Autobiography Before Autobiography (1400-1700)
International Online Workshop at the Freie Universität, Berlin
Oranizer: Nicolae Virastau, PhD (Columbia University), Postdoctoral Fellow of the Dahlem Humanities Center, Freie Universität, Berlin
13 November and 14 November 2020
Jacob Burckhardt famously placed the birth of autobiography during the Renaissance in the context of the discovery of the individual, and the awakening of the self. Few scholars today would fully embrace this master narrative. Medievalists posit the existence of a sense of individual selfhood much earlier, in the High Middle Ages, while many literary theorists of autobiography employ a narrow definition of autobiography focusing on personal development and reflexive subjectivity. Thus, literary theory effectively excludes from the history of autobiography most of what was written before the eighteenth century. Conversely, more recent cultural historians and historians of private life have sought to recover neglected forms of self-writing that do not fit modern definitions of the literary genre of autobiography: account books, semiliterate diaries, or astrological almanacs. They proposed neologisms such as life-writing, egodocuments, and self-testimonies to avoid the teleological implications of the Burckhardtian grand narrative, and to include texts that have been neglected by the traditional literary history of autobiography.
The goal of this workshop is to bring together historians and literary scholars working on a wide range of late-medieval and early-modern self-writing forms that challenge the more common, postromantic ideas about autobiography, such as: family books, books of reason, almanacs, artisan autobiographies, but also prefaces and marginalia. Papers that can address the relation of these types of self-writing to the better-known genres of the vitae, commentarii, memoirs, confessions, essays, poetic autobiographies, etc. are especially welcome.
Papers should be given in English or French, and should not exceed 30 minutes. Please send an abstract (300 words max.) and a brief CV (2 pages max.) at NAV2110@COLUMBIA.EDU.
Due to the Covid-19 outbreak, the conference will take place online. The submission deadline has been extended to August 15, 2020.