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Writing the Lives of People and Things, AD 500-1700 : A Multi-disciplinary Future for Biography

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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.

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