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From Prince to Pauper

Michelangelo, Moses, 1513-1516
Michelangelo, Moses, 1513-1516

Which theoretical-critical approaches have shaped the international reflection on biography in the twentieth century and what have been the consequences of this reflection on the interpretation of biography as a form of historiography? This is the main issue of the PhD-thesis Van kroon tot bastaard. Biografie en het individuele perspectief in de geschiedschrijving (From Prince to Pauper: Biography and the Individual Perspective in Historiography). This research focuses on three fields of scientific activity: the critical developments in social sciences and especially in historiography, the studies that specifically have paid attention to biography, and finally the biographies themselves, the research conducted and the design chosen by biographers. Eventually especially the relationship between biography and historiography is at stake.
  In the twentieth century biography at large and as a form of historiographic research has been neglected in respect to critical investigation. Finally, biography was even considered more as a literary form then as a component of historical science.
  Several objections have been raised against biography as a method being part of historiography. Because biography focuses on one individual only, we may not call it ‘full’ historiography. Furthermore, biographers would have put biography outside the fences of academic historiography by using too liberately ‘literary’ narrative techniques, and by not being transparent about their research criteria, as a result of which biographers fail to use new insights that have emerged in academical research.
  These and other questions the reflection on biography raises have been subject of study for small groups of social scientists around the world, who worked in the previous decades in the margins of the academy to assess the merits of biography. Some referred to each other’s work, but more often that wasn’t the case. Partly due to the lack of this academical framework, a coherent interpretation and analysis of the different directions of academic research concerning biography in the twentieth century is missing. For this reason this study will not only provide an overview of the academic visions on biography developed in the twentieth century, but also offer an interpretational framework for the questions which have been asked over time in considering biography.

Binne de Haan has defended his PhD thesis Van kroon tot bastaard. Biografie en het individuele perspectief in de geschiedschrijving (From Prince to Pauper: Biography and the Individual Perspective in Historiography) on 28 May, 2015 in Groningen. Supervisor of the project was prof. Hans Renders.

Email: B.B.J.de.Haan@rug.nl

Last modified:16 September 2015 3.09 p.m.
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