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Title: “Critical Humanist Thoughts on the Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiography – ‘Nobody Wages War with Dostoevsky or Dickens’
Authors: Lynch, C
Keywords: Working Class Autobiography;Authors
Issue Date: 2013
Publisher: Ashgate
Citation: The Documents of Life Revisited: Narrative and Biographical Methodology for a 21st Century Critical Humanism, 2013
Abstract: Compiled by John Burnett, David Vincent and David Mayall, the Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiography contains over 230 unpublished autobiographies of authors who lived in England, Scotland or Wales between 1790 and 1945. The autobiographies were taken as evidence “that in different ways and in different contexts the common people had always been historians of their own lives” (Burnett, Vincent and Mayall xiii). The archive has remained at Brunel University with “documents of life” in the form of letters, diaries, photographs, sketches and auto/biographies kept in bulging acid-free folders in over-filled filing cabinets. This paper is concerned with what happened next. As Steedman points out, once an archive is formed, “nothing happens”, it is “indexed, and catalogued, and some of it is not indexed and catalogued, and some of it is lost. But as stuff, it just sits there until it is read, and used, and narrativised” (Steedman 68). Whereas much of the previous work based on the archive has been concerned with boiling down the written text to its essence of dates and facts, a new approach using literary scholars and creative writing workshops hopes to narrate the archive through methods more commonly found in the humanities, in short, to reintroduce the literary modes of “experiencing, feeling, interpreting” (Plummer 6). Through the application of literary techniques this approach sought to question the assumptions that illiteracy prevented self-reflection, or that an unpublished narrative necessarily meant an unpublishable one. The paper will engage with Plummer’s ideas and present the findings of a project which has in several ways sought to implement them.
ISBN: 9781409442899
Appears in Collections:Dept of Arts and Humanities Research Papers

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