• Offered by School of Literature, Languages and Linguistics
  • ANU College ANU College of Arts and Social Sciences
  • Classification Advanced
  • Course subject Humanities
  • Areas of interest Cultural Studies, English, History, Museums and Collections
  • Academic career PGRD
  • Mode of delivery In Person

Biography, autobiography, memoir and the various forms of life writing are undoubtedly the most popular types non-fiction writing enjoying a mass audience in conventional published formats and well as in film, television and other new media. Biography has become more democratised, not only in the broader range of subjects who attract published studies, but also in the activities of amateur researchers. The study of life history is one of the most popular and rapidly growing activities in the public at large. This is reflected in various ways: from the growth in the membership of the Society of Australian Genealogists, which climbed from just over 600 in 1972 to just under 10,000 in 1987, to the long queues in the microform section of public libraries at weekends where people search for fragments of their own pasts.

For some scholars biography has been a useful mode of enquiry because, to use Barbara Tuchmann's words, ‘it encompasses the universal in the particular', but for many years it was spurned by the academy. Over the past decade, the situation has changed significantly. Academic courses in biography have recently been established at universities in many parts of the English-speaking world, and systematic discussion of the biographer's art - in conferences, seminars, monographs, institutes - is now a flourishing business. Many countries boast multi-volume dictionaries of national biography that are, more often than not, nested in university departments and research centres and produced by academics who, ten or twenty years ago, might well have regarded biography with suspicion. Many cultural institutions that, until recently, used conceptual subject headings to index their holdings, are using, or developing ways to use, biography as a portal for the public to access their collections. This development too speaks volumes for the growing importance of biography in the academy and society more generally.

This unit will examine the broad appeal of biography and the evolution of biographical form in a series of wide-ranging modules. It is aimed both at prospective biographers in the humanities and those working in cultural institutions who are increasingly having to take account of the biographical interests of their clientele.

Learning Outcomes

Upon successful completion, students will have the knowledge and skills to:

Course aims:

On satisfying the requirements of this course, students will have the knowledge and skills to:

1. Demonstrate a critical understanding of the historical, political, institutional and cultural frameworks in a range of biographical genre.

2. Synthesise key concepts from the various disciplines that contribute to the study of biography and apply theoretical ideas to specific situations and case studies; and

3. Demonstrate effective communication and independent conceptual thinking relevant to the field of biographical research.

Learning outcomes:

1.     To gain skills in written and verbal expression for a variety of relevant professional and academic purposes.

2.     To develop skills in interdisciplinary thinking and cross cultural research and the the ability to apply theoretical ideas to case studies developed from personal observation and research.

3.     To gain skills required for humanities research and museum work. This includes data-collection, analysis, and verbal and written presentation at the standard of a postgraduate degree.

Indicative Assessment

Seminar Presentation and Report (critical commentary on a module) 1000 words (20%); Critical Review (two examples of ‘biography') 1000 words (20%); and Research Essay (individualised topic) 3000 words (60%).

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Preliminary Reading

To be advised.



Tuition fees are for the academic year indicated at the top of the page.  

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Student Contribution Band:
Unit value:
6 units

If you are an undergraduate student and have been offered a Commonwealth supported place, your fees are set by the Australian Government for each course. At ANU 1 EFTSL is 48 units (normally 8 x 6-unit courses). You can find your student contribution amount for each course at Fees.  Where there is a unit range displayed for this course, not all unit options below may be available.

6.00 0.12500
Domestic fee paying students
Year Fee
2017 $3216
International fee paying students
Year Fee
2017 $4590
Note: Please note that fee information is for current year only.

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