Date: Tuesday, October 29, 2013
Time: 4:00 PM
Place: Procrastinator Theater, Strand Union Building

Title: History and Biography, The Case for Life and Times Writing

Sponsoring department: History & Philosophy


Since its invention by the Greeks over 2,000 years ago, biography has a natural, almost automatic audience. Besides a ready readership, biography has attracted writers for many of the same reasons folks like the form. Scholars have much more mixed responses. If literary critics love biography, academic historians more often than not spurn the biographical understanding of history. Journalists and professional writers fill the gap. The memoir and autobiography complicate the dilemma further. This tension between history and life writing, broadly defined, has existed since Plutarch or even Thucydides; it implies contrasting objects of two different forms of analysis, but it also suggests conflicting notions about human agency and of the individual versus society. Contemporary culture, especially academic bias, has exaggerated the breech. This presentation offers an understanding of the problems involved in this conflict and offers some understanding of resolution through an examination of particular lives and works that the author has explored, including the novelist Margaret Mitchell, the entertainer Liberace, and the Civil War general, William Tecumseh Sherman.

About the speaker:

Darden Pyron has taught history at Florida International Univesity since the mid 1970s. He teaches a variety of history courses, ranging from The Civil War and Reconstruction to Greek History, from American Cultural History to The History of Hellenism. He is the author of three books, including Liberace: An American Boy (University of Chicago Press, 2000), Southern Daughter: The Life of Margaret Mitchell (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991) and Recasting: “Gone with the Wind” in American Culture (Gainesville: University of Florida Presses, 1983).