The mammoth and the mouse: microhistory and morphology

In the Mammoth Room of Charles Willson Peale's Philadelphia museum, the reconstructed skeleton of a mammoth stands beside that of a mouse. This juxtaposition, write Florike Egmond and Peter Mason, is symbolic of the two approaches to history which they seek to reconcile. In The Mammoth and the Mouse: Microhistory and Morphology, Egmond and Mason aim to rescue morphology from abstraction and microhistory from the taint of triviality. They explore the theoretical relationship between the microhistorical method of paying careful attention to revealing details and the morphological method of looking for homologies among cultural artifacts or texts from different places and times. Drawing on both textual and visual material, the authors offer a series of microhistorical examinations of a surprising variety of phenomena, among them a legal dispute between spouses in sixteenth-century Holland, a curious ritual punishment for capital offenses, and the reassembly of the Peale mammoth skeleton for public display in 1800. Along the way, they offer an extended commentary on structuralism, post-structuralism, microhistory, and new historicism. "The book succeeds very well, both as a theoretical statement and as an exercise in the method espoused. The authors have made an important advance in the direction of scholarship. The greatest success of the book is in its work of methodological synthesis, its ability to stretch beyond disciplinary boundaries to illustrate new possibilities of morphological analysis that is neither history nor anthropology exactly but a nearly seamless merging of the two. The scholarship is quite up-to-date and superbly employed." -- Edward Muir, Northwestern University