Academic journal article Vitae Scholasticae

A Biographical Research Bookshelf: Method of the Madness

Academic journal article Vitae Scholasticae

A Biographical Research Bookshelf: Method of the Madness

Article excerpt

"To list is to exclude" and, as Vitae Scholasticae readers review this collection of essays about biographical research "classics," I wonder whether there will be moments of pause: "why is this book included and not my favorite!"; "where is Edel's Writing Lives?"; "what about Meryle Secrest's Shoot the Widow?" Well, that is my hope ... that one could react this way while also enjoying the many insights from these nine published reviews. If readers were posing such questions, then we have taken a giant leap forward toward our understanding and awareness of biographical research theory in the field of education. If not, then Linda Morice's beautifully conceived issue will greatly help the cause as we begin to become aware of common biographical research readings and the existence of a well-developed theoretical base for our work in this emerging field of educational inquiry. Biography will no longer be defined in a mere few sentences; rather, the researcher will be well aware that "a field of biographical research" with common readings, shared issues and concerns, idiosyncratic conceptions, and perennial problems exists for those educators who wish to pursue the art and craft of biography.

That was my hope when, 20 years ago, I began compiling a bookshelf of works about biographical research for an exhibition at the University of South Carolina's Museum of Education. (1) was involved with activities at the University's Center for Literary Biography, a research and archival center led by F. Scott Fitzgerald biographer Matthew J. Bruccoli, and John Updike book/artifact collector Donald Greiner. Rather than conceiving of biography in relation to other forms of educational research, I was afforded the opportunity through my participation at the Center to spend time with biographers, archivists, and rare book collectors from the humanities who were not battling with quantitative researchers, in what was a welcomed relief, or with anyone in the field of education for that matter (albeit, some were fighting for respectability with traditional professors of English and history). They were in pursuit of their biographical subjects--either as researchers and/or as collectors--and were well aware of standard readings in biography and methodology, policy and practices of common archives and libraries, and those oddities and problems faced by other biographers. Their common knowledge resulted in great comradery and led to occasions filled with many delightful anecdotes and witticisms. They were fully engaged in their work--in what clearly was a passion--and were aware of what others were reading and writing. Few of these scholars had taken formal courses in biographical inquiry, but they knew the field--reading widely but also reading "the standards"--and, as a result, they certainly knew their craft.

I sat through the discussions wondering if those of us in the field of education could someday engage in similar conversations, albeit discussing our disparate biographical topics, but also calling upon common readings in biographical methodology. Thus emerged a suggested list of readings for the neophyte educational biographer: a biographical research bookshelf. I must admit that I placed myself on the top of the list of neophyte biographers and selected, initially, those many books that proved insightful and revelatory to me. As I continued compiling the bookshelf and staging various biographical-themed exhibitions at the Museum of Education, I sought advice from many practicing biographers in the humanities and social sciences. My selections were generous and not viewed as an act of exclusion--not every methodological book was included, but I also was not attempting to keep the list to a mere ten or twenty selections (the bookshelf presently includes 35 publications).

By composing a publications list, I wished not to generate a "great books" roster for the field of educational biographers nor to canonize a definitive array of books that every researcher and student must know. …

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