The preceding chapter focused its attention almost entirely on one person. Despite the insistent presence of Jacques-Louis Ménétra, it mostly concerned the world according to Johan Hjerpe, the artisan son alone with his thoughts, protected both from the throng of people and from statistical intrusions. And even if Hjerpe had also made an appearance in the second chapter, it was only in the last one that he was dealt with as the central personality.
Studying one individual is no easier and can be done no more quickly than research into many. Even if it is occasionally more entertaining, it produces more problems from a scholarly point of view. Moreover, to devote one's research efforts to such an insignificant man as Johan Hjerpe can seem a bit questionable, as one hardly feels the breeze from history's wings beating in his presence.
In my view, the undertaking can, nevertheless, be useful, but because of the complications and its arousing oppositon, it must be furnished with suitable explanations of the value of the biographical in historical research. This does not mean that the interpretation made of Enlightenment reflections in the spiritual microcosms of Hjerpe (and Ménétra) can be likened to a biography, even a pocket-sized one. The analysis is far too limited, the data too scanty and the object not attractive enough for that. Biographies being also about single individuals, the methodological problems are partly shared by the individualhistorical approach which has been used here. It would also seem that interest in historical biographies in the field of historical research is once again on the rise, after having played a very minor role for several decades. This, too, should be taken into consideration in this context, and I will start with this point.
In the 1960s, an increasing number of scholars were won over to the notion that history should be depicted as a social history, a history of the hardships, struggles and joys of ordinary people. History had not been made by kings, and grandiose politics was only a superficial flicker, which really changed nothing in the basic state of things. The consequence was that political historiography, like historical biography, found itself in difficulty, as it had until then always been about a prominent sort of person who was suddenly not the least bit interesting any more.