Fotograf Magazine

Photography and Phonography: Roots of an Indexical Paradigm

Italian cultural historian and theorist Carlo Ginzburg is primarily known for his “microhistorical” studies – texts dealing with everyday, local and individual events, people or communities. Through his particular stories, Ginzburg demonstrates more general problems of given periods; his reconstruction of the past in its uniqueness is motived first by the effort to uncover the ways people acted, perceived and thought in specific situations. He has explained and justified his approach in many methodological texts; among these stands out the remarkable essay, which is also one of the sharpest contributions to the intellectual history and methodology of humanities: “Clues: Roots of a Scientific Paradigm” from 1978.1 Here Ginzburg introduces the emergence of a new epistemological model towards the end of the nineteenth century, a model based on the reading of seemingly insignificant and minute details as symptoms of a more complex and directly inaccessible reality. He explains the method through three interrelated case studies: Giovanni Morelli’s technique of determining the authorship of artworks; the psychoanalytical method of Sigmund Freud; and the detective procedures of Sherlock Holmes.

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