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The Historian’s I: Autobiography, Memory and Practice

  • University of Essex (map)

Keynote: Sheila Fitzpatrick (University of Sydney)

Confirmed participants: Sally Alexander, Caroline Bressey, Sarah Chaney, Norma Clarke, Joy Damousi, Graham Dawson, Matt Houlbrook, Annette Kuhn, Alison Light, Helen Parr, Terry Smyth, and Carolyn Steedman

What is the place of the ‘I’ in History? In the wake of the cultural turn, most historical practitioners acknowledge that objectivity is impossible, but hold too that relativism is not a viable philosophical, moral or political option. At the same time, over the past half-century an autobiographical turn within and outside History has affected both the discipline, and wider understandings of ‘the historical’. These developments raise urgent questions about how to acknowledge, understand and place the ‘I’ within History while maintaining evidential and analytic rigour.

This CHASE-funded conference will generate reflection on the personal past of the researcher, how it shapes historical pursuits and what happens when the personal past becomes the object of study. Many of the invitees are pioneers of the autobiographical mode that has become prevalent in History since the 1960s, and have published reflections on their lives and careers. New generations of historians, however, encounter their works as something like self-evident truths. This nexus of generational perspectives provides a clear impetus to revisit the place of the ‘I’ in History.