1st Edition

Biography: An Historiography

By Melanie Nolan Copyright 2023
    400 Pages 27 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    400 Pages 27 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    Biography: An Historiography examines how Western historians have used biography from the nineteenth century to the present – considering the problems and challenges that historians have faced in their biographical practice systematically.

    This volume analyses the strategies and methods that historians have used in response to seven major issues identified over time to do with evidence, including but not limited to the problem of causation, the problem of fact and fiction, the problem of other minds, the problem of significance or representativeness, the problems of perspective, both macro and micro, and the problem of subjectivity and relative truth.

    This volume will be essential for both postgraduates and historians studying biography.

    1. Introduction: "It’s Just a Biography": historicising historians’ biographical debates 2. Victorians’ debate over heroism: the role of the significant individual in history 3. Post-Victorian debates over artistic and scientific approaches to biography 4. Historians and the problem of other minds in biography 5. Cold War debates over individuals in history; counterfactuals, contingency and causation in biography 6. Postwar debates over atomizing lives 7. Late Twentieth Century debate over microhistory and the singularization of history 8. Current debates about life writing and historians’ ego histoire 9. Conclusion: Trevelyan’s empiricism and historians’ biographical practices


    Melanie Nolan is Professor of History, Director of the National Centre of Biography, and General Editor of the Australian Dictionary of Biography, in the School of History, at the Australian National University.

    "A hugely enjoyable read, deeply researched and knowledgeable, with an effective mix of structure, theory, and personality, as befits its subject. Very wide-ranging, it’s peppered with names and connections. In squaring a number of circles, Biography: a Historiography is a single-handed refutation of any misgivings historians may have as to the biographer and their craft."  

    Dr Martin Farr, Newcastle University, UK

    "[I]t’s a big, authoritative work with a dazzling range of research and reference, and passionate engagement with ideas and issues. A book to think with!" 

    Professor Richard Holmes, FRSL, FBA, OBE, Hon. Fellow of Churchill College Cambridge

    "This is a most welcome addition to the literature on biography which will be attractive to readers in several different disciplines. Historians will like its very firm grounding in the development of historical writing since the nineteenth century; students of literature will learn much from its studies of the Bloomsbury biographers and life writing today; while social scientists will find much to explore and applaud in its confident discussion of concepts and methodology. The discussion of biography is integrated with the discussion of general historiography. Our pre-existing historiographical familiarity helps us to appreciate the novelty of the author’s biographical arguments all the more."

    Professor Lawrence Goldman, Oxford University, UK

    "There are numerous monographs on biography as a genre but no single text dealing with historians and biography, and yet historians are a major producer of biographies.  Melanie Nolan’s Biography: A Historiography provides the first systematic and focussed consideration of historians’ biographical approaches and practices. It is a far ranging and much needed work, competently executed and underpinned by an impressive array of research."  

    Professor Douglas Munro, University of Queensland, Australia