Using lives
Biographers in the museum

by Nicholas Brown

There has been much recent commentary on the need to connect museum practice to forms of experience, education and reflection that have broad social currency. Further, these connections have been urged to encompass the advocacy of specific social or political goals of inclusion: to identify issues or identities prone to exclusion from the older 'museum-as-mausoleum', and a preparedness not just to represent such interests but to question the practices that kept them on the margins for so long. Such an ethic was integral to the 'new museology' proclaimed in the 1980s, and to the vision of the 'post-museum' as (in Eilean Hooper-Greenhill's terms) providing 'environments for life-long learning'.[1]

Inevitably, the pressures and aspirations driving such commentary have not been peculiar to the museum sector, although accountability to them has been measured in specific forms: visitor numbers, outreach and the effectiveness of such 'learning' strategies. Here I want to reflect on another, related field in which similar pressures have been evident — the writing of social history — and consider what might be at stake in responding to changing expectations of practice with regard to the roles of both the museum and social history when it comes to presenting accessible versions of the past. In particular, I am interested in relating these agendas to what has recently been identified as a 'biographical turn' in historical enquiry: an increasing tendency to pose such questions and seek answers through the perspective of individualised life experience, as contrasted with social collectivities.[2] What does the popularity of biography suggest about the modes of 'life-long learning' that have contemporary currency and appeal? And, accepting (as Paula Backscheider argues) that the 'cultural significance of biography will grow' as it continues to 'infuse' once distinct academic and broader social domains, what opportunities does the 'biographical turn' present as it shapes the forms of inclusion and learning that have explanatory power in our societies.[3] While not neat parallels, the evolution of the new museology, debates over the future of social history, and the rise of biography, can assist reflection on what determines accountability to changing social agendas in each field.

My perspective arises from a series of workshops called 'Using lives', in which postgraduate students from around Australia with an interest in biography reflected, in part, on the connections between their work and the role of contemporary museums.[4] These students offered a keen perspective on what the biographical turn represented, especially in the areas of research and education that are now so much a part of museums' accountability. In a small but suggestive way, these students also offered a sense of what new opportunities in these areas might look like.

To begin exploring this perhaps unlikely coupling of themes, let me first trace some intersecting themes in the recent practice of social history and the evolution of the social history museum.

Social history and museums

The new museology owes much to the rise of social history, with its emphasis on more democratic narratives couched in solidarities, material conditions and social ecologies. Both fields explored the concept of cultural heritage, moving from 'folk-life' models to more formalised social processes. For social history, these processes were usually framed by concepts of class, place, ethnicity, race, labour, gender or life-stage. For museums, similar narratives evolved from the ethnographic and 'arts and crafts' themes of the 1930s into more sophisticated concepts of everyday social or economic life. Social history was emphatically based in materialism — the shaping power of lived conditions and relationships. The new social history museum, of course, was concerned with material display: lives evoked in the things that people used, wore, made, endured, transformed.[5] Both shared a basic commitment to a form of 'sociological imagination' as a learning strategy for — in C Wright Mills's classic formulation — the development of a 'quality of mind essential to grasp the interplay of man and society, of biography and history, of self and world'.[6]

Yet such a strategy — such a sense of interrelationships enacted through material culture and condition — was not in itself stable or immutable. It developed its own potentialities and questions, particularly with regard to public expectations of what should be presented. In Mills's formulation, the 'sociological' emphasis of the 1960s and 1970s had at its core the overcoming of a sense of alienation — that individual experience should be comprehended within a social totality; that the act of imagination, wonder, participation or recognition could construct an otherwise absent or unrealised sense of connectedness between 'self' and a moment, place or stage of the 'world'. By the 1980s, however, expectations that new formulations of 'the people' ought to be made visible and accessible in museums correlated with pressures on social history to comprehend difference and choice in society in terms of recognition and identity. As Richard White notes, the role of the social history museum in presenting an idea of a shared past increasingly begged the question: whose past?[7]

