All posts by Maryam Thirriard

CFP: Transnational Perspectives on the Writing of Artists’ Lives, 19th-21st centuries.


Amsterdam School for Regional,
European and Transnational studies.

University of Amsterdam

An Interdisciplinary Workshop

25-26 January 2018

Some writers are so fascinated by other artists that they study their biographies and tell their life stories, in fictional or non-fictional form. Whereas artists’ lives have been written throughout the ages, they have become increasingly popular since the romantic period, with the rise of the artist-hero in the Künstlerroman. Many romantic and post-romantic writers portrayed an artist from their home country as iconic of the nation, thus establishing or consolidating a national cultural tradition. However, there are numerous examples of authors who wrote the life stories of writers, painters or musicians from countries other than their own:

Alexander Pushkin tells about the rivalry between two famous composers in his theatre play Mozart and Salieri (1830) ; André Maurois narrates the life story of Shelley in Ariel ou la vie de Shelley (1923);  The Moon and Sixpence  (1919) is a fictional biography of Paul Gauguin written by Somerset Maugham and Symphonie Pathétique  (1935) is Klaus Mann’s biographical novel of Tchaikovsky. More recent examples are the literary biography of Jane Austen written by the Canadian novelist Carol Shields in 2001;  Caryl Phillips’ Radio Play A Kind of Home: James Baldwin in Paris (2004) and Julian Barnes’s novel The Noise of Time (2016) in which he examines the biography of Shostakovich.

All these examples show literary writers who, in many different ways, construct their subject’s life stories in order to reflect on life and art and to define their own aesthetic position. Whether they criticize their ‘hero’ or identify with him/her as a formative model and make it their own, they establish a trans-national relation with this particular artist.

We will further investigate the dynamics of such transnational relations and appropriations in a two-day international workshop on artists’ biographies in the 19th-21st centuries. We will focus on the lives of artists, written by artists, such as literary biographies, biographical novels and operas or theatre plays that clearly rely on biographical elements.

We aim to examine four central issues:

  1. the various forms and usages of artist’s biographies. How and why do writers engage with the lives of other artists? Which elements are foregrounded and which elements are ignored in the life narrative they construct?
  2. the truth and fiction about an artists’ life. To what effect do writers fictionalize certain biographical elements? What kind of ‘truth’ do they convey through literary writing?
  3. the historical development of the artist-hero in modern literature, literary biography and portraiture. Should we consider the romantic period as ‘tipping point’; a period in which artists begin to write about artists? Are there similar tipping or turning points in the twentieth century in the writing of artists’ lives?
  4. the transnational dynamics of identity formation. What is the importance of studying ‘foreign’ artist’s lives in the formation of artistic identities? To what extent does this contribute to the sense of belonging to a (trans)national, European or cosmopolitan artistic community? How do politics come into play here?


Proposals, no longer than 200 words, should be sent before 1 June 2017 to Kasper van Kooten ( and Marleen Rensen (

SAES Workshop: (Re) Constructing Lives (1-3 June)


Workshop of the Biography Society

at the

Annual Conference of the SAES
Université de Reims Champagne-Ardenne
1-3 June 2017 in Reims



Pr Joanny Moulin, Aix Marseille Université
Dr Jean-Charles Perquin, Université Lumière Lyon 2

Workshop description
(see below for programme)

Do biographies necessarily impose on lives an artificial pattern? Is not a life already a construction, quite apart from any attempt to write about it? If, on the one hand, biography may serve the ideological purpose of ceaselessly constructing and reconstructing idealized lives of iconic historical figures, on the other hand, it may just as well work the other way around. If biography can serve the purposes of myth-making, modern biography is more often than not an investigation, de-constructing the lives of historical personages to re-construct them on a more true-to-life basis. For instance, in a distant past, James Anthony Froude’s Life of Carlyle scandalized his contemporaries by knocking the great man off his pedestal, paving the way for Lytton Strachey’s Eminent Victorians, and much more recently the biographies of C. G. Jung by Richard Noll and Ronald Hayman, reconstructing the life of the Swiss psychologist in a very iconoclastic light, or again Pierre Péan’s François Mitterand, Un jeunesse française, unearthing once more the socialist leader’s commitment with the Vichy government.

