Tag Archives: Biography Workshop

Biography Institute : The Impact of Presidential Biography : Correcting Historiography and Entering Public Political Debates


Friday 29 April, 2016
Time: 14.00-17.00 h
Location: Academy Building, University of Groningen, room A7
Registration (free): biografie.instituut@rug.nl

Biography Institute


(Program below)

This workshop will present contributions on the subject of presidential biography: an important but also contested subgenre of biography. Contributions will discuss the history and extent of this genre, its role in historical and political sciences, and as ‘anchor points’ in the public sphere (historiography and political opinion/ideology, the ownership of history). This workshop is a kick off for an edited volume on Presidential Biography, to be published by Brill in the series ‘Biography Studies’ (Nigel Hamilton and Douglas Brinkley, eds.)

Firstly, the volume will provide an overview of American presidential biography by defining and assessing it internationally. What is a presidential biography, who are its authors? Do they deal with presidents who are still alive, or who have passed away? How many presidential biographies were published in the U.S., compared with biographies of presidents/national leaders abroad, and what are the differences? Can we assess changes in the popularity of the genre? What is/was their impact at home, and abroad in translation or foreign editions? Can we distinguish national variations and typicalities (e.g. how much do presidential biographies pay attention to foreign issues versus domestic?)

Methodological questions and the status of presidential biography within the academic sphere will be addressed. What types of biography can we distinguish in presidential biography? What examples are there of partial biography in presidential life studies? Is this a growing trend, and if so, why? What kind of subjects and knowledge fields have been associated with lives of presidents (viz. economics, government, poverty, civil rights, environment, conservation, immigration, diplomacy, military power and strategy)? Naturally, presidential biographies deal primarily with their subject in terms of the presidency as the pinnacle of a political career, whether it came after elective office in Congress or the Governor’s Mansion, focusing on the course of their public acts and behavior. But what do biographers reveal of the personal as well as the public – and how do they integrate into their accounts the social and former backgrounds of presidents?

The American presidential biographer Nigel Hamilton, one of the editors of the volume, has stated that biography should be considered as an important genre that can correct existing historical interpretations. In what way and in what aspects can the presidential biographer as a biographer-historian correct historical interpretations? Should the biographer-historian be seen as someone who enters political debates, when writing a presidential biography – i.e advancing a political-historiographical agenda?

The role of presidential archives, and the biographical/microhistorical aspects of research, sources and oral history will also be examined.

Presidential biographies can have significant political and societal implications: reception; changing reputation; malleable icons (positive and negative) for subsequent politicians and generations. Can the political effectiveness of presidential biographies in various countries be assessed on a case-by-case basis? The volume emphatically seeks to investigate the role of presidential biographies in the sphere of public opinion. In what way may the biographer-historian be seen as a ‘judge’; what is the role of the presidential biographer, if any, in the active public political arena? Can examination of this role offer insight into larger questions of the ‘ownership of history,’ and collective relationships with the past?

Another important contribution of the volume will be the hitherto seldom-explored aspect of ‘comparative biography.’ By addressing specific examples, comparisons can be made between presidential biographies, as a subgenre of biography; between different presidents as they are portrayed, compared and judged within a single presidential biography, reflecting authorial bias; and comparisons between different biographies, over time, of a single president, and the implications of this. Group biographies of presidents can also be compared. This makes it possible to trace recent changes/developments in presidential biography as a whole (from commemorative to critical), but also developments/changes in the interpretation of a single president and the president’s acts.

Finally the post-presidency will be addressed in presidential biography.

In sum, the volume will offer a fresh, broad and illuminating insight into presidential biography, at a time when the role of the U.S. president is still of major historical importance, domestically and globally.


14.00 Opening by honorary chairman Prof. Hans Renders (ICOG/Biography Institute/University of Groningen)

14.00-14.20 ‘Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the founding of the United Nations’ Nigel Hamilton (University of Massachusetts Boston)

14.20-14.40 ‘Presidential Biography and the Civil Rights Movement, 1950-1980’ Prof. Doeko Bosscher (University of Groningen)

14.40-15.00 ‘Two biographers of François Mitterrand: Pierre Péan and Jean Lacouture’ Prof. Joanny Moulin (Aix-Marseille Université; president of The Biography Society/Société de Biographie)

15.00-15.20 ‘Heads of State: The Impact of Presidential Biography on Public Opinion’ Dr. Binne de Haan (ICOG/Biography Institute/University of Groningen)

15.20-15.45 Coffee/tea break

15.45-16.05 ‘Some Personal Glimpses of Recent American Presidents’ Dr. David Chanoff (Boston College)

16.05-16.25 ‘Mission-X: Jelle Zijlstra’s quest to undo the Nixon-shock’ Jonne Harmsma, MA (ICOG/Biography Institute/University of Groningen)

16.25-16.55 ‘Legitimate and illegitimate leaders: When heads of state become symbols’ Dr. Lindie Koorts (University of the Free State, South-Africa)


Biography Society workshop at the SAES Conference in Lyon – June 2016

 Last updated on 24/05/2016

The Biography Society will be taking part in the SAES conference (Société des Anglicistes de l’Enseignement Supérieur ), 2-4 June 2016 at Lyon III University .