So what might have seemed a clear agenda for museums committed to breaking with the 'mausoleum' model could lead, so Hilde Hein argues, to 'a multitude of expressive styles' and a 'clash of claims to legitimacy' in which 'identity politics ... has taken the place of centralized order' in presenting exhibits.[8] A neat fit between practice and theory, and between a research and curatorial culture on the one hand and emerging social interests on the other, has become less easy to maintain. Not only the contents of display cases but also the role of museums has changed amid such processes. The upside has been the increasing recognition of the 'social history museum' as an institution in its own terms and with its own professionalism. The downside has been contention about the 'learning' objectives to be served and in the identification of specific audiences. The turn to a new service economy in Britain, for example, placed the museum in precincts geared to recreation and tourism while also drawing exhibits into more diverse and interactive ways of representing marked transitions in people's lives in work, at home, and in the world.[9] In Australia, similar processes have been underway in shifts from the representation of distinct 'communities' of environment, settlement, industry and ethnicity into more intentionally problematised concepts of 'nation'. Such concepts, as White observes, can lead to 'self-conscious historical pastiche' or, as Graeme Davison fears, to an embrace of nostalgia when confronted with future uncertainty.[10]

In these processes — again adopting Hein's formulation — museums that had sought to represent society through 'the multifarious disposition of objects' evoking patterns of relationship in a given historical context, now have to wrestle with achieving an authenticity which is judged primarily in terms of success in 'touching the life of the visitor': of using objects to affirm a personal story rather than inviting a consideration of a past world.[11] Under such pressure, basic tenets can seem compromised. Monty Reid and Bruce Naylor, for example, argue that the status of the object 'has been increasingly contested in museological debates' associated with these transitions. In both theory and practice, they warn, there is a danger that the object is being overwhelmed by the complexity of stories evoked by it, each broken down into moments of identity, meaning and association. One consequence of this trend, they maintain, is the undermining of curatorial expertise and the uncoupling of research within the museum from direct engagement with its collection.[12]

In the same period in which these issues have arisen for museums, social history has wrestled with similar concerns. There have been debates over the extent to which the material 'reality' of social life to be recovered was itself a cultural 'text' or artefact open to interpretation. The concept of 'the social' itself, as a way of expressing collective association, has been interpreted as a product of historical processes rather than a touchstone in evaluating them.[13] While the academic twists in such debates might seem remote from museological concerns, they reflect a grappling with the same issues of fragmentation and a shift in the registers of authenticity from the material object to the personalised narrative.

It is in responding to this shift that a consideration of what Ian Donaldson has identified as the 'new cultural phenomenon' of biography becomes relevant.[14] Stepping into the uncertainties arising in social history over recent years, biographical perspectives, and autobiographical inflections, have become almost ubiquitous in the ways historical knowledge is presented and used. The rising 'cultural force' of biography (Backscheider's term) encompasses popular television documentary series (such as Australian Story), 'cross-over' publishing ventures, the new personalised and interactive spaces of the internet (such as Facebook) and even social advocacy (take the impact of life stories in the Bringing Them Home (1997) report into the removal of Aboriginal children).[15] In these modes, biography has carried important agendas of recognition and inclusion.

Why biographical approaches might have this new salience is an important question — one placed centrally for consideration in the 'Using lives' workshops, and vital to a consideration of the kinds of 'learning' now likely to have social appeal more generally. The 'biographical turn' has begun to open a new space for engagement with the past, mediating between fixations with identity and an emphasis on forging fresh collectivities. It might be seen as offering an escape, as Davison notes, from the 'oversocialised' subject of some social history, locked in determinations of all kinds, and an often ahistorical search for personal association.[16]

The popularity of biography increasingly extends across all forms of cultural exchange, reflecting — Ian Donaldson suggests — 'a growing recognition of the many different media in and through which human lives nowadays may be represented and recovered'. As already noted, innovations in multimedia and digitisation are part of this process, and have in turn encouraged a 'spirit of experimentation' in conceptualising and delivering such work.[17] Beyond experimentation in form, biography perhaps more fundamentally reflects a version of the 'enacted narrative' in which we experience modern society.[18] From this perspective, biography is a creative response to contemporary possibilities for conveying the past, but perhaps also a symptom of the fragmentation of once larger associations into individual stories. Biography, then, catches powerful elements of the contemporary practice of history in society, and to this extent is worth closer reflection in museological debates about how to present the past, assess impact, engage and change audiences.

