HIS32230 Biography and History

Academic Year 2020/2021

There are few more fascinating subjects than the lives of others, and biography has never been as popular among the public, yet the study of individual lives remains curiously underappreciated by historians. In this course we will read biographies from a historical perspective, and examine what they can tell us about individuals, about society, and about our changing perceptions of the human experience. We will look at the methods used, the role of politics, psychology and culture, how people have addressed the different stages of life and common experiences, and the factors that have influenced the representation of people at different times. Readings will encompass the ancient, medieval and modern worlds, and will focus on biographical subjects ranging from Leonardo da Vinci to Haile Selassie, from Charlemagne to Mary Wollstonecraft, and from St Brigid of Kildare to Donald Trump.

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Curricular information is subject to change

Learning Outcomes:

At the end of this course you should have:
• an understanding of the nature of biography throughout various historical periods, and a knowledge of individual biographical and autobiographical works
• an awareness of the historical and intellectual context in which these works were written
• an awareness of key concepts and methodologies that scholars have used to approach biography
• developed skills in dealing with primary and secondary sources
• experience of working and learning with others through discussion and presentation
• developed your skills in written analysis

Indicative Module Content:

The module addresses such issues as:
- The connection between biography and history; the transformation of biography over time; the historical value of biography; what biography tells us about changes in society, thought, and the individual; how life stories can illuminate the past.
- The celebration of notable figures, one of the most traditional forms of biography.
- The relationship between public life and private life.
- What biography tells us about changing ideals of a good life.
- How different life stages are addressed, in particular childhood.
- Important stages in the development of biography, from the ancient biography of Suetonius and Plutarch, to the birth of modern biography with Samuel Johnson and James Boswell, to the expansion of biography more recently to encompass previously marginalised groups.
- Biography as polemic; biography and the transformation of reputations.
- Women's lives: how they are treated differently to those of men, the value of biography in revealing the history of women, and the importance of women biographers.
- Biography v autobiography: their different value to the historian.
- The uses of biography: how modern scholars see and use biography.

Student Effort Hours: 
Student Effort Type Hours


Seminar (or Webinar)


Specified Learning Activities


Autonomous Student Learning




Approaches to Teaching and Learning:
This module combines a 1-hour lecture with a 2-hour seminar. Weekly lectures provide overviews of the topic, with focus on background to readings, and its relation to modern scholarship. Weekly seminars focus on small-group active and task-based learning by means of class debates, discussion and presentations. Autonomous learning is advanced through student-led debate and discussion of set primary sources and student presentations. Student reflection is promoted by weekly learning journals. Advanced research, writing and citations skills are developed through a 4,000-word essay. 
Requirements, Exclusions and Recommendations

Not applicable to this module.

Module Requisites and Incompatibles
Additional Information:
Students must have completed one of the above modules

Assessment Strategy  
Description Timing Open Book Exam Component Scale Must Pass Component % of Final Grade
Continuous Assessment: Learning journal, presentation, and contribution to class Throughout the Trimester n/a Graded No


Assignment: 4,000 word research paper Coursework (End of Trimester) n/a Graded No


Carry forward of passed components
Resit In Terminal Exam
Autumn No
Please see Student Jargon Buster for more information about remediation types and timing. 
Feedback Strategy/Strategies

• Feedback individually to students, on an activity or draft prior to summative assessment
• Feedback individually to students, post-assessment
• Group/class feedback, post-assessment

How will my Feedback be Delivered?

Feedback on learning journals, presentations and participation is giving individually and to the class, verbally and in writing, throughout the semester. Feedback on end-of-semester essays is given individually and to the class on drafts and essays plans before final submission, and by appointment after submission and grading.

Timetabling information is displayed only for guidance purposes, relates to the current Academic Year only and is subject to change.

Lecture Offering 1 Week(s) - 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31 Mon 11:00 - 11:50
Seminar Offering 1 Week(s) - 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31 Tues 09:00 - 10:50