The idea of a life, 1500-1700 (6/17/2016) UK

Friday 17 June 2016, Centre for Early Modern Studies at Oxford University

MBI Al Jaber Auditorium, Corpus Christi College


‘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.


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


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.