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Source material: Autobiographies

Autobiographies or memoirs can be regarded as the retrospective account of personal events, often combined with later reflections which attempt to make sense of earlier happenings, or to shape them into a coherent narrative for the benefit of an anticipated readership. They become increasingly common locally from the mid-17th century onwards.

Example of a biography graphic


Sometimes an autobiography provides a historical backcloth to the life of the writer which is so comprehensive that it becomes an appraisal of the times through which the writer lived. In such cases it is useful to consider the extent to which such assessments may be influenced by perceived reader expectations. When autobiographies are written for publication, moreover, the authors act as their own editors and censors, and one should always be on the look out for the favourable exaggeration, the suppression of damaging detail and the distortion of facts.


Nevertheless, an account of historical events which is anchored in eye-witness experience should always be sought out and carefully considered, for it may offer unique insights into happenings which are otherwise poorly documented. Without autobiographies, we would know significantly less about society during the past four centuries.

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