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Kan biografisk metod vara vetenskap?
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of Arts, Department of History.
2007 (Swedish)In: Historisk Tidskrift, ISSN 0345-469x, Vol. 3, 433-456 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Does biography belong in academic history?

For a long period after World War II, and in sharp contrast to the situation in France and the English speaking countries, the writing of biographies has not been regarded as serious scholarly work by professional historians in Sweden. Although the reasons behind this attitude have not been much debated, the basic idea seems to be that biographical studies as such do not meet the demands expected from history produced within the academy. Various arguments have been presented to support this view. One was put forward by the so-called Weibull school, which long held a strong position in Swedish historical writing. It attached great importance to an extremely strict and systematic source criticism. Normally, the biographer has limited – if any – possibility to look into the mind of the person studied in attempting to identify in an objective fashion the convictions and driving forces behind her or his actions. According to the Weibull school the biographer is instead largely left to present some more or less well-informed narrative guess-work, far from established historical methods. Consequently the results presented by biographies cannot be accepted. Another argument can be found among Marxist scholars or Historical Materialists. Since they are inclined to attach maximum weight to structural and economic features in society, the influence of the individual on historical developments is regarded as extremely limited. Accordingly there is very little scope for important actions by a single person. Biographies are therefore superficial studies compared to the concerns of serious historical analysis. Other views leading to a similar critical attitude to biographies have been put forward based on the thinking of the French ”Annales” school. However during the last 10-15 years the development in Sweden seems to have reversed and a number of biographies with academic aspirations have seen the light of day. Nevertheless, it is too early to regard this as a change of paradigm. For example the number of PhD students writing biographies is still astoundingly small. The article reviews the Swedish discussions over the last fifty years attempting to identify the most important arguments presented for and against biographies. The text concludes with a simple set of criteria to be used when analysing and judging the historical value of life-style biographies.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2007. Vol. 3, 433-456 p.
Keyword [sv]
Svensk biografidiskurs, weibullskolan, utvärderingskriterier för biografier
National Category
URN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-15488OAI: oai:DiVA.org:uu-15488DiVA: diva2:43259
Available from: 2008-06-01 Created: 2008-06-01Bibliographically approved

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Hall, Bo G
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