Here you can access details of events that have already taken place at OCLW. We have uploaded podcasts, photographs and reports for some events. You can also access a list of our podcasts here.
Academic Year 2016-2017
Trinity Term 2017 at Wolfson College
26 April from 2pm
Baritone Roderick Williams: masterclass, interview and recital.
2 May 5:00 – 7pm LWA
Nicoletta Demetriou: Cypriot Fiddlers film screening
The Cypriot Fiddler is an attempt to trace the life stories of a dying class of traditional musicians on both sides of the Cypriot divide. The Cypriot Fiddler documentary, released in 2016, was entirely funded by members of the public through an online crowd-sourcing campaign.
9 May 5:30 – 7pm
Richard Holmes: Pursuer or Pursued: Reflections on Biography
The lecture is given in memory of Professor Richard Ellmann, Fellow of Wolfson College from 1984-1987, to mark the thirtieth anniversary of his death and of the publication of his biography of Oscar Wilde.
12-13 May all day
Global Lives and Local Perspectives: New Approaches to Tibetan Life-writing
This two-day event is free of charge and lunch will be provided, but places are limited and registration essential. To register, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
15 May 6:00pm
Simon Armitage and Bernard O’Donoghue: Poems of Life and Death – a reading
23 May 1:00 – 2pm
Life Writing Lunch: Faith Biographies
Professors Heather Walton & Peter Ackers discuss writing biographies of faith. Register online here. A buffet sandwich lunch will be provided.
27 May 10:00 – 5:30pm
Lives of Houses colloquium
A day of papers and panel discussions looking at the ways in which a well-known individual’s life is presented and preserved through the architecture and material culture of their home. Registration essential! Click here to reserve your place.
30 May 5:30 – 7pm
Film director Clio Barnard: A discussion and screening of her film The Selfish Giant
The Selfish Giant is a 2013 British drama film inspired by the Oscar Wilde story. It won the Europa Cinemas award at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival and Best Film at the 24th Stockholm International Film Festival. It was nominated for the 2014 Bafta.
6 June 5:30 – 7pm
Mark Lawson on interviews, with Hermione Lee
A ‘meta interview’: critic and biographer Professor Dame Hermione Lee and arts journalist and broadcaster Mark Lawson about the art and method of the interview.
8 July 9:00 – 6:30pm
Dancing Lives conference
How do people write about the lives of dancers and choreographers? How does dance as a silent form represent life stories? A combination of practical demonstration, film, biographers, practitioners, discussion and speakers. The day includes coffees, wine and lunch. Speakers including Dame Monica Mason. (£20 / £10 unwaged)
Hilary Term 2017
Tuesday 17 January, 5:30-7pm, Leonard Wolfson Auditorium
The Celebrity Interview: History, Aesthetics, Method
WEINREBE LECTURE SERIES: ‘Writing World Lives’ 1
Tuesday 24 January, 5:30-7pm, LWA
Patrick French: ‘How to Write a World Life’
WEINREBE LECTURE SERIES ‘Writing World Lives’ 2
Tuesday 31 January, 5:30-7pm, LWA
Elleke Boehmer: ‘Nelson Mandela: A World Life’
WEINREBE LECTURE SERIES ‘Writing World Lives’ 3
Tuesday 7 February, 5:30-7pm, LWA
Roy Foster: ‘‘Doors into the Dark’: Seamus Heaney and his Worlds’
WEINREBE LECTURE SERIES ‘Writing World Lives’ 4
Tuesday 21 February, 5:30-7pm, LWA
Lyndal Roper: ‘Martin Luther, Difficult Hero’
Saturday 25 February, 2-6pm, LWA
Self/knowledge: Autobiography and Research
How can you research yourself; and how does the self affect research? Drawing on multiple perspectives from across the humanities and social sciences, from medieval romance to stand-up comedy, speakers will explore the relationship between autobiography and academic research.
Thursday 9 March, 5:30-7pm, LWA
ODNB Discussion panel: Beyond the Book
Donald MacLeod, presenter Composer of the Week BBC Radio 3
Rachel Cooke, author ‘Her Brilliant Career: Ten Extraordinary Women of the 1950s’
Susan Walker, Archaeologist, Wolfson College.
Michaelmas Term 2016
Friday 14 October, 5:30pm Florey Room
Michèle Roberts and Caroline Isgar
The Secret Staircase: talk to launch an exhibition of artefacts from the Foundling Museum
Tuesday 25 October, 5:30-7pm Haldane Room
The Truth in Fiction
Saturday 5 November, all day, Leonard Wolfson Auditorium (LWA)
Colloquium: Biography Beyond Borders: American and European biography
Organized by Biographers International Organisation
Registration and further details: www.regonline.com/Register/Checkin.aspx?EventId=1848873
Tuesday 8 November, 1-2pm Haldane Room
Life-writing lunch: Sally Bayley
The Private Life of the Diary
Register via www.oxforduniversitystores.co.uk (browse ‘Products’ for ‘Oxford Centre for Life-Writing’). A buffet sandwich lunch will be provided.
