Call for Papers – Annual Conference of the Historians in the DGfA: „Auto/Biographies in American History“

5.2.-7.2.2016, Akademie für Politische Bildung Tutzing

Deadline for abstracts (500 words max): July 31, 2015.

Biography and autobiography are central to the study of American history, and this not only because U.S. history was structured and shaped by a specific and yet diverse set of historical actors. Rather, a culture based on individualism, “doability,” and individual achievement seems to systematically create a special interests in the lives of men and women acting in the specific context of their times.

However, the popularity and presence of biography and autobiography in the study of American history is in stark contrast to the theoretical endeavors in the field. Until recently the biographical genre stood in the long shadow of Leon Edel, who in Writing Lives theorized the model of “secret-self-biography,” which basically left historians with the task of excavating the private, the hidden self of a historical subject, its personality, character and inner mental core that supposedly provided all the answers to the questions of why a historical actor acted the way he or she did.

Against this long and lasting tradition of “secret-self-biography,” the project of a “new biography” began to unfold in the 1980/90s, which was driven by the pluralization of agents, actors and voices in American history in the wake of the Civil Rights Revolution on the one hand, and by the impact of poststructuralism on the other. Invalidating some of the central premises of traditional biography in the historicist tradition, the “new biography” accepts the elusive openness of individual selves, allows for fluid, multiple identities, and is aware of the social constructedness of “the Biographical.” Furthermore, the “new biography” shows an interest in the narrativity, mediality, practices, uses, performances and functions of biography in processes of cultural meaning-making. This has the effect that the formerly clear-cut opposition of “biography” and “autobiography” become blurred. Also, new forms and media of auto/biographical representation like for example biopics or internet blogs have come into view.

Against this backdrop, the conference wants to bring together practioners in the field of biography (mostly historians) and theoreticians from the field of literary studies to discuss the opportunities and limits of the current interdisciplinary debates about biography and autobiography for the study of American history. Three trajectories will structure the program: First, the conference will position the debate in the triangle of curriculum vita, biography and autobiography, i.e. the facts of a lived live, its narrative interpretation by a participant observer and its narrative interpretation by the person who has lived this life. Second, it will strive to reflect the multiple functions and uses of auto/biography in the multiple and changing contexts of American history. Third, the conference will analyze the communicative pragmatics of auto/biography as acts of social communication through which the groups of American history reached an understanding about who they were and who they wanted to be at a certain time and in a specific context.

This call for papers invites contributions to the conference from all fields and interests in current biographical and autobiographical research. Possible topics could be political auto/biography, ethnic auto/biography, auto/biography and migration as well as auto/biography and gender, race, or class. However, the conference will also address questions of new auto/biographical forms (biopics, internet blogs) and investigate into the (inter)mediality of auto/biography. Further suggestions are welcome.

Last but not least, the conference will – as usual – include three workshops where doctoral students can present their projects. This part of the conference is not necessarily connected to the conference’s overall theme of Auto/Biography in American History. All topics in the fields of U.S. history may be presented here. Therefore, junior researchers are strongly encouraged to participate in the conference and to seize the opportunity to present in front of renowned scholars in the field of American history.

Abstracts of not more than 500 words should be sent to volker.depkat@ur.de by Sept. 15, 2015.

 

Prof. Dr. Volker Depkat

Institut für Anglistik und Amerikanistik

Universität Regensburg

93040 Regensburg

Phone: 0049-941-943-3476

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