A forum for the discussion of biography in the 21st century.

An Operational Military Biography

April 27th, 2011 | Posted by RossM in Discussion - (1 Comments)

I thought I would post something on to what looks to be an interesting project that I am going to enjoy following, and I hope get involved with in some shape or form.

I am currently researching the career of Air Chief Marshal Sir Trafford Leigh-Mallory for my PhD. Leigh-Mallory is one of the more controversial commanders of the Second World War. The major problem for my research is a distinct lack of any personal papers. Leigh-Mallory died in an air crash in November 1944 when en route to take up his new command in South East Asia. He has become the bete noir to many historians, especially those who write about the Battle of Britain and D-Day. This has distorted his view in the historiography with people accepting the orthodoxy on him. Perhaps the key reason for this is his untimely death and lack of papers. This is also creating a problem for me in constructing a traditional biography.

To get around this I am trying to take my ‘biography’ one step further by utilising contemporary leadership theory to assess his leadership effectiveness. My hope is that I will construct an ‘Operational Military Biography’ that places him in his organisational and operational context. It will involve and examination of the various inputs and outputs that make up effective leadership such as morale, education and training. to make up for the lack of personal papers I am making use of a 360 reporting methodology which allows the measurement and use of various sources to build up a picture of his effectiveness. This will also allow a comparative analysis his effectiveness in comparison with fellow commander, thus, utilising an element of prosopography. Any thoughts are welcomed.

Writing minor lives

April 14th, 2011 | Posted by Steve in Discussion - (7 Comments)

I specialize in writing the lives of minor figures … principally nineteenth century working men who were politically active as Chartists or who sought to establish themselves as poets/writers. With this sort of work comes the problem of fragmentary primary source material. Sometimes – for example, in the case of the Chartist & peace lecturer Arthur O’Neill – there isn’t a great deal that can be recovered about their early years; and sometimes – for example, in the case of the Chartist insurrectionist Robert Peddie – they just disappear from view. Perhaps the most frustrating part of researching & writing the individual lives of nineteenth century working people is getting publishers interested in bringing out such work. I have written or edited about a dozen books & the best of them – a study of the Chartists Thomas Cooper & Arthur O’Neill who formed a friendship that lasted fifty years after sharing a prison cell – was very difficult to place with a publisher. Eventually, it was published by Peter Lang, who required both camera-ready copy & a subsidy (& who also retain the copyright & pay no royalties). Though the book has had some terrific reviews, I don’t think it has sold very well. In spite of these difficulties, I believe strongly in recovering the stories of working people & shall carry on with this sort of work. A shame, though, that these days, unlike in the 1970s, there aren’t the range of publishers interested in such research. Now if I was offering them a life of Gladstone or Dizzy …