Historical biography has a mixed reputation: at its best it can reveal much not only about an individual, but the wider context of their life and society; at worst it can result in a narrowly focused work of hagiography or condemnation. Yet in spite of its sometimes inferior status amongst academics, biography has remained a popular genre, and in recent years has developed into new and intriguing areas. As the essays in this volume reveal, scholars from an array of different disciplines have embraced what biography can offer them, expanding the remit of biography from people to things, tracing the 'life' of their chosen object from creation to use to disposal to rediscovery. The increasing concern with the physicality of manuscripts and books has also meant an awareness of and interest in the 'lives' of these forms of material culture. Historians have also become increasingly interested in groups of individuals resulting in prosopographical studies. A book on the diversity of biography is therefore very timely, exploring the multi-disciplinary application of historical biography in the period 500-1700. It presents fourteen case studies offering new approaches to historical biography, written by early-career researchers from backgrounds in archaeology, English, art, architectural history and history, demonstrating different approaches and techniques. Overall, the collection is a strong and united statement by a group of early-career researchers who insist on the vitality of biography as a central concern of historians across the disciplines of the humanities. Contributors believe that the 'life' is a fundamental medium of study for the medieval and early modern periods, and thus . bolsters the move back towards biography as a primary tool of medieval and early modern scholars, as well as a tool for future research for humanities scholars interested in biography.
Table of Contents
Foreword; Introduction, Robert F.W. Smith and Gemma L. Watson. Part I Rescuing Forgotten Lives: The (truncated) life of Alice de Solers Rufus née de Huntingfield: medieval hostage, wife and widow, Katherine Weikert; Writing the lives of legal writers: the use of prosopography in medieval legal history, Kitrina Bevan; The scandalous life of a puritan divine: John Harmar at Winchester College, 1569-1613, Robert F.W. Smith. Part II The Lives of Objects and their Owners: The lives and deaths of people and things: biographical approaches to dress in early Anglo-Saxon England, Toby F. Martin; Roger Machado: a life in objects, Gemma L. Watson; Mary Beale (1633-1699) and her objects of affection, Helen Draper; ‘Look here upon this picture’: how Hamlet reads portraits as biographical texts, Yolana Wassersug. Part III The Life of the Book: Textual criticism, biography and the case of William White, printer, Natalie C. Aldred; Scriptural truths? Calvinist internationalism and military professionalism in the bible of Philip Skippon, Ismini Pells; Books and their lives: the Petworth House plays, Maria Kirk. Part IV Communities and Individuals: Patrons and their commissions: the uses of biography in understanding the construction of the nave of Hole Trinity, Bottisham, Gabriel Byng; Writing community: the opportunities and challenges of group biography in the case of Wilton Abbey, Kathryn Maude. Part V Representing Lives: Hagiography as institutional biography: medieval and modern uses of the 13th-century Vitae of Clare of Assisi, Kirsty Day; Functions of anchoritic spaces and the implications of omission in Julian of Norwich’s Revelations of Divine Love, Justin M. Byron-Davies. Index.
Robert F. W. Smith is an independent researcher in early modern history, based in Norfolk. He completed a PhD at the University of Southampton in 2014, and is currently training as an archivist. Gemma L. Watson is an archaeologist specialising in later medieval material culture and currently working as a Postdoctoral Research Assistant at the University of Reading.