Further details: The Private Life of the Diary
Tuesday 8 November, 5:30-7pm, LWA
The Chief: Douglas Haig and the British Army
Saturday 19 November, 9-5pm, LWA
Colloquium: Celebiography: Celebrity and Life-Writing in Dialogue
Register via: www.oxforduniversitystores.co.uk
Tuesday 29 November, 5:30-7pm, LWA
ODNB Discussion panel: Constructing Lives (including biographer Alexander Masters)
Trinity Term 2016
Tuesday 26 April, 1-2pm, Haldane Room, Wolfson College
Life-Writing Lunch – Karen Lamb talks about her biography of Astley, one of Australia’s most complex and fascinating writers.
Tuesday 3 May, 5:30-7pm, LWA (Leonard Wolfson Auditorium)
Panel discussion: Life-Writing and the Digital Humanities. Chair: David Robey, panellists: Max Saunders, Lorna Hughes, Robin Dunbar. This event is in collaboration with TORCH.
Monday 9 May, 11-5 pm, LWA
Tuesday 10 May, 5.30-7pm, LWA
Ruth Scurr: ‘John Aubrey: My Own Life, Thoughts on Biographical Innovation’ -Ruth talks about her innovative biography of the C17th literary pioneer, written in his own voice.
Monday 16 May, 5:30-7pm, LWA
Workshop: Simon Armitage ‘Should I Stay Or Should I Go? – Travel Writing and Memoir, a reading and discussion’
Tuesday 24 May, 5.30-7pm, Haldane Room
Rachel Cooke: ‘Her Brilliant Career: Putting Women Back in the Picture’
13 – 14 June, all day, LWA
Conference: Literary Journalism and Latin-American Wars: ‘Revolutions, Retributions, Resignation.
Tuesday 21 June, all day, Bodleian Library / Wolfson College
Joint TORCH / OCLW Conference: ‘Speaking in Absence: Letters in the Digital Age’ For more information see the Digital Epistolary Network website.
Academic Year 2013-2014
19 May (Week 4), 5.30-7pm, Haldane Room, Wolfson College:
Seminar: ‘Writing Family Memoir’ with Lyndall Gordon. This year’s Wolfson Public Lecture Series, themed around South Asian writing, articulated a clear interest in family memoir. This OCLW seminar featured the biographer Lyndall Gordon (biographer of Emily Dickinson, Mary Wollstonecraft, Henry James, T.S. Eliot and Virginia Woolf) who discussed family memoir and her latest book, Divided Lives: Dreams of a Mother and Daughter.
3 June (Week 6), 5.30-8pm, Leonard Wolfson Auditorium, Wolfson College:
Lecture: Hermione Lee on Penelope Fitzgerald: A Life. OCLW’s director Hermione Lee read from her recent acclaimed biography of the novelist Penelope Fitzgerald. This special event was followed by a celebratory drinks reception in the Haldane Room, Wolfson College.
13 June (Week 7), 2-6pm, Leonard Wolfson Auditorium, Wolfson College:
Workshop: ‘Coetzee’s Lives’. Featuring David Attwell, Professor of Modern Literature at the University of York, this afternoon workshop built on themes raised by the preceding day’s reading by the acclaimed author J.M. Coetzee. Convened by Elleke Boehmer; Please direct queries to email@example.com
17 June (Week 8), 1-2pm, Haldane Room, Wolfson College:
Life-Writing Lunch Seminar: Mark Thompson spoke about his biography of the Serbian and Yugoslavian novelist Danilo Kis, Birth Certificate: The Story of Danilo Kis, and the question, ‘how do you write a literary biography?’ The Life-Writing Lunch is a termly seminar series, in which auto/biographers discuss their work in an informal, friendly setting over a sandwich lunch.
