A history from within: When historians write about their own kin

Tuesday, October 01, 2019 at 5:00pm to 6:30pm

14E-304 160 Memorial Drive, Cambridge, MA 02139

Speaker: Stéphane Gerson, Director, Institute of French Studies, New York University

Over the past decade, a growing number of historians have made their relatives their object of study, notably in France. Within a discipline that tends to privilege distance. this represents a significant shift in terms of topic, epistemological stance, and rhetoric.

Stéphane Gerson will historicize and analyze a mode of writing — the personal family history —that draws readers close to the complexities and contradictions of the social world, without any hope for full elucidation but without resignation either. It does so through its scale and internal perspective (a history from within); through an embodied, self-reflexive stance that blends reason and history with emotions and memory — and accepts the first person; through an open-ended relationship to what we can and cannot know; and through modes of writing that marry literary genres and target readers within and outside academia. The genre also raises unresolved questions about shame and family secrets, ethics, the politics of family history, and the ethnography of family archives.


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