On biography

Ray Monk, biographer of Ludwig Wittgenstein, protested at the assumption that biography was simply some kind of service industry, providing easily assimilable, chronologically ordered information on people, facts, dates and places, but little more.[19] Certainly in academic contexts there has been a perception — as noted by Robert Skidelsky, biographer of JM Keynes in three awesome volumes — that 'something second-rate ... seems to cling to biography and its practitioners'.[20] Biography is seen to lack informing theory: the subject is obvious, given and ostensibly self-defining. Its 'remorseless linearity' dulls reflection and its presentation shelters behind a claim to 'art' more than most fields of humanities scholarship.[21] Its narrative form is seen as potentially normalising points about which there should be debate, explaining away moral questions of responsibility, for example, in terms of personality traits or psychological trauma. Such criticisms are essentially informed by arguments that a life has meaning only when seen in context and in relation to patterns beyond itself — patterns best perceived through questions more likely to be posed by a social historian.

Modes of biography can also be seen as reflecting their cultural contexts. Skidelsky, again, offers a useful formulation. Modern biography, taking the familiar landmark of Lytton Strachey's Eminent Victorians (1918), began as a 'debunking' practice, reflecting modernity's pervasive disillusion and self-conscious embrace of alienation. But in moving away from the mausoleum of great men, biography then tended to assume an equally self-conscious professionalism. It adapted full scholarly apparatus and an almost formulaic and exhaustive ancestors-to-legacy scale, often with didactic overtones.[22] As the 'big book', the definitive, whole life, this practice of 'memorial' was in many ways antithetic to the 'museum'. And in this mode biography fought a long and losing war of attrition with the rise of social science methodologies, with their emphasis on 'structure' over 'agency'. As Jo Burr Margadant notes, from the 1960s onwards biography struggled against the heavily interpretative pressure of sociology, with its focus on the material formation of collectivities (classes predominantly, but also groups, ethnicities, race and gender) and the purposes of political transformation thus served.[23] The rise of social history and of the social history museums can be associated with this same ascendancy.

Over recent decades, however, Skidelsky sees a fresh biographical approach that is not so much about questions of a person's 'achievement' in the public domain as it is concerned with their 'fulfilment' in a fusion of private self and public recognition.[24] A shift from 'examined lives' to 'experienced lives' is another way of characterising this change, and can similarly be related to a contemporary political culture concerned with aspirations for social inclusion and minority representation. Dress, voice, space, mobility, dexterity, performance and strategy have come to figure strongly in such approaches: a 'movement from scene to scene' as impression rather than event to event as causation. In some ways a new and finely grained materialism has come to the fore in biography, as lives are fashioned from the objects to hand, and as the new opportunities of multimedia and digitisation foster modes of biographical work that re-create and explore interiority, space, touch, sound and so on.[25]

Biography, then, has a new cultural salience, and expresses a good deal about currently favoured forms of 'learning' about the past. If we are to work with this power, we need to ask not just 'whose stories can be told' but 'what shapes our sense of the use of these stories'? Take the example of Marianne Gullested's work in exploring the power of biographical knowledge among black immigrants in Scandinavia. Accepting the intersecting traumas of dispossession, post-modern fragmentation and racism, Gullested argues that because the crucial task of 'social integration [now] takes place more and more within each individual', there is an increasing importance in understanding, even assisting in, the creation of a 'sustainable self-image' as 'the basis for self-respect and dignity'.[26] Biography has become a tool as much as a testament.

This is the context in which the 'Using lives' workshops were set. The diversity of the research students who took part, lured by the prospect of teasing away at some of these ambivalent potentials of biography, demonstrates the new attraction of the form. They were also coming to Canberra at a time when the 'Australian story', conceived as a narrative and often framed by individualised experience and achievement, had considerable prominence, particularly in debates over revitalising the teaching of Australian history and in civic life more generally. More pointedly, in 2007, they came to a museum — the National Museum of Australia — that, four years earlier, had been subjected to a review of its exhibitions and programs and encouraged to provide 'compelling narratives' and a 'broader historical sense of how individual stories fit into the evolution of the nation'.[27] How, in this multi-layered context, did the workshops unfold?

Using lives

The central question posed to participants in 'Using lives' was, 'What do you want to do with your research, and why is a biographical approach an important part of/means to that objective?' From the start I was surprised by the backgrounds and interests of applicants were who were attracted to the course, and by how they conceived their work in biographical terms. The range of applications was striking, even daunting. There were epidemiologists studying the impact of hepatitis C on young women; a psychosocial analysis of tomboy identities in women across three generations; an imaginative representation of Heloise, Hildegard of Bingen and Eleanor of Aquitaine; a study of traditional circus performers. Traditional biographical projects (single subject, life-and-times, full chronological narratives of, typically, writers, doctors, missionaries, philanthropists — from Jimi Hendrix to William Macmahon Ball) were in the minority. This diversity was not a reflection of slippery categories or the need to fill the workshop quota, but of a genuine breadth in the interests of those who identified their projects as in some significant way 'biographical'.

