: Twin Towns at the Iron Curtain?

The aim of the article is to compare the development of the villages of Kautzen and Český Rudolec in Lower Austria and Moravia after the Second World War. Both villages served as minor trade and industrial centres for the surrounding agrarian regions. Although situated only fifteen kilometres from each other, both were totally separated in the latter half of the twentieth century, not only by the state border between Austria and Czechoslovakia, but even more so by the ‘system border’ between East and West. After the Second World War, the situation in Český Rudolec was characterized by severe discontinuity, caused by the expulsion of the majority population, the historically German speaking inhabitants, and the forceful establishment of a new incoming Czech speaking population. After the Communists took over power in Czechoslovakia 1948, the collectivisation of the agrarian and industrial sector had taken place against the opposition of the remaining small group of so called ‘old settlers’, who stayed on after Second World War. A new socialist lifestyle with entirely new structures was established. In Kautzen, the continuity after the war was much more preserved. The Austrian Peoples Party became now the political home of not only their supporters from amongst the Catholic farmers, but also integrated the majority of former National Socialist Party members from the local middle classes. It dominated the political sphere while the everyday life was dominated by the Catholic Church. The processes of modernization in both communities during the 1970ts show similar characteristics, beginning with the communal reform and culminating in the construction of new infrastructure. In the 1980s the development again diverged severely. The Communist regime was unable to integrate the new social discourses of the middle-classes into the system and finally collapsed, while in Kautzen the continuity of the community and its continuous social development proved stronger.

Grazia Prontera: The Struggle for Democracy. The Peasant Movement in Puglia, 1949–1951

This article focuses on the participation of peasants from Italy’s Puglia region in the construction of a democratic and republican Italy. Hope in decisive social change was reinforced among peasants by the end of Fascism and the birth of the Italian Republic. Trade unionists played a fundamental role in raising consciousness among peasants of their rights. Peasants themselves became promoters of new democratic values and challenged the attitudes of patronage which has hindered their acceptance as legitimate social subjects. The peasant movement met violent repression by the police. The link between conflict and democracy could not have been stronger. Peasants’ consciousness raising was coupled with the capacity to direct social conflict in institutional channels and to secure the support of the community. The democratic value of these occupations was defended by antifascist political leaders who formed part of the constituent assembly such as the Minister of Agriculture Fausto Gullo and the Senator Lelio Basso. Gullo and Basso also acted as lawyers in defence of peasants and trade unionists from Puglia. Therefore, what is at stake here is a double democratic phenomenon, with peasants on one side and southern Italian institutions on the other.

Johannes Hofinger: Microhistory and Oral History. MenschenLeben – Narrative Levels in Life Story Interviews and Questions of Secondary Analysis

After exploring similarities and dissimilarities between microhistory and oral history, the article addresses different narrative levels in stories taken from the oral history project MenschenLeben (ego-documents, social entities and networks, narrations on politics, nation and nationalities, view on the world and philosophical statements). The second part deals with questions related to the secondary analysis of qualitative data and refers to four key concepts in this process: the integration of meta-data, the options and limits of followup- interviews, interpretation and scientific validity, and the consent of interviewees.