CfP: Writing and Reading Russian Biography in the 19th and 20th Centuries
14-16 March 2014, University College, University of Oxford

The significance of biography Russian culture of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries is enormous yet it remains surprisingly little examined. Biography played an important role in Soviet propaganda and in the formation of intelligentsia and dissident identities and networks throughout the modern period. It has also been one of the few enduringly successful and profitable genres in Russian publishing, with the ‘Lives of Remarkable People’ series, now in its eighth decade, just one indication of the continuing enthusiasm for biographies.

The production and consumption of biography in any culture implicates a wide range of ontological, epistemological and narratological questions (the balance of fact and imagination; the relationship between private and public lives; the nature of the self and subjectivity). In the last two centuries, such concepts of the self and of public and private, and institutions of literature and publishing have undergone unusually dramatic and frequent changes in Russia and the Soviet Union and these have been reflected—indeed, concentrated—in biographical practice. However, in most studies of Russian literature and history, biography itself has remained implicit or secondary, to be called upon in support of arguments rather than the subject of analysis in its own right. Moreover, in ostensibly international studies of biography, the Russian tradition is often omitted, or assumed to have developed along a distinct trajectory from the West, by retaining earlier ‘hagiographic’ models of biography, for example. This conference will take an explicitly comparative and broadly historical approach across two centuries, in order to identify what is distinctive about modern Russian biography, and why, while comparing Russian practices with other cultures.

We invite 300-word paper proposals on the following themes in 19th and 20th century biography, though other approaches are also welcome:

Poetics: fact vs. fiction/imagination; characterisation, ‘psychological prose’
Genres and texts: sketches; dokumental’nye povesti; biographical novels; memoirs; biographical series (The Lives of Remarkable People; Fiery Revolutionaries)
Biographical subjects: autobiography; literary biography; political biography; prosopography
Biographers: historians; literary writers; professional biographers
Readers: reading practices; reader response; critical reception; the market for biography
The uses of biography: propaganda; commemoration; nation and community building
Biography and subjectivity: public vs. private selves; exemplary/heroic lives

Please email paper proposals and 1-page CV (with ‘biography conference’ as the subject line) to by 15 September 2013.

Decisions on paper proposals will be notified by 15 October 2013. Full papers should be pre-submitted to a password-protected conference website by mid-February 2014. An edited volume or journal special issue featuring selected contributions is planned after the conference. Depending on the outcome of further funding applications, there may be a small amount of funding for international applicants’ travel, but this cannot be guaranteed at this stage, so we urge you to investigate other funding to enable you to attend.

Conference organiser: Polly Jones, University College, University of Oxford.
Conference funding provided by: John Fell Fund, University of Oxford; Overbrook research fund, University College Oxford.
Conference co-sponsored by: the Oxford Centre for Life Writing (OCLW).
Date: 2013-08-27