Microhistory: Past in Human Dimension
For the peoples of the Former Soviet Union, and for Belarusians in particular, the years of the Soviet power were not only the period of achieving total literacy and joining the advantages of a technical civilization. It was also the time of disruption of the historical memory and a spiritual link with the past generations. One of the reasons was a clear–cut “depersonalification” of history interpreted as the activity of faceless “masses of people”, classes and social groups. A personality attracted attention only as a representative of a certain class. The mass consciousness was in many ways determined by the ideological cliché: the real history only began in 1917 (i.e. after the victory of the Soviet power).
Bringing history to the scale of an individual person, for instance, by way of recreation of the day–to–day activity of past generations in the spirit of the total history proclaimed by the “Annals” school may serve as means of spiritual revival. However, in doing this it may be difficult to avoid sinking in the huge masses of information. One of the possible ways is a study on the microlevel when all aspects of life are explored, if possible, but within a small population or a social group. It is important to regard it not as an independent entity but as a part of a bigger whole. Of primary interest must be those characteristics which represent the universal systemic value.
It is widely known that there can be a lot of facts, even related to comparatively specific subjects. The selection of individual examples among them which the researcher considers significant is inevitably subjective. Substantiated conclusions are only possible on the basis of statistical processing of all the evidence, but it yields only averaged faceless figures. Their emotional impact is usually much more feeble than that of vivid examples. In this situation, microhistory may be regarded as means to find the trustworthy typical facts. It represents a wide range of single facts (on the level of individual human lives), and the comparatively small size of the object of research allows one to determine statistically reliably the place of any such fact within the scale of the sample in question (microregion). The extent to which such facts can be used for illustrating general historical conclusions depends on whether the events observed in a microregion are typical for the society as a whole. The determination of whether a sample is representational from some points of view is a task which realistically can be solved by a reader, as well as by a historian.
Of course, in order to play such a role, a microhistorical study must meet certain criteria. If possible, all the facts related to the problems under investigation must be collected and studied. The construction of an integral picture assumes the account of long–term processes which subjectively are not perceived by participants, for instance, epochal changes in the balance of birth and death rates. It is necessary to show how wars, revolutions and other events in the economical and political sphere which can be clearly traced on the macrolevel were reflected on the destiny of the group under study. The results thus obtained should be checkable by standard methods and comparable with similar investigations conducted already or to be conducted in other regions.