Activism and Change in Contemporary Women‘s Biography


How are biographies mirrors of the world and windows for activism and change? What is the relationship between the contemporary biographer and the historical subject? How are narratives, particularly about women‘s lives, researched and constructed? How do biographies of women impact our understanding of history? These are some of the questions that we will address in this semester-long seminar on biography. We examine how authors use a variety of primary sources (such as diaries, letters, memoirs, oral histories) and analyze how they create, with slim primary source material, full narratives that illuminate an entire past and time. We will discuss how contemporary women‘s biographies have resonance for today‘s discourses and power relations of gender, race, class, and sexuality. We interrogate notions of truth and myth in life-writing texts. A variety of women‘s biographies from American and transnational contexts will be read and analyzed, including those by Blanche Wissen Cooke, Angela Davis, Jill Lepore, Malala Yousafzai, and Camilla Townsend, among others. This is an intermediate seminar offered in the fall semester to graduate and undergraduate students.