The objectives of the projects were similarly varied. Returning to the examples just given, they ranged from research that sought to understand the experience of living with chronic disease and the most effective measures to support patients and carers; ways of understanding the formation of behaviour, and particularly the roles of memory of self and identity; the comprehension of 'fame' within distinct historical periods; and the factors that structure a unique and tightly bound community. For all researchers the biographical frame provided the most meaningful space in which to pose the questions they wished to address, and through which to gain an analytical and explanatory purchase on their material. For many it was an approach they came to after working through other methodologies that failed to advance their interests. Very rarely did participants speak of an identification (however problematic) with their subjects, or express a hope to understand them 'as they really were'. There was very little romanticising of the 'art' of biography. There was instead a commitment to using biography to pose new questions of historical issues.

With over 50 complex and creative projects, the workshops offered a reasonable sample of the contemporary 'cultural phenomenon' of biography. The commitment of the students, their energy and enthusiasm, is still evident in the online discussion forums they created after leaving Canberra. It was also evident in the detailed questionnaires completed by the 2007 group, on which my discussion draws. They were all graduate students, but a majority of them were also part- or full-time workers, juggling other careers and responsibilities, most with an eye on acquiring skills that extended well beyond the 'academic', and all motivated by curiosity ('learning for me is life-long'). Their work confirmed Donaldson's sense that 'social historians are beginning increasingly to discover how much can be learnt about an entire society, a wider historical moment, through following with close attention the trajectory of a single life, a single family, a small group of individuals whose lives, though seemingly ordinary, are also in some sense exemplary'.[28] By a large majority they were resistant to the theoretical apparatus that often accompanied an embrace of the 'sociological imagination'; equally, however, many were wresting with ways of defining a project and audience if they stepped too far away from accepted research methods.

Why is it that biography provides the framework for such a diversity of research? The workshop discussions suggested some answers. Firstly, there is the power of the story — the capacity of a biographical approach to encompass and convey (as one student noted) 'so many rich and impassioned stories of people and families'. Secondly, students appreciated the writerly dynamic of biography, explicitly registering the chance and contingency in reconstructing a life. Thirdly, there was a conviction that there was a given or self-evident nature to these stories, and a disinclination to ask questions that would detract from their power and accessibility. Unpacking each point a little, the biographical phenomenon is emphatically defining an intimate, emotive, personalised 'everyday' space as a core field for research and understanding. With it comes a close attention to relevant ethical issues (the borders of 'voyeurism') and a consideration of diverse sources (diaries, photographs, memorabilia, clothing and so on) that test the limits of interpretation. The evidence, like the subject — it was sometimes argued in the workshop — has its own story to tell, its own internal significance, even its own biography: it should not be over-burdened with analysis ('I want to write something that comes from and speaks to the world').

Putting these workshops in a museum context seemed at first incongruous to the students, but gradually powerful connections were made. As Kylie Message has recently argued, contemporary 'research'-based museums are increasingly required to engage with the changing 'priorities of social and public life', and adopt an 'outreach' strategy in identifying those priorities.[29] Here was a group of people with a distinct sense of their own priorities: what were the connections they saw and valued in a museum context? And what might museums that, in Stephen Weil's formulation, have a mission 'to concentrate on providing primarily educational services to the public', learn from such a group: from their preconceptions, their excitement, their sense of potentialities?[30]

Questionnaires recorded often surprising, sobering reflections on how museums were seen by participants. First up, most were surprised to find that museums, and museum practice, might be relevant to their work. Few students had actively considered museums as a port-of-call in their work prior to attending 'Using lives'. One participant, whose thesis centred on an extensive archive of photographs, reflected bluntly:
Although I had visited Canberra probably twenty times in the past twenty-five years, I had never visited the NMA. I had no understanding of its collection, its collection history, or its collection policy. That in itself was a good learning curve for me.

Another student, who admitted to an awareness of 'museum studies' as an area of academic inquiry, had no sense of how questions arising in that field might be relevant to their work in biography and social history. This lack of a sense of connection might be understandable if the fields and roles were discrete. But are they?

