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Call for application: Reading Autobiographical Sources: Potentials and Challenges in Human and Social Sciences

On the 7th of November, 2017 the French Institute for Research in Africa (IFRA) is pleased to organise the seminar «Reading Autobiographical Sources: Potentials and Challenges in Human Social Sciences». It will take place at the IFRA Library, Institute of African Studies, University of Ibadan. The seminar will begin at 10 am, and will last approximately 4 hours plus a lunch break.

This seminar will be supervised by Dr. Roberto Zaugg, Historian and Lecturer at the University of Lausanne (Switzerland). Dr. Zaugg has worked extensively on the history of migrations, more particularly between the 16th and 19th century. This interest has led him to research the history of judicial institutions, Mediterranean merchant diasporas, diplomatic relations as well as the changing nature of citizenship across West Africa and Europe. More recently, he has engaged in a biographical project focusing on Johann Peter Oettinger (1682-1696), a barber-surgeon travelling across the Holy Roman Empire, the Dutch Republic and in trans-Atlantic slave ships.

Registration for this seminar is compulsory. It is open to IFRA research fellows only.

Interested participants are requested to send an email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for registration. Due to spatial constraints, we will register only 16 participants. You are therefore encouraged to register as soon as possible and not later than Wednesday, 1st of November, 2017.

A series of readings is included (see below). The texts will be circulated once the registration process is complete and guidelines will be given to the participants.

About the seminar

What can we learn about the Atlantic slave trade from the journal of slave merchant? What do the memoirs of a humble French artisan teach us about eighteenth-century France? How are religious identities reflected in diaries? Are authors sincere when they write about themselves or do they tend to fabricate manipulated images? Over the last decades, historical research has devoted much attention to so-called ‘autobiographical texts’ (also called ‘first-person writings’ or ‘ego-documents’).

On the one hand, historians have used them as sources to get an actor-centred access to the past of human societies. On the other hand, they have debated over their trustworthiness, asking if we can actually consider them as a genuine expression of individual experience or if we should rather regard them as narrative constructions made up by assembling more or less standardized discourses. The problems that historians face when dealing with autobiographical texts such as memoirs, diaries or travel accounts raise questions which are relevant to social and human sciences in general. How can we grasp individual experience and to what extent can (and should) scholars integrate such subjective data it in their analyses? What are autobiographical sources and what critical methods can we use when investigating them?

Focusing on a historical perspective, this workshop will examine scholarly potentials and methodological challenges associated with such texts and provide analytical tools to examine them. To this end, it will include discussions based on methodological/theoretical articles as well as practical exercises with autobiographical sources.



1- Sidonie Smith and Julia Watson, Reading Autobiography. A Guide for Interpreting Life Narratives, Minneapolis 2010, chapter 1.


2- John Bunyan, Grace Aboundingtothe Chief of Sinners, London 1666, (short excerpt).

3- Antera Duke, The Diary of Antera Duke. An Eighteenth-Century African Slave Trader, edited by Stephen D. Behrendt,A.J.H. Latham and David Northrup,Oxford 2010, (short excerpt)

4- Jacques-Louis Ménétra, Journal of My Life, New York 1986, (short excerpt).

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University of Ibadan
Ibadan, Oyo State
+234 (0)8.147.616.463

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