New Paper on Biographical Method and Microhistory

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Entrepreneur Biographies as Microhistories of X„, in: Immigrant Entrepreneurship: The German-American Experience since 1700, eds. Hartmut Berghoff/Uwe Spiekermann, Bulletin of the German Historical Institute – Supplement 12, Washington D.C. 2016, S. 19-36.

Writing scientific biographies evokes the problem of representativeness or of integrating the single case into more general questions of scholarly interest. The establishment of a link between micro and macrolevels inspired the present paper, which attempts to conceptualize the link between the individual biographical case and more general questions via the concept of microhistory. Microhistory does not present an easy solution to this problem, but it can generate sensitivity for the epistemological problems and narrative pitfalls of the biographical genre.

After presenting a brief overview of the methodological foundations of microhistory, I evaluate publications on German sweets manufacturer Gebrüder Stollwerck AG as examples of microhistories of globalization and of kinship in entrepreneurial families. In a third step, I examine the specifics of entrepreneur biographies, paying particular attention to their narrative structure, as they tend to explain developments from within the black box of the entrepreneur or his family. There exists a broad spectrum of research questions that may go way beyond the chronological sequence of a biographical subject’s life course.

I suggest avoiding the pitfalls of the biographical method by linking the life of the subject to a reference value, to a research question that, in the best case, provides an experimental cardinal point outside of the object of study. In this sense, biographies — as well as case studies on companies — can be understood as microhistories of X.

 

 

Titelblatt: GHI Washington, D.C.

Vorschaubild: David Weekly: My Street, Flickr, Lizenz CC BY 2.0


Jürgen Finger

DAAD P.R.I.M.E.-Fellow at the Centre d'histoire de SciencesPo, in cooperation with the German Historical Institute Paris and Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich. Postdoc-Project: "Markets and morals. The Moral Economy of French Capitalism 1880-1914/18". Authour of "Dr. Oetker und der Nationalsozialismus" and "Vom Recht zur Geschichte".

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