This looks like an interesting article in the Times Higher Education today, re the growth of biography to respectable levels. I’m curious to see who they are biographies of, and what determines someone as a subject worthy of attention:
As the social science model of history has been overtaken by events, biography has grown as a serious discipline. This is welcome, says Jonathan Steinberg: after all, people make history (but not in the circumstances of their choosing)
When I began my career as a historian in the 1960s, biography fell into the category of “unserious” stuff written by amateurs. Not any more. Big biographies of Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, Francisco Franco, Winston Churchill, Lyndon B. Johnson and many others pour from the pens of the most distinguished academic historians. What has changed? Why has biography become respectable as a form of history?
In the 1960s, the discipline’s prevailing paradigms came from the social sciences. History had to build sociological models. It had to measure, count and verify. It had to study structures and functions of the social order, drawn from Marxist analysis or Weberian sociology. Anything else seemed dangerously uncertain, ill-defined and, worse, “subjective”.
The collapse of the Soviet Union brought down the whole edifice of social science. Nobody in the spectrum of social studies had a clue that the USSR and its vast empire could vaporise in two years as if it had been a mirage; anything with “social” in its terminology lost purchase along with socialism.
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