I scoff at the term “collective history.” Using the name collective history to define the mass experience of history is misleading.
There is no such thing as a truly collective experience.
Long ago, history was interpreted along a strictly linear and chronological line. There was fact, fiction, and yes, collective experience because things happened one way, as interpreted by the sources at hand. This facilitated the emergence of what we know as “big name and big event” history. Usually this history was told parallel to the stories of powerful and rich men, leaders, generals, and conquerors. The reason for this is actually very simple: there were and remain a plethora of sources about important, whereas no one was too interested in the poor and beleaguered to write about them. This allowed history to ignore them.
Then we began what we call micro-history. This is when we zoom our focus in on more specific experiences. You could look at one event in one specific town. You could study just Roman nomenclature. It was this the emergence of micro-history that really allowed historians to explore the diverse range of historical experience. Finally, historians began to separate history into subjects like economics, politics, social, and culture. Within that, women’s history, religious history, German history, queer studies, diaspora studies, history of poverty, art history, etc, etc. If you can think of it, it is likely its own historical field.
More liberally defined, we have to accept the meaning of collective history, if we are to use it, as very broad. Yes, World War II was a collective experience, but within that are subsets of experience, and then the entire range of human emotion and circumstance must be taken into consideration if we are to understand World War II as a personal event (when we personalise history, we relate to it better). Though many people lived through World War II, everyone lived through it in their own way, therefore even the study of World War II cannot be fully understood until we begin to pick out all of the facets and study each individually while never forgetting context and the big picture.
Or rather, to create an example, we have to understand that a Roman senator, a German slave, a Roman plebeian, and a Roman general all would have experienced the invasion of Rome by Alaric different ways. We can have a history of events that go “this happened… and then this happened… and afterward this occurred,” which is what collective history would have us do, and of course is necessary on a contextual level. Or we can begin to ask questions pertaining to the brevity of experience, return to our sources and explore them to understand just how varied an event truly was. There is no a, b, c, but a 1a, 2a, 3c, 2d, 6b, and into infinity.
History is never a truly collective experience. Only broad events are collective, but to understand each event we have to abandon the idea of that there is a such thing as really, truly collective history.