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2017/18 Undergraduate Module Catalogue

HIST3470 Memories: Autobiographies and Memoirs as Historical Sources

20 creditsClass Size: 14

Module manager: Professor Malcolm Chase

Taught: Semester 2 (Jan to Jun) View Timetable

Year running 2017/18

This module is approved as a discovery module

Module summary

'In our lives we are always weaving novels' (Anthony Trollope, An Autobiography, 1883). This module offers students two unusual opportunities. The first is to engage critically with a wide range of life-writing, from medieval and early modern confessions, through to recent celebrity autobiographies. The second is to explore the history of the autobiographical habit itself – when the earliest autobiographies were published (and why) and how this form of writing gathered momentum in the later eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. How should historians approach autobiographies and other forms of life writing such as diaries, political memoirs and oral history? On the principle that one should never look a gift horse in the mouth and grateful, therefore, for the insights into the lived experience of the author? Or suspecting that the writing of any form of autobiography is a creative act, closely akin to writing a novel? Running through the module is also an opportunity to explore not only historical and other critical literature on autobiography as a genre, but also on memory and the construction of a ‘sense of the self’.


On completion of this module, students should be able to:
- demonstrate a critical understanding of the evolution of autobiography as a genre of writing (mainly with reference to western Europe, especially Britain).
- demonstrate an informed awareness of key theories concerning life writing, memory and the 'construction' of the self.
- critically read and analyse autobiographical texts in terms of their value to historical research and understanding.


The module is broadly divided into the following:
- The development of autobiography as a literary genre;
- Spiritual autobiography;
- The recollection of childhood;
- Working-class autobiography;
- Political autobiography;
- Women's Autobiographies;
- Comparative study of life writings produced by a particular social class or occupational group, for example artisans, criminals, clergymen, 'the middling sort', farm workers, urban workers, historians;
- Autobiography and ethnicity;
- Autobiographical theory, 'truth', reliability and self-censorship.

Teaching methods

Due to COVID-19, teaching and assessment activities are being kept under review - see module enrolment pages for information

Delivery typeNumberLength hoursStudent hours
Private study hours180.00
Total Contact hours20.00
Total hours (100hr per 10 credits)200.00

Private study

Researching, preparing, and writing assignments; undertaking set reading; and self-directed reading around the topic.

Opportunities for Formative Feedback

Contributions to class discussions, an assessed exercise or exercises worth 10% of module marks, an assessed essay.

Methods of assessment

Due to COVID-19, teaching and assessment activities are being kept under review - see module enrolment pages for information

Assessment typeNotes% of formal assessment
Essay2,000 words to be submitted by 12 noon on Monday of teaching week 830.00
Essay4,000 words to be submitted by 12 noon on Monday of revision week60.00
Oral PresentationClass presentations10.00
Total percentage (Assessment Coursework)100.00

Written equivalent for 10% presentation.

Reading list

The reading list is available from the Library website

Last updated: 20/04/2017


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