English, 2013 curriculum - Free topic 14: Life-story, oral history and the archive of memory

Course content

Life-story telling, even as silent recollection, is always located socially and historically as well as psychologically. Consequently the recent study of life-stories cuts across disciplinary boundaries to reveal the structures that underly thought, spoken and (sometimes) written down versions of the past. This course considers what it means to create one, or many, personal histories, as well as the ways in which historians, sociologists and anthropologists analyse such accounts. We pursue these theoretical considerations through various life-stories beginning from the 18th century.

Classes, with particular emphasis on reading primary and secondary texts, oral discussion and developing proficiency in English.

Main reading list:

  • James Albert Ukawsaw Gronniosaw (c. 1707-75), Narrative  (1772)
  • Mary Saxby (1737-1801), Memoirs of a Vagrant Woman Written by Herself (1806)
  • ‘A vagrant boy’ (born c. 1834) in: Peter Razzell & Henry Mayhew, The Morning Chronicle Survey of Labour and the Poor (1850)
  • Ellen O’Neill, Extraordinary Confessions of a Female Pickpocket (1850).                                                                         
  • Charlie Chaplin (1889-1977), My Autobiography (1964)
  • Donall MacAmhlaigh (1926-89), An Irish Navvy: the diary of an exile (1964)
  • Bibi Inder Kaur (1917-96), oral testimony


Additional readings:

Various extracts and articles – supplied online.

Objectives: To give students a working knowledge of recent academic debates and methodologies connected with life-stories, oral history and memory; to explore interdisciplinary approaches – historical, social, psychological and cultural – to the study of life-stories, oral histories and ‘memory work’; to foster analytic skills, critical thinking as well as written and spoken expression by the close reading and discussion of various sources.

Content: The sessions are arranged around discussion of three questions:
how life-story sources (autobiographies, convict testimonies, oral histories) are created, recorded and circulated; how such sources are used psychologically, socially and ideologically; how ‘observer’ accounts (journalistic, ethnographic, filmic and photographic) tell life-stories.

Learning: By critical analysis of various primary sources, including autobiographies (sometimes extracts), convict testimonies and interviews as well as visual materials, including film; by group discussion of issues raised in the sources, by discussion points which the course tutor raises; finally, by tutor and student presentations.

Life-story, oral history and the archive of memory will be taught in weeks 37-44, four hours/week.

7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Criteria for exam assessment


  • Category
  • Hours
  • Class Instruction
  • 28
  • Preparation
  • 176,75
  • English
  • 204,75