2 July (Week 10), 9-6pm, Radcliffe Humanities Building, Oxford:
Conference: Procrastination – Cultural Explorations. Winners of the OCLW-TORCH Postgraduate Conference Award, Danielle Yardy and Elizabeth Chatterjee convened a one-day conference exploring the phenomenon of procrastination, and the fraught moral and political claims it provokes. For more information, please see http://procrastinationoxford.org, follow the conference on Twitter (@ProcrastinOx), or email the convenors at ProcrastinationOx@gmail.com
Hosted Events at OCLW
8 May (Week 2), 10-6pm, Leonard Wolfson Auditorium, Wolfson College:
Conference: ‘Genius for Sale! Artistic Production and Economic Context in the Long Nineteenth Century’. This one-day conference brought together scholars from a number of disciplines to examine the relationship between creative output and economic forces in the long nineteenth century, a period that saw a radical transformation in the economic circumstances facing artists. It featured scholars who have produced detailed qualitative studies of the impact of economic context on artistic production and those who have turned to quantitative methods to study cultural output. Speakers included economists, historians, economic historians, art historians, and modern linguists who work on different kinds of cultural production (art, music and literature) in diverse geographic settings. Convenors: Jonathan Paine and Diana Greenwald. Please see www.artsandecon.com for more information, or email firstname.lastname@example.org
The Weinrebe Lectures in Life-Writing: ‘Voicing the Self’
Tuesday 4 February (Week 3), 5.30pm, Leonard Wolfson Auditorium, Wolfson College:
Blake Morrison, ‘“The Worst Thing I Ever Did”: Confession and the Contemporary Memoir’
Thursday 13 February (Week 4), 5.30pm, Leonard Wolfson Auditorium, Wolfson College:
Edward St Aubyn in conversation with Hermione Lee
Tuesday 18 February (Week 5), 5.30pm, Leonard Wolfson Auditorium, Wolfson College:
Richard Holmes, ‘The Biographer’s Other I’
Tuesday 25 February (Week 6), 5.30pm, Leonard Wolfson Auditorium, Wolfson College:
Marina Warner, ‘Hearing Voices, Travelling Back’
Tuesday 28 January (Week 2), 5-7pm, Leonard Wolfson Auditorium, Wolfson College:
‘An OCLW Workshop on Literary Letters’: A workshop on literary letters from the 18th century to the present day. Papers explored aspects of genre, reciprocity, self- presentation and the material culture of letters, and considered individual letter-writers such as Samuel Johnson, Keats, Coleridge, Godwin, Wollstonecraft, Yeats, and Isaiah Berlin. Convened by Professor Pamela Clemit. Speakers included: John Barnard, Pamela Clemit, Grace Egan, Daniel Hitchens, Priyasha Mukhopadhyay, Mark Pottle, Henriette van der Blom, Maria Rita Drumond Viana. For information, please contact email@example.com
Wednesday 19 February (Week 5), 5.30-7pm, Haldane Room, Wolfson College:
‘Work-in-Progress Seminar’: OCLW’s Visiting Scholar, Dr Tracey Potts (Nottingham), and Visiting Doctoral Students, Jeffrey Gutierrez (Brown), Sophie Scott-Brown (ANU) and Maria Rita Drummond Viana (Sao Paolo) discussed the research they have conducted whilst in residence at OCLW.
Tuesday 4 March (Week 7), 5.30-7pm, Leonard Wolfson Auditorium, Wolfson College:
Lecture: Tom Couser (Hofstra), ‘The Work of Memoir; or, Why Memoir Matters’. This lecture was followed by a drinks reception in the LWA foyer.
Thursday 6 March (Week 7), 5.30-7pm, Leonard Wolfson Auditorium, Wolfson College:
Lecture: Paul Strohm (Columbia), ‘Was there Life-Writing in the Middle Ages?’
Tuesday 11 March (Week 8), 1-2pm, Haldane Room,
Life-Writing Lunch Seminar: ‘Unrolling the tapestry – weaving inter-related lives in books and exhibitions’. James Hamilton discussed his path to writing about the life of J. M. W. Turner.
Hosted Events at OCLW
20-22 March 2014, Isaiah Berlin’s Enlightenment: a two-day interdisciplinary conference was held at OCLW to examine Isaiah Berlin’s view of the Enlightenment and the presence of the Enlightenment in his work. For information, please contact Professor Ritchie Robertson, firstname.lastname@example.org
15-16 April 2014, The Sixteenth Oxford Dance Symposium: The Dancer in Celebrity Culture in the Long Eighteenth Century: Reputations, Images, Portraits. Building on the success of the 2009 symposium, ‘Dance and Image’, the 16th Oxford Dance Symposium, in association with the Oxford centre for Life-Writing at Wolfson College, explored dancer celebrity in all its forms. There was a particular focus on dancers’ portraits, and also on the wider issues of patronage, practice and philosophy of dance during the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. For more information, please visit http://www.wolfson.ox.ac.uk/clusters/life-writing/events/dance
4 October 2013: ‘Navigating Networks: Women, Travel, and Female Communities’: a one-day conference at Wolfson College, convened by Hannah Sikstrom of the Travel Cultures Seminar. Please contact email@example.com or see http://travelcultures.weebly.com
22 Oct 2013, 5.30-7pm: Kathryn Hughes, ‘George Eliot’s Milk Churn’. Leonard Wolfson Auditorium, Wolfson College, Oxford.
24 Oct 2013, 5.30-7pm: Hermione Lee and Ray Monk (Southampton; author of Robert Oppenheimer: Inside the Centre) in conversation. Leonard Wolfson Auditorium, Wolfson College, Oxford.
