Meanwhile, a friend of mine at Boston College had the trial from me, for her own microhistory teaching, and she set up a WebCT site where her students and mine could exchange observations.
As pedagogy, the whole thing was a splendid success. The students were reading microhistory by Guido Ruggiero, Gene Brucker, and Carlo Ginzburg, so they knew what they were doing. They had seen Tom Kuehn's sharp critique of Brucker, so they were alert to dangers (presentism, novelistic temptations). Mostly, they were wonderfully keen; the bizarre story, the pathos of the female voices, the connivence of some of the parents, who were angling for dowry money by dangling maidens, all this stirred the students up, as did their own moral indignation at the sleazy morals. And they were excited to be "doing history" rather than just consuming it. One advantage of microhistory is that the students become writers before their time.
The drawbacks: I had to translate the whole MS, as too few could read the Latin and Italian of the original. And the imperfect "local knowledge" of the students. To do microhistory really well requires a seasoned scholar who knows the lay of the land in every sense. But the attempt at microhistory, done as I did it, is a wonderful occasion to teach about the things an historian needs to know before he or she can stake a claim. We can work hard on the logic of conjecture and ponder the nature and power of evidence and the contours of our massive ignorance.
I should add that, as some readers may know, the first chapter of my Love and Death in Renaissance Italy (U Chicago, 2004) describes a somewhat simpler microhistory done in first-year class, where I used a very short trial and the blueprints of the castle where the crime took place. "Find the corpses" was the challenge. Teamwork again. As always, the student response was very enthusiastic. I was interested in teaching mastery of space and time. Take scattered bits and reconstruct an order of action.
York University, Toronto