Here are the CALL FOR PAPERS and PROGRAMME for our workshop:

Biography Studies: An Interdisciplinary Confluence

Since the end of the last century, a “biographical turn” has occurred in the Humanities, which, after several decades that have been dominated by the “death of the subject”, place the human individual once again at the heart of debates. The development of researches on autobiography and autofiction in literary studies, the methodology of life writing in the social sciences, have characterized the first phase of this movement. Today, Biography Studies appear as a dynamic emerging field, under way of theorization. Researchers in many countries and various disciplines turn to studying the hitherto underestimated genre of biography. Contemporary literature and cinema display a remarkable interest for biofiction and the biopic. In history, biography asserts itself as an innovating mode of historiography. Researchers of several disciplines are pulling together around the recently founded Biography Society (www.biographysociety.org), to animate this new research field and to contribute to its theorization.

Anglistics, as a multifarious discipline, is a vantage ground for Biography Studies, not only because of the importance of biography as a genre in English literature, from Izaak Walton and John Aubrey, to Samuel Johnson and James Boswell, to Thomas Carlyle, to Virginia Woolf, Giles Lytton Strachey and the authors of the New Biography, to the Oxford DNB, and the flourishing biographical productions in anglophone countries today; but also because Biography Studies constitute an interdisciplinary zone of confluence, properly speaking, at the crossroads of “civilisation“, literary and cinema studies, history and visual arts. Many French anglicistes are biographers in their own rights, others have developed the study of literary biography around Frédéric Regard, and new projects to study the biopic are in the offing.

This first workshop of The Biography Society is intended as a rallying call to English Studies scholars interested in Biographical Studies in one way or another: it welcomes contributions from researchers of various waters, confirmed academics or doctoral students. Papers can address the practice of biographical writing, offer theoretical reflections on biography, the biopic, biofiction, or biographical dictionaries, explore new biographical approaches to literature, or else propose analyses of remarkable biographers and biographical works in historiography, literature, cinema, or other media. Abstracts for papers focussing on the theme “confluences”, of no more than 300 words, should be addressed before 25 January 2016 to info@biographysociety.org

Conveners: Joanny Moulin (PR) joanny.moulin@univ-amu.fr and Maryam Thirriard (PRCE, PhD student) maryam.thirriard@laposte.net.


2  June – 3.30 – 6.30 Workshop I

3.30-4.00 – Antoine Capet ”Churchill et ses biographes”

4.00-4.30 – Olivier Frayssé (Paris 4) “Biographie et généalogie: les grands ancêtres: le cas d’Abraham Lincoln”

4.30-5.00 – Karyn Wilson Costa (Aix-Marseille): “Auguste Angellier’s Life of Robert Burns: an Indulgent Biography”

5.00-5.30 – Louis Roux (Saint-Étienne): “Ruth Scrurr: John Aubrey: My Own Life”

5.30-6.00 – Alice Braun (Paris Ouest Nanterre): “When Janet Frame’s biography and autobiography collide”

6.00 – 6.30 – Questions

3 June – 9.00 – 10.30 Workshop II

9.00-9.30 – Taïna Tuhkunen (Angers) : “A real life on a reel: Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman’s biographical picture of Allen Ginsberg (Howl, 2010)”

9.30-10.00 – Delphine Letort (Le Mans) “Adapting and Reenacting the Past in the Political Biopic Selma

10.00-10.30 – Questions

4 June – 9.00 – 10.30 Workshop III

9.00-9.30 – Patricia Godi Tkatchouk (Clermont-Ferrand 2) : “Art and life, or aspects of the original integration of biography in feminist literary criticism to read women poets”

9.30-10.00 – Patrick Di Mascio (Aix-Marseille): “Americanizing Freud: John Huston’s Secret Passion”

10.00 – 10.30 – Questions

4 June – 11.00 – 12.30 Workshop IV

11.00-11.30 – Maryam Thirriard (Aix-Marseille): “Virginia Woolf, Lytton Strachey, Harold Nicolson, André Maurois and the ‘New Biography’: Zones of Confluence”

11.30-12.00 – Alex Tremblay (Aix-Marseille); “Lytton Strachey and Biography: The Oddity of True Interpretation”

12.00 – 12.30 – Questions