29 Oct 2013, 5-7pm: ‘From Life-Writing to Death Notices: Obituary, Portraiture and Commemoration’. Seminar convened by Professor David Zeitlyn (Oxford), featuring Neil George (Producer of BBC Radio 4’s Last Word), Martin Rowson (cartoonist and writer), Laurence Goldman (editor of DNB), Shearer West (Professor of History of Art, Oxford), Harry de Quetteville (obituary editor, Daily Telegraph). Haldane Room, Wolfson College, Oxford. For more information, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org .
13 Nov 2013, 5.30-7pm: ‘War Veterans: Memory and Storytelling’. Seminar convened by Kate McLoughlin (Birkbeck) and Celeste-Marie Bernier (Nottingham). Leonard Wolfson Auditorium, Wolfson College, Oxford. For more information, please contact email@example.com.
19 Nov 2013, 5.30-7pm: lecture by David Amigoni (Keele): ‘Writing lives, inscribing familial distinction: inheritance, science and culture in life writings by the Darwins, the Huxleys, and the Batesons’. Leonard Wolfson Auditorium, Wolfson College, Oxford.
29 November 2013: ‘Intimate Archives: Photography and Life-Writing’: a one-day conference at Wolfson College, convened by Lee-Von Kim (Oxford) and Christine Fouirnaies (Oxford). For more information, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
3 Dec 2013, 1-2pm: life-writing lunch with Marcus Ferrar. OCLW’s termly life-writing lunchtime seminar: Haldane Room, Wolfson College.
Academic Year 2012-2013
Tuesday 7 May, 5.30-7pm (Haldane Room): OCLW hosted a seminar on ‘Cognitive Archaeology: Life-Writing and Alzheimer’s’, with Dr Peter Garrard and Dr Samrah Ahmed. The earliest stages of cognitive decline dementia are difficult to pinpoint, yet early detection is of significant importance to understanding Alzheimer’s disease and initiating suitable treatment. A number of authors have used retrospective analysis to describe preclinical linguistic decline in written texts and spoken language samples. This talk reviewed the methods available for classifying and comparing such samples, and presented some analyses of historical texts derived from verbatim records of preclinical spoken activity, for example in the writings of celebrated English novelist and philosopher Iris Murdoch (1922e1999), who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 1997.
Friday 3 May, 9.30am-5.30pm (Haldane Room): Workshop: ‘Narrating a Life: Memoir and Autobiography’. £80/£55.
This full-day immersion in the practice of memoir and autobiography took place in the beautiful surroundings of Wolfson College, Oxford, and was led by some of the leading practitioners in modern life-writing, including the poet, autobiographer and critic Carmen Bugan, OCLW’s director Hermione Lee, OCLW’s associate director Elleke Boehmer and OCLW’s research fellow Rachel Hewitt. Participants enjoyed talks and lectures by prestigious guest speakers, practical workshops and group activities, discussing their work with leading life-writers, and the opportunity to meet and befriend contemporaries who are working on the act of narrating their own lives, all in convivial surroundings.
Monday 22 April 2013, 5.30-7pm (Haldane Room): OCLW hosted a seminar, ”Write me down, make me real’ – The modern state and how our lives are written.’ The seminar featured the following papers:
Eddy Higgs (Essex): ‘British state bureaucracy and the official biography of the citizen’
Jane Caplan (Bryn Mawr and Birkbeck): ‘”Our souls were in our names”. How the state rewrites identity.’
Gayle Lonergan (Oxford): ‘The census in Bulgaria: Official statistics as narratives of the state’
A report and podcast of the event will be posted shortly.
Saturday 9 March 2013 (Week 8): OCLW was excited to be organising a one-day symposium to mark the centenary of Leonard Woolf’s path-breaking novel, The Village in the Jungle. Please visit the symposium webpages for more information. Podcasts coming soon…
Tuesday 5 March 2013 (Week 8): This term’s Life-Writing Lunch seminar was given by Dr Selina Todd (St Hilda’s, Oxford), who delivered a talk entitled ‘The People: A Life History of the British Working Class’. In this presentation Selina discussed her experience of writing a history of the British working class in the 20th century through the use of personal testimonies. These include oral history interviews, archived social survey interviews and published and unpublished autobiographies. Class is both a personal identity and a political relationship in modern Britain, and writing about it in the way Selina choses to do has some benefits, but also some potential pitfalls, on which she reflected. In discussing this, she touched on the ways that both generation and gender shape life history narratives, and also about the ways that the stories she heard have contradicted some of the more politicised metanarratives of the 20th century current in politics today (primarily about the consequences of the 1944 Education Act). Selina also discussed the role of the researcher in such a project, both in crafting the stories themselves, and in her relationship with publishers – who often want more autobiographical writing than a historian is prepared to give….
Thursday 28 February 2013 (Week 7): ‘Life-Writing Across Borders’. This seminar, organised by Professors Michael Sheringham and Laura Marcus in conjunction with the European Humanities Research Centre), explored current issues in comparative auto/biography.
