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Korean J Med Hist > Volume 24(2); 2015 > Article
Korean Journal of Medical History 2015;24(2): 355-387.
doi: https://doi.org/10.13081/kjmh.2015.24.355
Microhistory and Chinese Medical History: A Review
Xinzhong Yu, Yumeng Wang
College of History, Nankai University, Tianjin, China. yuxinzhongnk@163.com
Received: July 6, 2015;  Accepted: July 31, 2015.  Published online: August 31, 2015.
ABSTRACT
With a reflection on the grand quantitative analysis in previous historical investigations, microhistory came into being in Italy in the 1960s and the 70s. Microhistory is, in principle, the intensive historical investigation of a relatively well defined smaller object. Notwithstanding, it still has the ambition to draw a larger picture of the history. Microhistory is also characterized by its preference to the exceptional individuals or phenomena, its "narrative" style and the delicate way it deals with historical sources. Essentially, microhistory endeavors to bring the individual's role, the concrete life as well as the diversity and complexity of history to the historical writing. At first, microhistory did not have intersection with the medical history. Nevertheless, the history of medicine echoes microhistory in bringing the concrete and vivid life beings to history. Mainly due to this similarity, historical surveys on medicine from the perspective of microhistory are increasing and gradually develop into a remarkable trend in the international historical academy from the 1980s onwards. As the microhistory is rising and its influence is expanding, the microhistorical approach has been practiced to a certain extent in the historical writings on medicine in China. Concentrating on an individual person, a single event, a particular drug or a specific concept, there already have some studies conduct intensive historical investigation on a small scale. A small part of these researches, for example, those of Chang Che-Chia, Li Shang-jen and etc. could be regarded as perfect examples of microhistory. However, no relevant research is carried out explicitly under the heading of microhistory, instead, they are the offspring of the "new history". Besides, most of these researches could not be regarded as real microhistories, strictly speaking. They do not practice microhistory consciously and they have a long way to go to improve the delicacy of the analysis, to reinforce the narrative style and to grasp the social context of the individual or the event (the link between micro and macro levels). Nevertheless, these studies anyway indicate the invisible influence of microhistory and have paved a way for the future microhistorical investigations on medicine. We believe that microhistory is an undercurrent about to emerge in the field of Chinese medical history. It is the right time to advocate and promote the self-conscious microhistorical investigation, promptly and strongly, while updating the ideas and methods of it to make it a dominant trend rather than an undercurrent in the studies of Chinese medical history. Its rise would not only display the value and significance of microhistory in a better way, but also would help medical history to realize its core idea of history of life, therefore to propel our inquiry into Chinese medical history.
Key Words: microhistory, medical history, humanistic historiography, frontier historical studies in China
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