The Idea of a Life, 1500-1700 – Call For Papers

The Idea of a Life, 1500-1700
Centre for Early Modern Studies at Oxford University
MBI Al Jaber Auditorium, Corpus Christi College
Friday 17 June, 2016

‘I pray you, in your letters,
When you shall these unlucky deeds relate,
Speak of me as I am’
Othello, Act 5, Scene 2

What was a life in early modern England and Europe? What patterns and templates were used to sort, sift, organise and represent experience? How were models for a life produced and reworked? How was a life evaluated, in terms of various sorts of good — moral, spiritual, civic, familial, economic? What were the moments, and what were the processes, by which a representation of a life was circulated? Are Burckhardtian models of the birth of Renaissance individuality and depth still useful to describe early modern culture, or do we need new paradigms? If much recent early modern work has been organised around ideas of networks, coteries and communities, how has the idea of a life been revised?

If autobiography is often seen as a nineteenth-century form, what kind of pre-history does it experience in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries? How has the turn to the archive reformed our sense of early modern lives? For scholars today, what is the status of biography as a way of organising analysis of the period?

The Centre for Early Modern Studies at Oxford University invites proposals for 20-minute papers on topics that engage with the idea of a life, 1500-1700, from any disciplinary perspective. Papers are welcome on English or European materials, and from all disciplinary perspectives.

Papers might include (but are not limited to) topics such as:

  • Life and the archive: inclusions, exclusions, mediations
  • Memorialization: modes of remembering a life
  • Recording lives: note-taking, diary keeping, commonplace books, information management
  • Classical models of a life
  • Saints lives and martyrologies
  • Public and private lives: honour, service, love, family
  • Typology and reiterated lives
  • Interiority and inwardness
  • Experimental predestinarianism, and the search for signs of grace
  • Conduct books
  • Fulfilment, contentment, happiness
  • Posthumous lives, reputation, honour, influence
  • Forms of autobiography and experiments in life-writing
  • Lives of artists
  • Exemplary lives
  • The good life
  • The role of biography in early modern studies
  • Editing lives and letters
  • The stages of life: youth and age.

Please send a 300-word proposal and a brief (one-page) CV to Dr Adam Smyth
( by 25 April, 2016.