This workshop will particularly welcome contributions looking at the positioning of biographies relatively to this ideological notion of “construction”. Other papers may concentrate rather on the biographers’ narrative discourse as a process of re-constructing those parts or sides of their subjects’ lives that have been erased out of historical document, whether intentionally or accidentally—a limit case in this respect is Ivan Jablonka’s Laetitia, and the use of ‘fictions de méthode’ to investigate the gaps. Another direction worth exploring would be the way in which, biographical information about an author/an artist may drastically inflect the reception of his/her work.


Thursday 1st June 2017

4.00-6.30 : Ateliers I

Chair: Joanny Moulin (Aix-Marseille Université)

4.00-4.20 – Antoine Capet (Université de Rouen) – Churchill personnage de « biopic » : « reconstruction » d’une vie légendaire

4.20-4.40Catherine Heyrendt (Université Reims-Champagne-Ardennes) – Champagne, myth, and turtle soup : reconstructing Winston Churchill’s life in food and drink

4.40-5.00 Olivier Frayssé (Université Paris IV- Sorbonne) – La dimension biographique du révisionnisme dans l’historiographie américaine

5.00-5.20 – Patrick Di Mascio (Aix-Marseille Université) – Biographie et démocratie: remarques à partir de Tocqueville.


Friday 2nd June 2017

Chair: Hans Renders (University of Groningen)

9.00-11.00 : Ateliers II

9:00-9:20 – Jean Raimond (Université de Reims Champagne-Ardennes) – « Robert Southey’s Life of Nelson : the making of a legendary heroic figure »

9:20-9:40 – Jean-Charles Perquin (Université Lumière Lyon 2 ) -Henry James’s “The Private Life” and Robert Browning

9:40-10:00 – Page Richards (University of Hong Kong) – Lyric Construction and ‘Born Retrospection’: ‘Late Arrivals’ and Re-Conception in Biographical Lyric.”

10:00 – 10:20 – Isabelle Pariente-Butterlin (Aix-Marseille Université) – The Concept of Moral Life


Saturday 3rd June 2017

Chair: Page Richards (University of Hong Kong)

09:00-10:30 : Ateliers III                                   

9:00-9:20 – Natalie Dykstra (Hope College, Holland, Michigan) -Nicked with Incident:  Eloquent Objects and Biographical Storytelling

9:20-9:40 – Alice Braun (Université Paris Ouest Nanterre) – “Setting my story against hers”: (re)constructing motherhood in Jeanette Winterson’s autobiography

9:40-10:00 – Aquarini Priyatna (Universitas Padjadjaran, Bandung, Indonesia) – [Re]Constructing the Self, Rebuilding A Life Post Nude Images in Playboy: The Biography of Indonesian [ex] Nude Model Tiara Lestari


11.00-12.30:  Ateliers IV

Chair: Catherine Heyrendt (Université Reims-Champagne-Ardennes)

11.00-11.20 – Marleen Rensen (University of Amsterdam) -Constructing Transnational Lives

11.20-11.40 – Marco Mongelli (University of Bologna & Paris IV Sorbonne) – L’usage de la fiction dans les biographies de Jean Echenoz

11.40-12.00 – Valeria Mosca (University of Genoa) –  A Life in Writing and a Life of Writing: J.C. Kannemeyer and David Attwell’s Biographies of J.M. Coetzee

12.00-12.20 – Alexandre Tremblay (Aix-Marseille Université) -Lytton Strachey: Constructing a Metafictive Essence

Séminaire “Biographie”: Table ronde autour des textes de Hayden White et Ivan Jablonka 12/04

Séance du séminaire “biographie”

12 avril 2017 de 14h à 16h

Maison de la Recherche:  14h – 16h salle 2.44

Table ronde autour des textes de:

Hayden White


Metahistory – The Historical Imagination in Nineteenth-Century Europe (1973, Johns Hopkins University Press, 2015)


Ivan Jablonka

 L’Histoire est une littérature contemporaine : Manifeste pour les sciences sociales (Le Seuil, 2014).

 Présentation des textes

WHITE, Metahistory  – Présentation de l’éditeur: Since its initial publication in 1973, Hayden White’s Metahistory has remained an essential book for understanding the nature of historical writing. In this classic work, White argues that a deep structural content lies beyond the surface level of historical texts. This latent poetic and linguistic content—which White dubs the “metahistorical element”—essentially serves as a paradigm for what an “appropriate” historical explanation should be.

