Biography and history

Richard G. Williams has picked up on comments by George Rable that suggest the academy does not view biography as history.

Mr. Williams, a biographer, is not pleased.

My own feeling is that the current form of scholarly biography is over-influenced, driven even, by the forms and conventions of popular biographies: sidereal linearity, half-baked genealogy, infantile behaviorism, and an unconscious devotion to the great man theory of history which takes the form of insufficient attention paid to collaborative outcomes. (I see the latter especially in modern military biographers where principals are divorced completely from their staffs.)

The new media and new technology allow us to transcend paper publishing in order to provide monstrously ambitious biographies: letter collections, documents, recollections of third parties, evaluations, interviews, all rolled up into a package that includes narrative - if we must have narrative. Why not use the new media? And maybe also crack the consumer whip over the heads of bad biographers (hello Walter Isaacson).

If a solon is scanning the biography rack at Borders and stroking his gray beard in perplexity, don't be too hard on him.