Professor Caine speaks on the relationship between history and biography

26 July 2011

The Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences will launch their Insights 2011: Inaugural Lecture Series with an exploration of the relationship between biography and history.

Professor Duncan Ivison, the Dean of the Faculty, explains "This series of lectures is intended to introduce our newest Professors talking about the central questions of their work and why it is so important. We are working hard to engage in new ways with the wider community and this series is one of a number of new initiatives launched this year intended to get more people engaged with our work than ever before.

"The Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences boasts some of the leading scholars in Australia and the world working in their fields and we are passionate about the role the humanities and social sciences play in the larger public culture," Professor Ivison said. Professor Barbara Caine recently became Head of the School of Philosophical and Historical Inquiry at the University.

Her talk History and the Individual Life grew out of work she has been doing recently on the relationship between biography and history and explores the way the increasing interest in both autobiography and biography amongst the general reading public is now also seen at an academic level, especially among historians.

"There is now much discussion of the 'biographical turn' within the humanities and social sciences," Professor Caine observes. "What interests me is why more and more historians are either writing biographies or taking a biographical approach to social or intellectual history."

"For historians this relationship between history and biography has long been a troubled one. Some historians seek to establish the similarities and differences between history and biography and the limitations of focusing on an individual life. Others explore the best and most fruitful ways to incorporate individual lives and life stories within historical writing."

The lecture will explore the changing nature of this debate over the past few decades while also looking at some of the new ways in which historians are approaching and drawing on individual lives.

"These new approaches can be seen in many different kinds of history," explains Professor Caine.

"There is an increasing emphasis on the importance of social contact and a growing interest in collective or group biographies in an attempt to show the importance of familial, social and intellectual relationships and connections between individuals, rather than a focus on a single person as if they lived in complete isolation.

"There is also a growing tendency for historians to write autobiographies which offer a way to write about their own society and time from their own perspective and to place the individual within history in new and different ways.

Barbara Caine taught in the Department of History at Sydney University for a number of years and was the first Director of the Women's Studies Centre before taking up a chair at Monash University in 1995. She returned to Sydney at the beginning of 2011. She is the author of a number of books including Bombay to Bloomsbury: a Biography of the Strachey Family (2005), and Biography and History (2010) and the editor of Friendship: a History (2010).

Event details: What: History and the Individual Life When: Thursday, 28 July 6pm. Refreshments from 5.30pm Where: Nicholson Museum, the University of Sydney Cost: Free but registration by email required

Contact: Kate Mayor

Phone: 02 9351 2208

Email: 092035074f1e263a1d3474004f3e2d3112180f3e2478591f