LIFE-WRITING ACROSS BORDERS
Conveners: Prof Laura Marcus and Prof Michael Sheringham
Dr Lee-Von Kim (New College), ‘Visible Lives’
Dr Ian Maclachlan (Merton) ‘Traces of a life, between poem and fragment: Louis-René des Forêts’s autobiographical writings’.
Professor Laura Marcus (New College) ‘Biographical Fictions’
Dr Ben Morgan (Worcester) ‘Life writing and human interaction: Kafka reads Kierkegaard’
Michael Sheringham (All Souls) ‘Archival Lives: Foucault and Film’
OCLW is delighted to announce that we are organising a series of practical workshops designed to assist and support auto/biographers. The first of this series, ‘Shaping the Sources’, took place on Tuesday 26 February (Week 7), from 7.30pm-9.30pm, in the Haldane Room at Wolfson College. This was led by OCLW’s director, Professor Hermione Lee, and OCLW’s Advisory Committee member Dr Julie Curtis. The workshop provided practical guidance regarding the location, management and shaping of source materials (archival and otherwise). For information about forthcoming workshops, click here.
Over five weeks between 22 January and 19 February 2013, OCLW hosted its annual series of Weinrebe Lectures on the subject of ‘Life-Writing and Portraiture’.
Tuesday 22 January 2013 (Week 2): Martin Gayford (art critic; author of A Bigger Message: Conversations with David Hockney and Man With a Blue Scarf: On Sitting for a Portrait by Lucian Freud) spoke about having a portrait painted by Lucian Freud. (5.30pm, Haldane Room, Wolfson College). Please click here to access a podcast of this lecture.
Tuesday 29 January 2013 (Week 3): Paula Byrne (biographer; author of Perdita: The Life of Mary Robinson and Mad World: Evelyn Waugh and the Secrets of Brideshead) delivered a lecture entitled ‘The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things’, and launched her new biography of Jane Austen, The Real Jane Austen, at OCLW. (5.30pm, Hall, Wolfson College). Please click here to access a podcast of this lecture.
Tuesday 5 February 2013 (Week 4): Ludmilla Jordanova (historian; author of Defining Features: Scientific and Medical Portraits: 1660-2000 and The Look of the Past: Visual and Material Evidence in Historical Practice) delivered a lecture entitled ‘Traces of Life’. (5.30pm, Haldane Room, Wolfson College)
Tuesday 12 February 2013 (Week 5): Stella Tillyard (historian; author of Aristocrats: Caroline, Emily, Louisa and Sarah Lennox, 1740-1832 and Tides of War: A Novel of the Peninsula War) delivered a lecture entitled ‘”Bright Metal on a Sullen Ground”: The Idea of True Character in English Writing and Portraiture’. (5.30pm, Hall, Wolfson College). Please click here to access a podcast of this event.
Tuesday 19 February 2013 (Week 6): the 2013 Weinrebe series of Lectures in Life-Writing closed with a seminar and round-table discussion. Professors David Bradshaw, Elleke Boehmer and Laura Marcus, and OCLW’s life-writing scholars Christine Fournaies, Nicoletta Demetriou, Grace Egan and Oli Hazzard discussed the intersection of their own research into life-writing with themes and ideas about portraiture that were brought to light by the Weinrebe Lecture series. (5.30pm, Haldane Room, Wolfson College).
On Tuesday 27 November 2012 (Week 8), Dr Oliver Herford (Lincoln College, Oxford) gave the Life-Writing Lunch seminar. Oliver gave us an insight into his next research project: a study of the circulation and publication of the letters of nineteenth-century poets and novelists, especially Henry James and John Keats. In a careful, detailed and considered talk, Oliver isolated three episodes of writers’ epistolary comments being seized upon by critics, and drew our attention to the dangers and pitfalls for auto/biographers of according such comments undue or inappropriate significance.
On Wednesday 21 November 2012 (Week 7), renowned psychologist, literary critic and essayist Adam Phillips delivered a lecture on his work on ‘Freud’s Impossible Life’. Phillips’ lecture began by providing an empirical outline of Freud’s life, from birth to death, replete with date-related facts regarding various landmarks in the psychoanalyst’s life. But Phillips then went on to question the certainty and value of such facts, and to trouble the practise of auto/biography by casting doubt upon its task of representing the past. For Freud, biography was the “worst sort of fiction”; biographers were “the enemy”, and life-stories were attempts to mis-lead their readers. If – as psychoanalysis suggests – the past is something that we continuously re-write in order to craft a future for ourselves, then that past is always unstable, and the biographer’s aspiration to set in stone a particular view of that past is, at best, highly flawed. In a careful, considered, emotionally poignant talk, Adam Phillips showed how Freud’s misgivings about biography reveal important ideas about his conception of the function of psychoanalysis.
