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Biography is an enduring popular genre of writing, not least perhaps because of its malleability. It encompasses everything from works of creative literature, morality tales, largely unadorned records of public life gleaned from official records, fantasy writing in the wilder reaches of autobiography, and, with the development of the ‘biography of things’, accounts of how objects have journeyed through time, with their ownership and use changing en route. Within geography (broadly defined), biography has had a distinctive role in that it is much done, but often not by geographers: biographies of explorers and travellers are enduringly popular but rarely written by geographers, while, when geographical are included in biographical collections such as national biographical dictionaries, their biographers and editors are rarely geographers. Meanwhile geographical institutions and publications have proved rather ambivalent about memorialising their own in words and images—unlike their peers in other disciplines. This talk examines what part biography and its cognate practice, portraiture, have played and could play in geography, and particularly in recording and enriching the history of geography. It discusses whether there is a distinctively geographical way of writing biography, the nature of geographical portraiture, and whether geographical biography necessarily includes some normative aspects that reveal diverse views on what geography should be.

Elizabeth Baigent is Reader in the History of Geography at Oxford and Associate Fellow at the Bodleian Library's Centre for the History of the Book. She has been writing biography and writing about biography for many years, notably as Research Director of the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography and co-editor of Geographers: Biobibliographical Studies.


Please note that registration for this seminar will close 24 hours in advance so that the meeting link can be distributed to registered attendees.


All welcome- this seminar is free to attend, but booking is required.