Moving Biography Summer School

Moving Biography, a one-week international Summer School convened by LAWHA/Orient-Institut Beirut, the American University of Beirut (AUB) and the Global (De)Centre with the generous support of the VolkswagenStiftung, took place in Beirut/Lebanon from 1 to 8 June 2022. It brought together different perspectives to question disciplinary assumptions and decenter life writing. It focused on three main themes: (1) questions of data (2) the act of creation, and (3) the importance of the social and historical context of biographies. 

Moving Biography kicked off in March and April with two keynote events in the run up to the actual school in June. Tarif Khalidi, Shaykh Zayed Professor Emeritus of Arabic and Islamic Studies at AUB, examined the biographical tradition in pre-Modern Arabic Literature from approximately the eight to the fifteenth centuries in the broadest term. In an engaging lecture at the OIB’s library on 30 March, he sketched a short history of its evolution – including that of its technical terms such as sira, sunna, tarjama and more – and highlighted a number of important distinctions between biography, autobiography and hagiography. The second keynote event, held on 21 April at AUB’s Issam Fares Institute under the title of Contemporary Innovations of Arab Biography, was a conversation between the writer Jean Said Makdisi and the artist Lina Majdalani. Each reflected on her approaches to biographies, with special reference to their worksTeta, Mother, and Me and Biokhraphia.

The actual summer school that brought together 18 doctoral and post-doctoral researchers from Hong Kong to Buenos Aires and many places in-between, local and international faculty and the organizing committee in Beirut, turned out to be a real hub for rethinking the meaning and relevance of biography today. Organised around a combination of theoretical sessions, plenary talks, working sessions and field visits, it offered a platform for the participants to take stock of perceptions of biographies in 2022, absences, afterlives, receptions and deconstruction of biographies, the relationship of subjects/objects to materiality, questions of labeling and archives. You can find out more about it here.

LAWHA Doctoral Researcher Flavia Malusardi presenting her thoughts on fragilities of oral history in the biography of Dar El Fan’s founder Janine Rubeiz

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