9 November 2012: ‘The 5th Biannual WAR-Net Conference: War and Life-Writing’
This MHRA-sponsored one-day interdisciplinary conference was organised jointly by the War and Representation Network (WAR-Net) and the Oxford Centre for Life-Writing. Researchers from the fields of literature, theatre, history, art history, graphic arts, film, anthropology, psychology, cultural studies, gender studies, media studies, museum studies, and others assembled to discuss the ways in which the experience of war (on both home and battle front, and of any period) is represented in the life writing genres. ‘Writing’ was understood in its broadest sense, to cover not only letters, diaries, memoirs, biography, autobiography and fiction, but also oral testimony, film, portraiture, personal collections and digital media. Please click here to download the provisional conference schedule.
25 October 2012
The term got off to a wonderful start, with a stimulating and personal lecture entitled ‘Containing Multitudes: Writing About Pevsner‘, by Susie Harries, on the task of writing a biography of the architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner, best known for his 46-volume series of county-by-county guides, The Buildings of England.
28-29 September 2012
“Beyond Biography: New Perspectives on Tibetan Life-Writing” was the first larger collaboration between the Tibetan and Himalayan Studies Research Cluster and the Oxford Centre for Life-Writing. Tibet has an unusually rich tradition of biographical writing, the larger part of which is still waiting to be explored. The aim of the conference was to view Tibetan biographies and auto¬biographies within the broader context of life-writing across the world and to explore new avenues of interpretation and understanding, addressing for instance literary theory, cross-cultural perspectives, art history, and the pragmatics of (re-)enactment of life-stories.
The conference was opened by Hermione Lee and began with a lively dialogue on auto-biography by Elleke Boehmer and Laura Marcus who addressed some of the burning questions that are specific to Tibetan and Buddhist life-writing: How does the belief in reincarnation affect the way a life is viewed and told? How is an individual life story presented in a culture whose predominant philosophy deconstructs the notion of a “self”? The other conference papers focused on Tibetan material, complemented by a paper on the autobiographies of Buddhist masters from Thailand. They analysed the liteary features of Tibetan biographies (such as the interplay of prose and song), looked at different types of biographies (public and “secret” life stories), discussed Tibeto-Monglian interactions and the notion of bio-geography (the way life stories are embedded and re-enacted in their respective locations), and even forshadowed themes of the upcoming conference on “The Lives of Objects” (2013) by a case study of the “secret lives” of sacred objects in some villages of northern Nepal.
During the conference, participants were introduced to the “Treasury of Lives” internet resource and saw images from the photo collection of the late Michael Aris. Speakers and participants enjoyed the warm environment of Wolfson and Oxford, and the discussions continued long into the night in varying locations. The conference was a stimulating experience and led to the resolution not only to publish the conference papers, but also to plan similar follow-up conferences in the future.
Academic Year 2011-2012
Saturday 7 July, 2012. Wolfson College, Oxford.
Public Lecture: Jonathan Bate, Ted Hughes and Shakespeare’s Poems
On 7th July 2012, Professor Jonathan Bate, Provost of Worcester College, University of Oxford, gave a rich and exciting lecture on Ted Hughes and Shakespeare’s poems which was the final event in the conference Renaissance Poetic Form: New Directions organised by Elizabeth Scott-Baumann and Ben Burton. This presented some of Bate’s findings from the biography he is currently working on, Ted Hughes: The Inner Life. The lecture was a careful excavation of the thinking behind Hughes’s edition of A Choice of Shakespeare’s Verse and the relationship between this volume and The Goddess of Complete Being. Bate suggested provocatively that Hughes ‘refracted’ personal biography through reading Shakespeare to the point that we might speak of Shakespeare ‘reading’ Hughes rather than the other way around. While Hughes’s overarching theory of a common ‘structure of feeling’ in Shakespeare’s work ‘does violence to genre’, the lecture also called attention to perceptiveness of Hughes’s close reading as well as the ways in which his own theories anticipate in some ways the recent ‘turn to Religion’ and analyses of post-Reformation culture in Shakespeare scholarship.
Tuesday 12 June (Week 8)
The Buttery, Wolfson College
Dr Nicoletta Demetriou (Alistair Horne Fellow at St Antony’s College, Oxford) spoke about the ways in which biography can sometimes turn into autobiography, taking the lead from her work on Lawrence Durrell and Cyprus.
Thursday 14 June (Week 8)
The Florey Room, Wolfson College
Katharina Pink (Ludwig-Maximilians-University, Munich) delivered a paper entitled “Neither the Desert nor the Sown’: Gertrude Bell’s Traces in the No Man’s Land Between the Binaries of Representation”, and discussed a collaborative project on which she is currently working: “Encountering the Other: A Poetics of British Travel Writing”, led by Prof. Christoph Bode. DPhil English candidates Hannah Sikstrom (Brasenose) and Kimberly Marsh (St Cross) also presented papers on their research into travel literature, ahead of becoming convenors of the Travel Cultures from Michaelmas Term 2012.
