Theoretical Discussions of Biography

Approaches from History, Microhistory, and Life Writing


Theoretical Discussions of Biography: Approaches from History, Microhistory, and Life Writing offers comprehensive overviews by 14 academic scholars of the actual state of the field of Biography Studies. In the volume, edited by biography scholars Hans Renders and Binne de Haan, specifically the connections between biography and the fields of microhistory, journalism, and Life Writing illuminate key challenges and problems in studying individual lives.
Different perspectives are provided on the ways in which biography contributes to scholarship in the humanities in general and academic historiography in particular. The contributing authors are academic experts in these fields and include Richard D. Brown, Carlo Ginzburg, Nigel Hamilton, Marlene Kadar, Giovanni Levi, Sabina Loriga, Matti Peltonen, and James Walter.

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Biographical Note

Hans Renders, Ph.D. (1998), University of Tilburg, is Professor History and Theory of Biography and director of the Biography Institute, both at the University of Groningen. He has published studies on the theme of biography in various international journals.

Binne de Haan, is a Ph.D. candidate at the Biography Institute of the University of Groningen. In his thesis he analyses the relationship between biography and historiography, specifically microhistory.

Review Quotes

"Ils entendent explicitement contribuer à l’émergence des études biographiques comme nouvelle discipline à part entière [...] En conclusion, il convient de saluer les grands mérites de cet ouvrage fort bien fait" ("They explicitly intend to contribute to the emergence of Biography Studies as a new discipline in its own right [...] In conclusion, we should acknowledge the great merits of this well-made, strong book."
Joanny Moulin, Aix-Marseille Université

Theoretical Discussions of Biography is a welcome addition for university courses on the history and theory of history and surveys of historiography. [...] According to Renders and De Haan, a biography preferably studies a specific figure to test generally recognized truths on a society and culture. Renders elaborates this thesis in his article ‘The limits of representativeness. Biography, Life Writing and Microhistory’ and by doing this also brings together some themes from other contributions. This article provides a practical research agenda for the future.”
Christoph De Spiegeleer, Free University of Brussels, in: Tijdschrift voor Sociale Geschiedenis 10(2013)3, p. 115-116.

“In its range and compass Theoretical Discussions of Biography illustrates the new compass and depth which Biographical Studies can offer to teachers, students and practitioners.”
Nigel Hamilton, Senior Fellow John W. McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies, University of Massachusetts Boston and first President of Biographers International Organization (BIO)

“To take issue with Renders, however, is not to discount his perceptive and wide-ranging contributions to an understanding of biography and biographical method. Only a scholar with formidable learning could have assembled an anthology that is so challenging on so many aspects of biography.”
Carl Rollyson, Baruch College New York, in: Biography 36(2013)2, p. 392-395.

Table of contents

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations

Nigel Hamilton

Note on the Revised and Augmented Edition

Notes on Contributors


1 Introduction: The Challenges of Biography Studies
Hans Renders & Binne de Haan

Section I: Historiography of Biography Studies

2 Towards Traditions and Nations
Binne de Haan & Hans Renders

3 Roots of Biography: From Journalism to Pulp to Scholarly Based Non-Fiction
Hans Renders

4 The Solace of Doubt? Biographical Methodology after the Short Twentieth Century
James Walter

Section II: Biography and History

5 The Uses of Biography
Giovanni Levi

6 The Role of the Individual in History. Biographical and Historical Writing in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Century
Sabina Loriga

7 Contemporary Values of Life. Biographical Dictionaries in the Nineteenth Century
Hans Renders

Section III: Biography and Microhistory

8 What Is Micro in Microhistory?
Matti Peltonen

9 Microhistory and the Post-Modern Challenge
Richard D. Brown

10 The Limits of Representativeness. Biography, Life Writing and Microhistory Hans Renders

11 Microhistory: Two or Three Things That I Know about It
Carlo Ginzburg

Section IV: Biography and Life Writing

12 Biography in Academia and the Critical Frontier in Life Writing: Where Biography Shifts into Life Writing
Hans Renders

13 The Eclipse of Biography in Life Writing
Binne de Haan

14 Coming to Terms: Life Writing – from Genre to Critical Practice
Marlene Kadar


15 Biography

16 Sex in Biography
Ernest Boyd

17 The Personal in the Political Biography
Hans Renders

18 The Biographical Method
Hans Renders

19 Why Genealogy and Biography Are Not Kin
Hans Renders

20 A Nobel Prize for Biography
Nigel Hamilton



All interested in the field of biography, from specialists to students, and anyone interested in the study of individual lives and its relevance for history, Life Writing, and the humanities.

Index Card

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