To support his thesis, White analyzes the complex writing styles of historians like Michelet, Ranke, Tocqueville, and Burckhardt, and philosophers of history such as Marx, Hegel, Nietzsche, and Croce. The first work in the history of historiography to concentrate on historical writing as writingMetahistory sets out to deprive history of its status as a bedrock of factual truth, to redeem narrative as the substance of historicality, and to identify the extent to which any distinction between history and ideology on the basis of the presumed scientificity of the former is spurious (Johns Hopkins University Press).


JABLONKA, L’Histoire est une littérature contemporaine – Présentation de l’auteur: “L’histoire n’est pas fiction, la sociologie n’est pas roman, l’anthropologie n’est pas exotisme, et toutes trois obéissent à des exigences de méthode. À l’intérieur de ce cadre, rien n’empêche le chercheur d’écrire.

Concilier sciences sociales et création littéraire, c’est tenter d’écrire de manière plus libre, plus originale, plus juste, plus réflexive, non pour relâcher la scientificité de la recherche, mais au contraire pour la renforcer. L’histoire est d’autant plus scientifique qu’elle est littéraire.

Réciproquement, la littérature est compatible avec la démarche des sciences sociales. Les écrits du réel – enquête, reportage, journal, récit de vie, témoignage – concourent à l’intelligibilité du monde. Ils forment une littérature qui, au moyen d’un raisonnement, vise à comprendre le passé ou le présent.

Des sciences sociales qui émeuvent et captivent ? Une littérature qui produit de la connaissance ? Il y a là des perspectives nouvelles pour le siècle qui s’ouvre”. (  – Éditeur et écrivain, Ivan Jablonka est professeur d’histoire à l’université Paris 13.


Biography, gender and history: Nordic perspectives

Biography, gender and history:
Nordic perspectives

Eds. Erla Hulda Halldórsdóttir, Tiina Kinnunen, Maarit Leskelä-Kärki, Birgitte Possing

New publication on biography and history by the book series Cultural history – Kulttuurihistoria at the University of Turku

How to construct a life of a nineteenth-century Icelandic ordinary woman? What perspectives does surveillance material open up when exploring an individual? How to use portraits as biographical clues? What do group biographies or pair biographies add to the genre of historical biography?

This book, with contributions by scholars from various Nordic countries, reflects the biographical turn that has influenced Nordic historical research during the past few decades. It is a contribution to the growing international interest in, and theorisation of, biography and biographical research as a method of doing history. The individual chapters focus on challenges of gender, context, and relationality in biographical research, and develop the methodologies of biographical research further.

This is an excellent volume covering a significant gap in the interdisciplinary field of historical and biographical writing not only in the Nordic milieu but more widely; it does so from a rich range of perspectives, theoretical and methodological approaches, as well as biographical case studies. It is indeed a rare contribution in the life-writing literature.’
– Professor Maria Tamboukou (University of East London)

Contact person:
Maarit Leskelä-Kärki,
Book orders:

Biography, gender and history: Nordic perspectives
Eds. Erla Hulda Halldórsdóttir, Tiina Kinnunen, Maarit Leskelä-Kärki, Birgitte Possing

Contents of the book

Erla Hulda Halldórsdóttir, Tiina Kinnunen, Maarit Leskelä-Kärki
Doing biography


Birgitte Possing
How does one relate a complex life? Reflections on a polyphonic portrait of the minister and intellectual Bodil Koch (1903–1973)

Christina Carlsson Wetterberg
Biography as a way of challenging gender stereotypes: Reflections on writing about the Swedish author and feminist Frida Stéenhoff (1865–1945)


Erla Hulda Halldórsdóttir
A biography of her own: The historical narrative and Sigríður Pálsdóttir (1809–1871)

Antti Harmainen
Group biography as an approach to studying manhood and religion in late nineteenth-century Finland

Kristine Kjærsgaard
Love and emotions in the diplomatic world: the relationship between Bodil Begtrup’s public and private lives, 1937–1956


Tiina Kinnunen
‘Fighting sisters’: A comparative biography of Ellen Key (1849–1926) and Alexandra Gripenberg (1857–1913) in the contested field of European feminisms

Irene Andersson
Telling stories of gendered space and place: the political agency of the Swedish communist Valborg Svensson (1903–1983)


