What is Life-Writing?

Life-writing involves, and goes beyond, biography. It encompasses everything from the complete life to the day-in-the-life, from the fictional to the factional.

It embraces the lives of objects and institutions as well as the lives of individuals, families and groups.

Life-writing includes autobiography, memoirs, letters, diaries, journals (written and documentary), anthropological data, oral testimony, and eye-witness accounts. It is not only a literary or historical specialism, but is relevant across the arts and sciences, and can involve philosophers, psychologists, sociologists, ethnographers and anthropologists.

Wolfson College provides a natural home for OCLW. The college prides itself on an interdiscplinary approach to research, whilst drawing on equally strong research traditions in humanities and science.

Recent areas of interest in life-writing studies include the relation of biography to scientific discovery. Life-writing is also an integral part of studies relating to the Holocaust, genocide, testimony and confession, and gender and apartheid. The Oxford Centre for Life-Writing also has an interest in 'the lives of objects’ and the relation of those objects to human lives. This subject, and the methodological questions that it raises, was the focus of OCLW’s inaugural conference in 2013.

In the future, the Centre will turn its attentions to a series of events (outside of the conference) dedicated to exploring the lives of objects; the relationship between (auto)biography and portraiture; and a number of writing workshops.

Watch this space for details of talks, workshops and conferences in these areas.

Now tell us your viewshow would you define life-writing? Which recent trends in the discipline particularly fascinate you? What would you like to see taking place in a Life-Writing Centre? In the near future, you will be able to participate in discussions regarding life-writing on our blog.