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10: Memoirs and the Representation of History

Seminar Questions:

  • Is a memoir the same as a work of history? How do they differ?
  • What challenges do we face when using memoirs and autobiographies as sources?
  • What might memoirs give us that other sources cannot?
  • How should we, as historians, read a memoir or autobiography?

Key Reading:

Anne E. Gorsuch, “Women’s Autobiographical Narratives: Soviet Presentations of Self,” Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History 2, no. 4 (2001): 835–47,

Sidonie Smith and Julia Watson, Reading Autobiography: A Guide for Interpreting Life Narratives, Second Edition, 2nd ed. edition (Minneapolis: Univ Of Minnesota Press, 2010). Chapter 9: A Toolkit: Twenty-Four Strategies for Reading Life Narratives.

Hilda Kean, Where is Public History? in David Dean, A companion to Public History (Hoboken, NJ: Wiley Blackwell, 2018), 33-44.

Additional Reading:

Birgit Dahlke, Dennis Tate, and Roger Woods, eds., German Life Writing in the Twentieth Century (Rochester, N.Y: Camden House, 2010).

Paul John Eakin, How Our Lives Become Stories: Making Selves, 1 edition (Ithaca, N.Y: Cornell University Press, 1999).

Paul John Eakin, ed., The Ethics of Life Writing, 1 edition (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2004).

Maurice Halbwachs, On Collective Memory, trans. Lewis A. Coser (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992).

Joan Tumblety, ed., Memory and History: Understanding Memory as Source and Subject, 1 edition (London: Routledge, 2013).

Web Resources:

The Warwick Oral History Network’s webpage is a great resource for links to presentations, blogs and the websites of a variety of organisations interested in the practice of oral history.