Biography Writing as a Cross-Boundary Genre: Reflections from the Life-Trajectory of Hugo Bergmann (1883–1975)

Lecture with Enrico Lucca (Jerusalem) as part of the online lecture series »The Epistemological Value of the Historical Individual. New Perspectives in Biographical Research« 

The biography is a classic and multifaceted genre. Long since has it only been the locus for presenting the dignified lives of the »great men« in a bid to reconstruct historical and social processes as exemplified in their lives. In German historical scholarship, in the 1960s the epistemic potential of biography was increasingly questioned. With the rise of structural-historical approaches, the method centered on individual actors seemed to many historians inadequate. However, since the 1990s biographical research has experienced an upsurge, despite previous prophecies of doom. At times it is even stylized as the »supreme discipline.« The method is currently highly popular likewise in the field of Jewish Studies. Yet the fundamental problems arising in the writing of a biography remain, now as before, and viewed against the backdrop of the largely now established post-structural perspective in theory-building, those problems are regarded as even much greater. For example, does the narrative structure of biography, oriented to coherence, necessarily have to negate the contingency of many individual life histories? Is it possible to bridge between the claim for unity in the description of the life trajectory of an individual and new knowledge regarding the fragmentary nature of that person's biographical pathway? The Research Colloquium in Winter Semester will endeavor to explore these and other basic questions. On one hand, the lecture series is centered on developing general methodological reflection on the challenges of the genre. On the other, as exemplified in ongoing research projects dealing with the lives of Jewish intellectuals and politicians, key problems will be illuminated and discussed.

7th December 2016, 5.15–6.45 p.m. (CEST); 11.15 a.m. to 12.45 p.m. (EST)
Dubnow Institute