Carlo Ginzburg  

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Carlo Ginzburg (born April 15, 1939) is an Italian historian and proponent of the field of microhistory. He is best known for his book The Cheese and the Worms (1976) which examined the beliefs of an Italian heretic, Menocchio, from Montereale Valcellina.

In 1966, he published The Night Battles, an examination of the benandanti visionary folk tradition found in 16th century Friuli. He returned to looking at the visionary traditions of Early Modern Europe for his 1989 book Ecstasies: Deciphering the Witches' Sabbath.

He is the author of "Morelli, Freud and Sherlock Holmes: Clues and Scientific Method" and "Killing a Chinese Mandarin: The Moral Implications of Distance".



The son of Natalia Ginzburg and Leone Ginzburg, he was born in 1939 in Turin, Italy. He received a PhD from the University of Pisa in 1961. He has subsequently held teaching positions at the University of Bologna and at the University of California, Los Angeles (1988–2006); currently he teaches at the Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa. His fields of interest range from the Italian Renaissance to early modern European History, with contributions to art history, literary studies, and the theory of historiography.

In 1979, a request was made to then-new Pope John Paul II by Ginzburg to open the Inquisition Archives. Whilst the immediate response of those in the Vatican to his request has not come to light yet, by 1991 a limited group of scholars were already allowed access to review the material in the archives. In January 1998 the archives were formally opened to "qualified researchers." Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, credited Ginzburg, and his 1979 letter, as having been instrumental in the Vatican's decision to open these archives.

Along with Paul Ginsborg, Marcello Flores, Sergio Luzzato, Claudio Pavone, Enzo Traverso, etc., Ginzburg signed a call in January 2007 against a law project, presented by Justice Minister Clemente Mastella, which was to specifically penalize Holocaust denial. They argued that Italy's legislation was sufficient to cope with such acts. The amended law project finally restricted itself to reinforcing sentences concerning hate speechs.


In The Night Battles and Ecstasies, he traced a complex path from certain European witch persecutions to the Benandanti to a wide variety of practices which he describes as evidence of a substrate of shamanic cults in Europe. His 1999 work, The Judge and the Historian, sought to expose injustice in the trial of Adriano Sofri, but failed to win a new trial. His book was not only about Sofri, but was also a general reflection on the scientific methods used by a historian, and their similarity to the work of a judge, who also has to correlate testimonies with material evidence in order to deduce what really happened. Thus, he explains how the judicial model of early historiography made it focus on easily verifiable facts, resulting in studies that centered on individuals or on what Lucien Febvre and Marc Bloch called in the Annales d'histoire économique et sociale an "evenemential history."


  • The Cheese and the Worms: The Cosmos of a Sixteenth Century Miller, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 1980, ISBN 0-8018-4387-1. First published in Italian as Il formaggio e I vermi, 1976.
  • The Night Battles: Witchcraft and Agrarian Cults in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 1983, ISBN 0-8018-4386-3. First published in Italian as I benandanti, 1966.
  • The Enigma of Piero, London, 1985 (revised edition, 2000), ISBN 0-86091-904-8.
  • Clues, Myths and the Historical Method, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 1989, ISBN 0-8018-4388-X.
  • Ecstasies. Deciphering the Witches' Sabbath, New York, 1991, ISBN 0-226-29693-8. First published in Italian as Storia notturna: Una decifrazione del Sabba, 1989.
  • Wooden Eyes, Milan, 1998, ISBN 0-231-11960-7.
  • The Judge and the Historian. Marginal Notes and a Late-Twentieth-century Miscarriage of Justice, London 1999, ISBN 1-85984-371-9. First published in Italian as Il giudice e la storico (1991).
  • History, Rhetoric, and Proof. The Menachem Stern Jerusalem Lectures, London and Hanover 1999, ISBN 0-87451-933-0.
  • Das Schwert und die Glühbirne. Eine neue Lektüre von Picassos Guernica, Frankfurt am Main 1999, ISBN 3-518-12103-0.
  • No Island is an Island. Four Glances at English Literature in a World Perspective, New York 2000, ISBN 0-231-11628-4.
  • Un dialogo, Milano, 2003.
  • Articles in Past and Present, Annales, Quaderni storici, Rivista storica italiana, Critical Inquiry, Elementa etc.
  • Latitude, Slaves and the Bible: An Experiment in Microhistory (PDF) Online paper by Carlo Ginzburg.

See also

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