This essay is based on Helmut Walser Smith’s book, entitled “The Butcher’s Tale”. This is a microhistory, or historical work that uses an isolated incident or location as a case study from which to draw broader observations about the historical context in which it is situated. “The Butcher’s Tale” considers the problem of collective violence in an era that defined itself on the basis of scientific rationality, of respect for the individual and the law, and of faith in economic progress. It explores an instance of what seems to be collective irrationality and reveals it to be an event with a unifying logic, comprehensible within the right framework. It also incorporates sustained discussion of how historians can begin to approach and understand such phenomena, and why it is particularly valuable to do so.
Your essay should answer the following:
– According to Smith, how and why did the acts of violence he analyzes occur? (Note that “violence” does not refer to the actual murder, but to the dynamics of crowd violence that followed it.)
– What, in his mind, explains the particular unfolding of events? And how does he arrive at his conclusions – in other words, what methodology does the author use to construct his arguments, what evidence does he draw on, and what are the benefits and/or drawbacks of his approach?
While answering these questions will certainly require some summary of the events under consideration, you should not simply summarize the book. In your essay, you must respond to these questions by making an argument based on thorough reference to the texts, using quotations and proper reference methods. In an assignment of this length, direct textual evidence is crucial for a well-argued case. However, long block quotations that are not analyzed demonstrate that you have not sufficiently processed the argument and framed it in your own terms.