Biography and Identity: Dilemmas and Opportunities

Open to the Public
Nador u. 11
Thursday, May 6, 2010 - 12:15pm
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Thursday, May 6, 2010 - 12:15pm to Sunday, May 9, 2010 - 5:15pm

4th Annual Graduate Conference in European History (GRACEH)
6-9 May, 2010
Budapest, Central European University
Organizer: Central European University, Budapest.
In co-operation with the European University Institute, Florence.

Think that biography is an outmoded genre that should be relegated to the fringes
of historical research? Think again. John Donne wrote, “No man is an island,” and
in recent scholarship, historians have reflected on biography as a sophisticated
genre capable of making broader theoretical contributions (e.g. AHR and Ab
Imperio forums in 2009). Scholars can interpret and employ biography in
innovative ways. Yet, one of the challenges facing biographers is the revision of
some of the notions central to the genre - such as 'identity', 'subjectivity' or 'agency'
- brought about by the linguistic turn and other theoretical developments in human
sciences. The 2010 Graduate Conference in European History (GRACEH) seeks
submissions that use biography to interrogate the concept of identity, as well as
papers addressing methodological and epistemological issues regarding the genre.
Case studies exemplifying the wider theoretical discussion will also be considered.

Given the ambiguity of many historians towards biography, this conference is
organized around the assumption that there are important issues raised by the
entanglements between biography and theoretical conceptualizations of identity. In
current scholarship, an essentialist notion of identity has made way for a
constructivist idea–identities as multiple, fluid, in constant flux–which challenges
the usefulness of the term “identity”, and makes way for other clusters of analytical
concepts. But, can biographical research absorb these theoretical and
methodological contributions? Can it interrogate and refine analytical categories
such as race, class and gender, and reflect on older questions of agency and
social structure? Can there be “biography” beyond “identity”? And if so, which are
the epistemological and methodological issues, the challenges and traps of

Furthermore, there is debate on what defines biography. Some historians adapted
a key-notion–the life cycle– to non-human subjects, while others have “redefined”
the “bio” element of “biography” in convergence with studies on “bio-politics".
Others have used non-textual sources to make insights into the lives of people who
left little textual evidence. There are also those who have taken a broader view on
the genesis of western conceptualizations of history, identifying biography as the
main source behind the development of the notion of homogeneous time. All these
have found their echo in a wide-range of methodologies and approaches including,
but not limited to oral history, psycho-history, archeology, comparison, transnational
history, micro-history, and histoire croisée. We welcome papers on all of
these topics, as well as reflections on theoretical framings of biography in other
fields, like feminist theory, gender studies, post-colonial studies, and other
disciplines such as sociology, anthropology, and literature.

The conference focuses on the wider European space from the Medieval to the
Contemporary historical period. We take a broad thematic focus, inviting
contributions that integrate biography into debates about identity, as well as case
studies that utilize novel approaches to biography. Contributions on shared
biographies and ego-history--opportunities for wider discussions of identity of both
the subject and scholar-- are also encouraged. We welcome submissions that
probe the boundaries of discipline and methodology, but also question the very
definition of the genre.

Keeping in mind the afore-mentioned priorities, possible themes for the 2010
GRACEH may include, but are not limited to paper submissions on the following
topics. We also encourage the submission of panels.

Defining Biography after Constructivism:
o Is biographical illusion necessary? Fluidity of boundaries and
boundaries of fluidity in historical representations of subjectivity.
o Biography and the non-human subject
o Gender, Sexuality, and Biography
o History of subjectivity and experience: “neo-phenomenological“
approaches to human lives.
o Historicize or memorize? Biography and the history-memory debate.
o Interdisciplinarity and biography

Biography and Multiple Subjects:
o Comparative biography, “Collective Biography”, and “Shared Lives”:
writing the history of generations, institutions, and society.
o Mapping new meanings of the ‘multiple’:groups, structures, networks.

o The political utility of biography: regimes, subjectivity and regimes of
o Biography and bio-power.
o Biography as exemplary life vs. history ‘from below’.

Biography as “Historian’s Craft”:
o Sources, narrative techniques and self-reflexivity in biographical
o Biography as historiography.
o Autobiography and ego-history.

The Graduate Conference in European History (GRACEH) is the fourth in a series
of conferences organized by the Central European University (CEU), Budapest
and the European University Institute (EUI), Florence. It is a forum for graduate
students to share their research with students and scholars.

The working language of this conference will be English. Please send a 300 word
abstract and a brief CV in a single Word document to by
February 1, 2010. Confirmation of receipt will be sent via email within seven days.
If you do not receive an email of confirmation within this time frame, please re-send
your abstract. Full papers will be pre-circulated, and we ask that all participants
prepare a presentation of no more than 15 minutes to allow for discussion and
questions, this time limit will be strictly enforced. Final papers are due on April
15, 2010. Panels will be presided over by scholars who will comment on the
papers as well as moderate discussion.

Keynote addresses will be given by
prof. Biljana Kasic, Zadar University, Zagreb Centre for Women’s Studies;
prof. Istvan Rev, CEU Department of History, Open Society Archives;
prof. Niels Gaul, CEU Department of Medieval Studies;
prof. Willem Frijhoff, VU Amsterdam.

There will be no registration fee and lunches and coffee will be provided. Funding
for travel and accommodation may be available on an individual basis based on
request. Information regarding accommodation in Budapest will be sent along with
notification of acceptance. For updates regarding the 2010 conference and for
further background information, please visit our website at

The GRACEH 2010 Organizing Committee: Uku Lember, Ilona Denes, Caroline
Marburger, Zsofia Lorand, Piotr Wcislik, Divna Manolova, Oana Sinziana
Paltineanu, Luka Lisjak Gabrijelcic, Ionut Biliuta, and Emily Gioielli.