About the group
In recent years compositions of an autobiographical character (autobiographies, diaries, memoirs, personal correspondence) have attracted the close scrutiny of scholars in a range of fields in the humanities. Literary critics, historians of culture, archivists, philosophers, anthropologists, sociologists and psychologists all today actively explore both new texts that are representative in the study of human subjectivity and new ways of interpreting familiar texts. As a result of their efforts “autobiography studies” have emerged as a new area of research. The interdisciplinary autobiography study group is pushing work forward in this area. Its current project is devoted to studying Russian autobiographical testimony from the 18th century in a European context. The main hypothesis that underpins this project is that the appearance of Russian autobiographies, diaries, memoirs, and personal letters in the 18-19th centuries was triggered by social and cultural transformations analogous to those that gave rise to such autobiographical practices in Western Europe. It is hoped that a general European context in looking at Russian accounts of the self will enable us not only to refresh our understanding of these sources but also to capture facets of Russian culture more deeply.
Research task and paths of realizing it: The task of the current investigation therefore consists in the development of a new approach to the study of Russian autobiographical accounts by considering them in terms of the general social and cultural changes in Europe in the 18-19th centuries. In realizing this goal it is intended: to apply to the study of Russian autobiographical texts an interdisciplinary approach, considering them not as literary phenomena about historical events, but as results of individual activity carried out in concrete social and cultural contexts; to analyze texts of an autobiographical character and the circumstances of their appearance and spread en masse in order to acquire the possibility of defining their typology and thus better understand their place in Russian culture in the 18-19th centuries; to consider Russian testimony about the self in a European perspective, i.e. in parallel with French, German and British etc. autobiographical texts and in tandem with the most important cultural transformations that were taking place at the time (the growth of literacy, print production and foreign language acquisition etc.)
Methodology: The project’s methodology revolves around the approach put forward by the study group Self-Narratives in Transcultural Perspective at the Free University of Berlin. Despite the widely held view that autobiographical testimony is exclusively a Western phenomenon closely tied to the idea of individual that emerged in the modern period, colleagues in Germany suggest that scholars focus their attention on the writing subject, the person acting in a given context made up of concrete social and cultural relations.
Seminar: One of the major directions of the work of the group is a continuously acting seminar. Its main task is to bring together scholars interested in the interdisciplinary study of the phenomenon of autobiography, thereby preparing the ground for the creation of a continuously working research network. This year the main topic of the seminar is “Russian accounts of the self in the 18-19th centuries in a European context.” However, it is expected that this field of interest will be expanded by running seminars on other related questions and will include general theoretical questions that arise in studying autobiographical texts. Members of the group will present papers on the progress of their current work once a month, and on top of these seminars leading Russian and international specialists will be invited to speak once a month. The holding of joint seminars with the German Historical Institute in Moscow is also in the pipeline. Speakers in recent years and in the coming months include scholars from the Institute of Russian history at the Russian Academy of Sciences (hereafter RAS), the Institute of universal history RAS, the Institute of world literature RAS, MSU, RSHU, Voronezh University, Berlin Free University, the University of Padua, the University of Amsterdam, and the universities of Glasgow, Oxford and Cambridge in the UK.
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