Reevaluating Biography

Bedford, Alison ORCID: (2019) Reevaluating Biography. In: 38th Australian Historical Association Conference: Local Communities, Global Networks (AHA 2019), 8 July - 12 July 2019, Toowoomba, Australia.

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Biography, history and literature have a sometimes fraught relationship. Hagiography was the norm in earlier historical writing as scholars followed Thomas Carlyle’s conception of the Great Man and lauded the achievements of the European white male. Attention has since turned to a more determinist approach that considers the complex social, economic and political forces that lead to change, with less emphasis on the achievements of the individual. This paper makes a case for a re-examination of the place of biography in historical and literary studies, considering the validity of contextual biography as a methodology. Contextual biography seeks to position their subject within the broader social forces and see them both as 'a product and an agent of their time' (Carr, E.H. 1961). While a number of scholars, particularly in literary studies, have labelled their works as contextual biography, the method remains ill-defined. This paper uses Mary Shelley and her works as a case study to further explore the potential of contextual biography to examine the impact of an individual’s work upon the world. It does so by arguing that Shelley’s life not only influenced her work, but her work in turn established a discourse that had a significant and lasting impact upon both literary and scientific culture and so can offer new insights into the history of Shelley’s era. This paper seeks to start a conversation about the key features of contextual biography and better define the methodology. In doing so, we have an opportunity to reconsider the place of biography in studies of the past and revisit how we see the role of individuals in our understanding of global change and continuity.

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Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Commonwealth Reporting Category E) (Paper)
Refereed: No
Item Status: Live Archive
Additional Information: File reproduced in accordance with the copyright policy of the publisher/author.
Faculty/School / Institute/Centre: Current - Faculty of Business, Education, Law and Arts - School of Humanities and Communication (1 Mar 2019 -)
Faculty/School / Institute/Centre: Current - Faculty of Business, Education, Law and Arts - School of Humanities and Communication (1 Mar 2019 -)
Date Deposited: 08 Aug 2022 04:00
Last Modified: 31 Aug 2022 03:36
Uncontrolled Keywords: biography, history, Mary Shelley, Frankenstein, literature
Fields of Research (2020): 43 HISTORY, HERITAGE AND ARCHAEOLOGY > 4303 Historical studies > 430303 Biography
47 LANGUAGE, COMMUNICATION AND CULTURE > 4705 Literary studies > 470504 British and Irish literature
47 LANGUAGE, COMMUNICATION AND CULTURE > 4702 Cultural studies > 470208 Culture, representation and identity
Socio-Economic Objectives (2020): 28 EXPANDING KNOWLEDGE > 2801 Expanding knowledge > 280113 Expanding knowledge in history, heritage and archaeology
13 CULTURE AND SOCIETY > 1302 Communication > 130203 Literature

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