Colleagues on vacation mean that the recordings of the proceedings at the ‘Can Biography Survive?’ conference have yet to be converted into podcasts, but this is a priority.
The Times Higher Education, 19 July 2012, carries a feature article – ‘Cult of Personalities’ – by Jonathan Steinberg, to coincide with the paperback publication of his acclaimed biography of Bismarck. The article, in which the author offers a spirited defence of biography, seeks to explain why the genre has re-established its intellectual credentials (‘…because the social science models ignored the power of human personality’). Steinberg rightly signals that biographers have to pose the same questions as the ‘academic historian’, and must provide the same evidence-based answers; and he draws on his own and other political biographies to support his argument. He suggests that if a biography fails then it does so in a manner that is familiar to the discipline of history as a whole; but, when successfu,l then the manner of a biography’s achievement is unique, by ‘showing us what extraordinary human beings have done and what they were like.’ This is an entertaining and informative 1500 or so words, and it’s worth checking out the Higher‘s website.