Friday 8 June (Week 7)
The Haldane Room, Wolfson College
The poet and writer Carmen Bugan came to the OCLW for the book launch of her new memoir, Burying the Typewriter. The author was introduced by the poet and OCLW Advisory Committee member, Prof. Jon Stallworthy, and gave an insight into the making of the book, as well as a reading from the work.
Thursday 31 May (Week 6)
The Buttery, Wolfson College
Dr Terri Ochiagha (University of Alicante, and Senior Associate Member of St Anthony’s College, Oxford, for Trinity Term) delivered a seminar entitled “Using Memoirs of Colonial Education as a Source for Literary History: The Case of Government College Umuahia and the Emergence of First Generation Nigerian Writing”. The seminar was based on Dr. Ochiagha’s research for her monograph, In Unum Luceant: Government College, Umuahia and Nigeria’s First Generation Writers, which (to borrow from the account of the research provided by Dr Ochiaga) offers the first exhaustive analysis of the historical and ideological reasons behind the creation of the institution, its humanistic and literary ambience, and the ways in which specific texts, events and relationships have inscribed themselves into the lives and posterior work of Nigerian authors Chinua Achebe, Christopher Okigbo, Elechi Amadi, Chukwuemeka Ike, and Chike Momah, all of whom studied in the college between 1944-1952.
Tuesday 22 May 2012 (Week 5), The Ashmolean Museum
OCLW teamed up with the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, to offer members an exclusive ‘after-hours’ tour of the exhibition ‘The English Prize: The Capture of the Westmorland’, with a talk by exhibition curator Catherine Whistler, and a drinks reception. The museum opened specially to welcome OCLW’s members, offering a rare opportunity to enjoy the exhibition without the press of numbers.
1-15 May 2012. ‘Life-Writing and New Media’: A Series of Panel Discussions
The speakers at these events – leaders in their field – discussed the impact of social networks, email correspondence, and digital archives on the study and practice of life-writing in the twenty-first century.
5.30pm-7pm, Tuesday 1 May (Week 2): Life-Writing and New Media (incl. Twitter, Facebook and blogging). The Haldane Room, Wolfson College.
5.30pm-7pm, Tuesday 8 May (Week 3): Life-Writing, Correspondence and Technological Change. The Haldane Room, Wolfson College.
5.30pm-7pm, Tuesday 15 May (Week 4): Life-Writing, Archives and Digitisation. The Buttery, Wolfson College.
18-19 May 2012 (Week 4): Conference on ‘Religious Lives: Catholic Culture in the Early Modern World’
On 18 and 19 May 2012, St Edmund Hall, Oxford, hosted a conference exploring how the life-stories of Catholic men and women dominated the culture of early modern Catholicism. You can download some information about the conference here; for more information, please contact Victoria Van Hyning at the University of Sheffield. Please note that OCLW is not responsible for any aspect of the administration of this conference.
19-21 April 2012
The Oxford Centre for Life-Writing hosted a one-day conference organised by the European Network on the Theory and Practice of Biography, on 20-21 April 2012. The conference theme is ‘Life-Writing in Europe: Private Lives, Public Spheres and Biographical Interpretations.’
Please note that while this conference was hosted by OCLW, we are not responsible for its administration. Please contact Professor Roy Foster for any queries regarding the event.
Friday 20 April
9.30. Welcome Address: Hermione Lee. Director of the Oxford Centre for Life-Writing and President of Wolfson College.
10.00-11.00. Opening Lecture. Lucy Riall (Birkbeck College. University of London): “Warriors, Apostles and Martyrs: Biography and The Making of Modern Italy”.
11.00-11.30 Coffee Break
11.30-13.00 1st Session. Chair: Roy Foster (Hertford College. University of Oxford)
Santos Juliá (UNED-Madrid): “Biography vs Stereotypes: The case of Manuel Azaña”
Robert Gerwarth (University College. Dublin): “Cold Empathy: Challenges in writing a life of Reinhard Heydrich”.
14.00-15.30 2nd Session. Chair: Santos Juliá (UNED-Madrid)
Isabel Burdiel: “The Queen’s Two Bodies: Beyond private and public in the biography of Isabel II of Spain”. –
Javier Moreno (Universidad Complutense de Madrid): “The Crown and the Nation: Studying Alfonso XIII of Spain”.
15.30-16.00 Coffee Break
16.00-17.30 3rd Session. Chair: Giovanni Levi (University of Venice)
Maarit Leskelä-Karki (Institute for Advanced Studies. University of Turku, Finland): “Figures from the Shadow: On the Tradition of Women’s Biographical Writing in Finland”
Juan Pan-Montojo (Universidad Autónoma de Madrid): “The Spanish Basque Domingo Ordoñana: Progress, Civilization and Order in 19th Century Uruguay”
Saturday 21 April
9.30-11.00 4th Session. Chair: Mónica Bolufer (University of Valencia)
Birgitte Possing (Copenhagen University): “Bodil Koch: In Search of the Keys to a Biographical Analysis”.