The potential connections between museums and biography were most evident in discussions led by Marion Stell and Sophie Jensen, major contributors to the Eternity gallery at the National Museum of Australia. 'The Eternity exhibition', as the museum's website notes, 'brings to life the personal stories of 50 ordinary and extraordinary Australians': it provides 'a glimpse into Australia's past, present and future through the lives, emotions and experiences of its people'. It grew from Stell's interest, as its foundation curator, in exploiting the power of the authentic object to evoke the kind of 'emotional response' that was integral to the museum's power. Organised around emotional themes — fear, loneliness, hope, thrill, mystery and so on — the Eternity gallery offered ways of 'subverting and challenging history': of drawing on 'what the visitor already knows and feels to explain what they don't'.[31] Such a strategy plays around the edges of Hein's concern at the capture of museums by 'identity politics': it invites and then distances identification with lives conveyed in material culture, invoking sentiment, quickly coupling the challenge of difference. The 2003 review of the National Museum praised the Eternity gallery for its 'remarkable achievement' in enabling visitors to 'engage with the fabric of the particular life' — although rather predictably then seeking to normalise this impact by encouraging the gallery's further evolution by providing more authoritative 'detailed biographies' through links to the (then anticipated) Australian Dictionary of Biography Online.[32]
Chance Passion Fear exhibits in Eternity gallery
Eternity exhibit at the National Museum of Australia
photograph by Lannon Harley
The students' response to the Eternity gallery was overwhelmingly positive. The exhibition's structure around concepts of emotion addressed an issue of organisation and presentation faced by many in hoping to save their work from 'relentless linearity'. For one student the point was very specific:
The main thing I got [from the discussion of the Eternity gallery] ... was very simple but very useful — made me want to look at my primary sources [a writer's novels] as 'objects', as artefacts which seems obvious but I hadn't thought of it that way before ('theory' seems to get in the way of simple, useful thoughts sometimes) — I want to treat my texts as crafted historical objects, and can start by imagining what I would say about each if they were exhibited in such a place as the NMA.
From understanding the genesis of the Eternity gallery, students also began to appreciate the complexity of curatorial work in ways that connected with their own challenges:
I had a superficial view before. Now I can see how, behind every exhibition are complexities and decisions made, the hours of thought and debate, the politics and the necessity for a refined sensibility and informed mind to make those decisions.
For another:
It was inspirational to understand the concept behind the presentation of an exhibition around emotions. It has opened up possibilities ... in my own work.
For one this awareness was couched in terms of a perceived transformation in museum practice:
I can see that the role of the museum has changed. They are more relevant to society and less remote than they used to be. I did not realise this until I attended the workshop. I have no experience other than the workshop, but if this is any indication, it is apparent that the museum is actively supportive of research.

But for most, the fact that research and education in museums might have any connection to their own interests — their own engagement in 'life-long education' — had simply not come to their attention before. 'It is ironic', reflected one participant on the fact the National Museum of Australia had hosted the workshop, that this 'stimulus [to reflect on such academic research questions] should have come from outside universities'.

The questionnaires revealed many more specific and valued insights arising from the workshop, but perhaps enough has been recorded to draw out several basic points. While the National Museum of Australia hosted the workshop, and while the Eternity gallery was a catalyst for many participants, their observations have a purchase on questions of the research and educational role of museums in general, on changing patterns of accountability in that role, and of opportunities to capitalise on common interests. Let me return to biography as a way of drawing out these points.

Objects as biography

Biography has assumed some of the 'explanatory work' of social history, but that role in itself alerts us to how uses and expectations of the 'past' are changing in ways that are relevant to measuring the effectiveness of the institutions that are its custodians. Janice Peck suggests that we live in an age of memoir, fostered by a pervasive culture of confession. The use of biographical and autobiographical accounts in everyday forums such as talk shows reveals a culture that now systematically shifts issues once seen as private into the public domain, but in the process transforms them from matters of social situation to those of personal choice, failure, blame or self-actualisation.[33] The alienation Wright Mills sought to remedy in the 1950s and 1960s by connecting biography and history, self and world, is now strangely reversed: from seeking to understand the formative influence of our place in society we are now encouraged to account for the extent to which we might be measured against social roles or achieve recognition of our distinctiveness. Calls to tell a nation's story in exemplary lives — as the last Australian Government instructed both its national museum and its historians to do — are partly a response to this pervasive culture, and partly a symptom of it.

