How to navigate an archive

How to navigate an archive: Looking for witchcraft trials in the State Archive of Venice and in the ecclesiastical Archive of Udine: a personal experience from the early 1960s

Carlo Ginzburg is one of the most original and influential historians of our time. He has ranged widely in his scholarly work, and has also written on questions of historical method, but his main and major contributions have been made as an historian of early-modern Europe.

Professor Ginzburg’s oeuvre is impressively large, and includes six major works on early-modern European social, cultural and intellectual history. His scholarship displays an exceptional coherence of subject-matter and approach.

His interest in the explanation and appraisal of witchcraft beliefs and practices was first reflected in I benandanti (1966; The Night Battles, 1983), and it recurs in Storia notturna (1989; Ecstasies: Deciphering the Witches’ Sabbath, 1991). More generally, he has focussed the beliefs and attitudes of ordinary people whose lives and opinions would otherwise remain unknown. This gave rise to possibly his most celebrated book, Il formaggio e i vermi (1976; The Cheese and the Worms, 1980), in which he succeeded in reconstructing, from Inquisitorial records, the entire world-view of Menocchio, a 16th-century miller. A pioneering work of micro-history,  The Cheese and the Worms remains one of the most successful and widely-imitated examples of the genre.

More recently he has turned his attention to the high culture of early-modern Europe. He has written in Indagini su Piero (1981; The Enigma of Piero, 1985) on the iconography of Piero della Francesca, and in No Island is an Island (2000) about four moments in English literature in which the interpretation of a classic text – one being Thomas More’s Utopia – is shown to turn on an understanding of its international context. At the same time, he has continued to contrast the elite culture of the early-modern period with the more everyday beliefs on which he initially concentrated.

As well as being a significant historian, Professor Ginzburg has been an influential innovator in methods, having written about the nature of historical evidence in Miti emblemi spie (1986; Clues, Myths and the Historical Method, 1989), and about the idea of historical proof in History, Rhetoric and Proof (1999). He has also reflected in his historical works on the nature of his own practice, highlighting in particular the importance of the connections between social anthropology and cultural history.

The impact of Professor Ginzburg’s scholarship has been immense. His intellectual energies and intensity of commitment remain undimmed.

Author: School of Advanced Study

Speaker(s): Professor Carlo Ginzburg

Organisations: Institute of Modern Languages Research

Event date: Wednesday, 12 December 2018 - 5:00pm