Mónica Burguera (University de Valencia): “Performing Middle-Class Womanhood in 19th-Century Spain: The Memoirs of Juana de Vega, countess of Espoz y Mina”.
11.00-11.30: Coffee Break
11.30-13.00 5th Session. Chair: James Amelang (Universidad Autónoma de Madrid)
Fernando Molina (Universidad del País Vasco): “Writing the self into the Nation: Autobiography, Nationalism and National Identity”
Roy Foster (Hertford College. University of Oxford): “Privates Lives and Posthumous Reputations: Love and affection among the Irish revolutionary generation, 1890-1916”
1pm, Tuesday 6 March (Week 8)
Haldane Room, Wolfson College
OCLW’s Hilary Term was brought to a close with a Life-Writing Lunch, at which Dr Olivia Smith (St John’s, Oxford) gave a talk about her work on John Locke, and Literature as an Object of Knowledge
5.30pm, Tues 28 February
Haldane Room, Wolfson College
Biographers Daisy Hay (Young Romantics) and Pete Newbon (Children of the Romantics) gave generous, eloquent insights into their practice as biographers of groups of Romantic writers (in Daisy’s case, the Shelleys, Byron, Keats and Leigh Hunt; in Pete’s case, the children of Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Charles Lamb). In stimulating talks, followed by a discussion, Daisy and Pete reflected on the particular challenges posed by exploring the lives of the Romantic poets, not as archetypal solitary geniuses, but as sociable beasts, deeply entangled in the ties of family and friends. This marked the end of this year’s Weinrebe Lectures in Life-Writing; next year’s series will be themed around ‘Life-Writing and Portraiture’.
5.30pm, Tues 21 February
The Hall, Wolfson College
The British-Libyan author Hisham Matar marked the first publication of his work in his home country by describing to a packed audience at Wolfson College the ‘existential crisis’ at the heart of contemporary Libyan national identity, and the corresponding existential exile embedded in the life of the writer. You can read a full report of Hisham’s talk – entitled ‘The Closest Exit May be Behind You’ – by clicking here. A podcast of the talk can be downloaded here.
5.30pm, Tues 14 February
The Hall, Wolfson College
The prize-winning author and memoirist Candia McWilliam delivered the third in the Weinrebe Series of Life-Writing Lectures, with a beautifully constructed talk, laden with metaphor, entitled ‘Where may truth lie? Fiction in memory, memory in Fiction’. You can read a full report of Candia’s talk by clicking here; and download a podcast of Candia’s talk here.
5.30pm, Tues 7 February
The Hall, Wolfson College
The second in the series of OCLW’s Weinrebe Lectures in Life-Writing was a lively and stimulating conversation between author Alan Hollinghurst and biographer (President of Wolfson College and director of OCLW) Hermione Lee, entitled ‘What can I say? Secrets in Fiction and Biography’. You can read a report of the conversation by clicking here, and listen to a podcast of the conversation here.
5.30pm, Thurs 2 February 2012:
The Hall, Wolfson College
OCLW’s Weinrebe Lectures in Life-Writing got off to a wonderful beginning with a lecture from renowned novelist and memoirist Michèle Roberts: ‘”Oh, you liar, you storyteller”: On Fibbing, Fact and Fabulation’. Roberts’ lecture offered a stimulating blend of moving personal accounts, and thought-provoking reflections on the theory of life-writing.
1-2pm, Tuesday 29 November (Week 8)
Wolfson College, Oxford.
OCLW’s Research Fellow, Dr Rachel Hewitt, kicked off our termly series of lunchtime seminars, the Life-Writing Lunch. Rachel spoke about her research on the early history of Britain’s mapping agency, the Ordnance Survey, which she published in October 2010 in her book Map of a Nation: A Biography of the Ordnance Survey. Rachel considered the unexpected benefits of considering her book as a ‘biography’ of the OS, describing how close attention to the lives, preoccupations and connections of its chief personnel led her to surprising conclusions regarding the OS’s identity and purpose.
6pm, Tuesday 15 November (Week 6)
Wolfson College, Oxford
The Oxford Centre for Life-Writing was officially launched with an inaugural lecture by Professor Michael Wood (Princeton), entitled ‘All About my Mother: Reading Proust’s Letters’. This was followed by a launch party. The evening was a wonderful start to the Centre!
Read a report of the evening and of Professor Wood’s lecture. A podcast of Professor Wood’s lecture is available here.
6pm, Tuesday 25 October (Week 3)
Lincoln’s Inn, London
Professor Hermione Lee gave a lecture entitled ‘“From Memory”: Isaiah Berlin, Literary Encounters and Life-Stories’