Museums can complicate such neat trajectories when they make us think of lives through 'artefacts', asking questions of context that stimulate new patterns of interpretation. As one 'Using lives' participant recorded:
Although I do not see my work as something that might be presented in a museum, as a very text oriented person, I found the discussions of material culture tremendously useful to challenge my understanding of what can be used in writing a biography.

From a biographically-informed perspective, an object can be given a life not as a type of artefact but as representation of use, a process that will have its phases of intensity, occasion, secrecy, meaning and so on. Such an object, so treated, can in turn take us a step away from associating directly with those who held or used such an object as 'representative' of their time and place, and towards recognising their performance with such an object as one form of 'possibility' in those circumstances. Biography can thus give us a historical subject that addresses both the pressure to individualise the experience of the past and to comprehend the structures that set limits to such contingency.[34] From this perspective, museum objects are in no danger of being lost in the new media or multiple stories that biography appears to thrive on; they have the potential to become central to them.

Yet to fully explore such opportunities, the research that lies behind an object as it appears in a museum should not be lost in seamless display. Even though they were actively engaged in research projects, 'Using lives' participants were — at the beginning of their workshops — still accustomed to seeing museums as presenting normative, static, uncomplicated accounts of history. Charles Saumarez-Smith's lament of nearly 20 years ago, that 'instead of viewing the display gallery for what it is, a set of complex decisions about a number of alternative methods of representation, there is the idea that the procedure must be suppressed', remains as a kind of default in their views of museums. And this is despite clear evidence in support of Saumarez-Smith's perception that 'there is a current tendency within the social sciences to look anew at the type of evidence which artefacts might provide about social relations'.[35] Between these students — and the wider constituencies they in part represented — and museums there is a conversation that clearly still needs to take place, particularly given current pressure on museums to assess their own 'research' with reference to essentially academic norms and comparisons. This conversation is in turn part of a wider exchange about how a social history museum might fully and critically engage with the uses of social history in the communities it serves, and against which it often called to account.


Despite Tony Bennett's view that high levels of cultural 'training' and educational attainment characterise the groups most likely to visit museums, this survey of 'Using lives' participants suggests that such training does not necessarily translate into engagement with the work of a museum.[36] For these postgraduate students a visit to a museum seems to have remained too often just that. That curators had undertaken the kind of work students aspired to, and that they were handling material culture in ways that, directly or by analogy, could inform their own experimentation in research, genuinely struck most workshop participants with surprise. The challenges of the students' own research projects had seemed, until prompted to take a behind-the-scenes perspective, to have no equivalent in a museum. Yet this is despite the fact that there were great areas of common ground in the ways they had come to their work and in the ways they hoped to present it. The realisation that there were equivalent processes undertaken in a public institution, beyond the academy, ran like a charge of energy through the groups. Here is very fruitful ground for universities and museums to think of how they might cooperate in future. As convener of 'Using lives' — and as an academic from the Australian Dictionary of Biography, but working in the National Museum of Australia's Centre for Historical Research — it was gratifying to see the kind of recognition the workshops achieved, so that (as one student summarised her experience) it was possible to conclude the week with 'a stronger sense of the opportunities museums provide for the presentation of research'. But it was also sobering to hear from so many committed and innovative graduate students that they had not made, or had had made for them, that connection beforehand.

