History 321A (101)/421A (101) Honours Tutorial: Life-Writing: Approaching History Through Memoirs, Diaries and Other Ego-Texts



Course Level





This tutorial will examine aspects of life-writing by men and women in Europe, Asia and North America from the seventeenth to the twentieth century. We will examine how diaries, memoirs and autobiographies come to be written and preserved and how historians use (or misuse) such source material. We will pay close attention to the reasons why memoirs, diaries and other ego-texts are composed –– whether for private record-keeping, or as a legacy for family and friends, or with an eye to immediate or eventual publication –– and consider how such purposes shape the actual content of these sources. In addition to reading diaries or memoirs composed by men and women from the seventeenth century to the present in places ranging from North America to India, we will examine some secondary works based on the interpretation of such ego-texts. While primarily concerned with diaries and memoirs, we will also consider how authors use other media such as autobiographical novels or graphic non-fiction to narrate their life stories. In addition to writing some short commentaries on the assigned readings, each student will submit one longer paper based on a published European, Asian or North American diary, memoir or other ego-text; fourth-year students may wish to examine an ego-text related in an indirect way to the topic of their graduating essay.