cosmology, history, history of class, history of Italy, history of religion, macro-history, micro-history, Uncategorized

Book Review: Carlo Ginzburg, The Cheese and the Worms: The Cosmos of a Sixteenth-Century Miller (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1980), Pp. 179.

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Carlo Ginzburg demonstrates how history can take a very particular and fine-tooth comb approach to people, places and events in history. Ginzburg does this by focusing on one particular individual—an italian miller by the name of Menocchio. This detailed investigation of Menocchio is vibrantly articulated by Ginzburg, detailing an investigation of trial hearings in the sixteenth century.  An entire book is dedicated to the eccentric individual Menocchio. The story of Menocchio in short starts in September 1583 when Menocchio who was tried for heretical acts in the community of Friuli (2). This beginning takes major shape by specifically focusing on what Menocchio was claiming to his fellows. This ultimately lead him to be on trial for heresy. Grinzburg demonstrates the intricate life of this one man by discussing his cosmology, the trials, and the literature of Menocchio’s time. By focusing on the specific time period that Menocchio came into contact with the author is able to provide a specific and detailed historical account (27-28). One of the central points of Ginzburg’s micro-historical study, is the filter in which Menocchio looks at the world through. Ginzburg articulates this by stating, “What is important in the key to his [Menocchio’s] reading, a screen that he unconsciously placed between himself and the printed page…and this screen, this key to his reading, continually leads us back to a culture that is very different from the one expressed on the printed page— one based on an oral tradition” (31). This finding by Ginzburg, ends up using one figure in history to show what he calls “a substratum of peasant belief” (19).  Paradoxically, larger concepts come out of this micro-study such as: urban society, repression, religion, politics, and Italy’s geopolitical sphere (19).  Menocchio, ultimately looses his life and is burned at the stake for his prophetic beliefs and method of radical ideological. But what this historical protagonist provide is a historical record for more knowledge on mill workers and their religious questioning/beliefs in the sixteenth-century.

Ginsburgs approach takes on a very intimate and detailed account of one mans life, while still integrating the social landscape of Italy into the narrative. The use of micro-and macro-history in concert with one another makes for an exciting read. This fascinating account is an essential read for historians but I would recommend this book to anyone! 

10/10

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