1 Eilean Hooper-Greenhill, Museums and the Interpretation of Visual Culture, Routledge, London, 2000, p. 162; Hooper-Greenhill, 'Education, communication and interpretation: Towards a critical pedagogy in museums', in Hooper-Greenhill (ed.), The Educational Role of the Museum, 2nd edn, Routledge, London, 1994, p. 3.
2 See Prue Chamberlayne, Joanna Bornat & Tom Wengraf, The Turn to Biographical Methods in Social Science, Routledge, London, 2000.
3 Paula R Backscheider, Reflections on Biography, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1999, p. 230.
4 'Using lives' was a series of postgraduate workshops focused on the ways researchers actively shape and use biographical subject matter for a range of purposes. In 2007 the series was jointly sponsored by the Australian Dictionary of Biography, the History Program, Research School of Social Sciences and the Humanities Research Centre, at The Australian National University, and the National Museum of Australia. This week-long, residential program attracted more than 70 students from around Australia.
5 See Gaynor Kavanagh, 'History in museums in Britain', in David Fleming, Crispin Paine & John G Rhodes (eds), Social History in Museums: A Handbook for Professionals, HMSO, London, 1993, pp. 13–23.
6 C Wright Mills, The Sociological Imagination, Oxford University Press, New York, 1959, p. 1.
7 Richard White, 'Imagining: Representing Australia', in Graeme Davison & Kimberley Webber (eds), Yesterday's Tomorrows: The Powerhouse Museum and its Precursors 1880–2005, UNSW Press, Sydney, 2005, p. 139.
8 Hilde S Hein, The Museum in Transition: A Philosophical Perspective, Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, 2000, p. 63.
9 Kavanagh, p. 19.
10 White, p. 141; Graeme Davison, 'The use and abuse of history', Australian Historical Studies, vol. 23, no. 19, 1988, 55–76.
11 Hein, pp. 54, 62.
12 Monty Reid & Bruce Naylor, 'Three reasons to worry about museum researchers', Museum Management and Curatorship, vol. 20, no. 4, 2005, 359–64 (pp. 361–2).
13 For an influential early expression of these tensions, see Patrick Joyce, 'The end of social history?', Social History, vol. 20, no. 1, 1995, 73–91; for a recent summary, Geoff Eley and Keith Nield, The Future of Class in History: What's Left of the Social?, University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor, 2007.
14 Ian Donaldson, 'Matters of life and death: The return of biography', Australian Book Review, no. 286, 2006, 23–9 (p. 23).
15 Backscheider, p. 234.
16 Graeme Davison, The Use and Abuse of Australian History, Allen and Unwin, Sydney, 2000, pp. 183–4.
17 Donaldson, 'Matters of life and death' (p. 23).
18 See Barbara Czarniawska-Joerges, Narratives in Social Science Research, Sage, London, 2004, pp. 3, 5.
19 Quoted in Susan Tridgell, Understanding Our Selves: The Dangerous Art of Biography, Peter Lang, Bern, 2004, p. 57.
20 Robert Skidelsky, 'Only connect: biography and truth', in Eric Homberger & John Charmley (eds), The Troubled Face of Biography, St Martin's Press, New York, 1988, p. 1
21 Terry Eggleton, quoted in Donaldson, 'Matters of life and death', p. 25.
22 Skidelsky, 'Only connect', pp. 6, 8.
23 Jo Burr Margadant, The New Biography: Performing Femininity in Nineteenth-Century France, University of California Press, Berkeley, 2000.
24 Skidelsky, 'Only connect', p. 13.
25 Backscheider, p. 232.
26 Marianne Gullested, 'Tales of consent and descent: Life writing as a fight against an imposed self-image', in John Paul Eakin (ed.), The Ethics of Life Writing, Cornell University Press, New York, 2004, p. 22.
27 Review of the National Museum of Australia: Its Exhibitions and Programs, DCITA, Canberra, 2003, p. 13.
28 Donaldson, pp. 28–9.
29 Kylie Message, 'Meeting the challenges of the future? Museums and the public good', reCollections: Journal of the National Museum of Australia, vol. 2, no. 1, 2007, 71–93 (p. 86).
30 Stephen Weil, Making Museums Matter, Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, DC, p. 29.
31 Marion Stell (ed.), Eternity: Stories from the Emotional Heart of Australia, National Museum of Australia, Canberra, 2001, p. x.
32 Review of the National Museum of Australia, pp. 32–3.
33 Janice Peck, 'The mediated talking cure: Therapeutic framing of autobiography in TV talk shows', in Sidonie Smith & Julia Watson (eds), Getting a Life: Everyday Uses of Autobiography, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 2002, pp. 142, 146.
34 See for example Robert Mills's analysis of the representation of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in museums, and the need to move away from essentially ahistorical and heroic identifications of representative individuals by 'sexual preference' to an approach which conveys the diversity of experienced lives through 'queering' the material worlds in which they lived: Robert Mills, 'Queer is here: Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender histories and public culture', History Workshop Journal, no. 62, 2006, 253–63 (pp. 260–61).
35 Charles Saumarez-Smith, 'Museums, Artefacts and Meanings', in Peter Verso (ed.), The New Museology, Reaktion, London, 1989, pp 17, 21.
36 Tony Bennett, 'That those who run may read', in Hooper-Greenhill (ed.), Educational Role, p. 244.