Maarit Leskelä-Kärki
Remembering mother: Relations and memory in the biographical project on Minna Krohn (1841–1917)

Heini Hakosalo
Coming together: early Finnish medical women and the multiple levels of historical biography

Kaisa Vehkalahti
Bad girl biographies: Child welfare documents as gendered biographies

Tiina Kinnunen, Maarit Leskelä-Kärki, Erla Hulda Halldórsdóttir, Birgitte Possing
Afterword: Future challenges

CFP: Political Biographies in Literature and Cinema

Political Biographies
Literature and Cinema

Abstracts due: April 15, 2017

Biographers have a strong impact on our perception of history. They offer narratives of the lives of political leaders that necessarily defend a thesis of one sort or another, whether they pretend to strive to comprehend how politicians’ individual characters have underpinned their political responses to particular crises, or present an overtly biased portrait of historical figures. Biography scholars Hans Renders and Binne de Haan contend that biography designates “the study of the life of an individual, based on the methods of historical scholarship, with the goal of illuminating what is public, explained and interpreted in part from the perspective of the personal” (Theoretical Discussions of Biography: Approaches from History, Microhistory, and Life Writing, 2). Since the early nineteenth century, journalists have often played the role of political biographers. In the US, for example, reporters writing about figures such as Andrew Jackson and Abraham Lincoln presented themselves as “champions and guardians of American character ideal, attending to the virtues, vices and ‘flaws’ of their subjects” (Shawn J. Parry-Giles, Hillary Clinton in the News, 4). Journalistic reporting has influenced political biography by spotlighting the incongruous gossip that sells newspapers, endowing the media with the power to shape a politician’s public image through calling attention to eye-catching images and sound bite pieces that simplify the political debate into visual clichés and stereotypical phrases. Contributors may question how the individual careers of Donald Trump, Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson, and Narendra Modi conform to conventional models or translate into a new type of political biography.

This issue of Biography aims to further reflection on the evolution of political biography in a media-saturated context, turning political figures (present and past) into celebrities. It has also become a custom for statesmen to write their own autobiography—and more often in fact to have these ghost-written as first-person biographies of sorts (see Roman Polanski’s 2010 film The Ghost Writer)—during, before, and after their terms of office, thus incorporating their personal path into their political career and vice versa. It is our purpose to question the political content of these literary endeavours undertaken by Richard Nixon, Margaret Thatcher, Nelson Mandela, Barak Obama, etc., to consider how the politicians’ written and oral words have seeped into other media. An increasing number of politicians have written political biographies, and used this genre to ponder their political choices; Labour backbencher Roy Jenkins’s biography of Churchill is a case in point.

Biographical films (whether fiction or nonfiction) have influenced the generic evolution of biography through promoting a “tabloid culture” that feeds on the private lives of public figures. Considering that political power relies on representation, including visual symbols and rhetorical devices, we aim to foster the analysis of politics and biography as two interweaving strands. Political biofilms should not be analysed as a source of entertainment that discards political analysis; they also build political discourses through specific biographical angles. Some films draw on the hagiographic tradition (e.g. Stephen Spielberg’s Lincoln, 2012) whereas others question the relationship between power and the individual (e.g. Errol Morris’s The Fog of War). Biographical documentaries addressing political characters have much in common with the methods of scholarly research, which are also discernible under hybridized forms in various types of docudrama.

Contributors will be interested in bringing to light interferences between different sources, analyzing the construction of political discourses through various biographical channels. To what extent do biographies promote or question the biographee’s political values? What are the limitations of prevailing assumptions (popular and/or academic) about biography’s relationship with history? What models of the political subject do biographies of political figures presuppose, and with what consequences? Articles of general relevance, as well as specific case studies of print or film biographies, are welcome in this special number of Biography, An Interdisciplinary Quarterly on political biographies in literature and cinema.

Potential contributors are asked to submit abstracts of 250–500 words and an abbreviated CV (of all authors) by 15 April 2017 to and We will contact those authors from whom we wish to see full manuscripts by 15 May 2017, and will expect to see those full manuscripts by 1 December 2017.

These manuscripts should be between 6,000 and 8,000 words in length (including notes and bibliography) and should use MLA style, 8th edition. Please also include all authors’ affiliations, emails, and mail contact information in the submission. We welcome inquiries about prospective submissions.

picture: Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady (2011)