Date: Friday 12th September 2014

Venue: University of Roehampton, London

Keynote Speaker: Dr Adam Smith, UCL

In the course of their research, many historians encounter individuals from the past who help them to understand wider cultural, economic, or political issues. Working on these individual actors, whether through their personal papers, actions, or life stories, can be an extremely rewarding experience for historians. Using an individual to navigate the historical past can focus research and give shape to a larger project. However, there can be significant issues with basing research so closely around a single person or small group of individuals. Historians who ‘love too much’ might be in danger of narrowing their understanding of an event or period, and such a focus could challenge the idea of a historian as an objective writer.

This one-day conference will bring together historians working across all periods of history who focus on an individual or group of individuals in their work. Rather than papers which focus on individuals in and of themselves, the conference will explore how historians utilise individuals and the sources related to them as a lens on historical periods. We would like to invite researchers to submit papers which broadly deal with the themes outlined below. We are also willing to consider other papers with interesting interpretations on the theme.

Themes which could be considered are:

  • Identity (e.g. race, gender, class). How far can the history of one person inform us about the wider experience of a particular group?
  • The ‘ordinary life’ vs. the ‘great man’ – do histories of individuals always privilege the elite?
  • Organisations and the individuals within them.
  • The impact of fictions – legends/beliefs surrounding the individual.
  • Individuals as actors in prosopographical studies.
  • Individual thinkers and the history of ideas.
  • Comparative approaches – exploring wider questions through the varied approaches of different individuals to the same issues.

Above all, papers should focus on the issues which arise from working with individuals in order to study a historical event or concept. Rather than a narrative on the life of the individual, papers should concentrate on the challenges within this form of historical research. Do individuals truly provide a ‘lens’ through which we can view history more clearly, can they function as representatives of wider groups, or as a ‘way in’ to broader issues, events, and ideas? Or do they obscure the past by providing a personalised or subjective picture? Can historians ever be objective about an individual whom they have studied for years? Is it possible for historians to ‘love too much’?

Papers should be 20 minutes in length. We welcome submissions from PhD students and early career researchers, as well as more established academics. Proposals should be 250 words. Please include your institutional affiliation and contact details. It is hoped that suitable papers will be collected together in an edited volume. Submissions should be sent by Monday 7th April to the conference organisers at:



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