Round Table Discussion on Biography and History

Published: February 1st, 2017

Category: Faculty News, Feature, History Department News, Recent News

Please join us for a round table discussion on “Biography as/and History” on Monday, 6 February at 4:00 pm in the History Department conference room, 005 Keene-Flint Hall.

History as an academic discipline has had an ambivalent relationship with biography. At one time, the value of history of ‘great men’ was a dominant mode of historical study. The accomplishments and trials of political and cultural leaders, it was believed, shed light on the great struggles that helped shape civilization as we know it. But with the turn towards social and cultural history, which emphasized history as the product of ordinary social forces and society at large, biography fell into disrepute as a dated form that spoke to a popular rather than academic audience. In recent years, biography has reemerged among historians as a tool for investigating broad social, cultural, economic, or religious contexts. In this roundtable we will discuss the place of biography in the discipline today as well as some of the methodological and practical advantages, challenges, and rewards of biographical research.

Each of the speakers has worked extensively in the biographical genre, but in very different areas and with different methodological foundations.

Todd Endelman (Professor Emeritus at the University of Michigan) is completing a biography of Redcliffe Salaman, a prominent British botanist and author of The History and Social Influence of the Potato (named by Eric Hasbawm as one of the great works of history in the 20th century). Professor Endelman’s biography traces Salaman’s life and career and his intersection with British Jewish life, culture, and politics.

J. Matthew Gallman (Professor of History at UF) has written a biography of Anna Dickinson, a 19th century American Abolitionist, reformer, and activist. Using her public lectures, reputation as a brilliant and crowd-drawing orator, political stands, and press coverage of her celebrity, Gallman sets Dickinson squarely in her social and cultural context.

Katalin Rac (Coordinator for Jewish Heritage at the Isser and Rae Price Library of Judaica at UF) built the argument in her doctoral dissertation -Orientalism for the Nation: Jews and Oriental Scholarship in Modern Hungary – around biographical studies of three seminal scholars who set a strong foundation for Oriental scholarship in late 19th century and early 20th century Hungary. Their status as preeminent scholars of exotic and distant languages and cultures, Jews, and Hungarians brings into focus the complex means by which Jews defined and negotiated their Hungarian identity.

Please contact Nina Caputo at for more information.


Comments are currently closed.