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Completed project

Telling (Jewish) Lives: Biographers' Reports

Digital lecture series, winter term 2021/2022

Open book
Photo: Ping198 -

Organized by Prof. Dr. Grażyna Jurewicz
University of Potsdam, Institute of Jewish and Religious Studies
Selma Stern Center for Jewish Studies Berlin-Brandenburg

Open book
Photo: Ping198 -

German version see here.

On the topic

For some time now, there has been talk of a “biographical turn” in the historically working humanities. In Jewish Studies, too, the relevance of biographical research practice is continuously increasing. Based on this finding, the interdisciplinary lecture series held in German (Jüdische) Leben erzählen: Biographische Werkstattberichte [Telling (Jewish) Lives: Biographers’ Reports] offers insights into the historiographical and literary aspects of working on Jewish life stories.   
Jewish lives often embody subject positions whose biographical accessing and analysis pose considerable challenges to researchers. These are rooted in phenomena such as exile, diaspora, transculturality, multilingualism, and intersectionality, which seem to be inherent in Jewish history and which result in potentially discontinuous or fragmented worlds of experience. The consequence is an often markedly complex constellation of sources, which on the one hand complicate biographical investigations, but on the other hand can prove particularly revealing for the methodology of biography. In the context of retrospective reflection on the processes of their life history studies, the speakers describe such challenges and possible ways of dealing with them, using concrete examples. In doing so, they touch upon a number of general methodological questions and practical research problems of biographical writing, such as: the choice of protagonists of biographical narratives; the presence of biographers in their representations of other lives and their possible identification with their own “objects”; the handling of gaps in knowledge or the abundance of knowledge; literary aspects of biographical work as well as its ethical dimensions; the representability of the connections between the life to be biographed and the specific form of creativity that was practiced in this life. Along these and other case-specific aspects of life writing, the lecture series will discuss the conditions of the possibility of transforming traces of past lives as conveyed by various media into written narratives in order to gain methodological yields for biographical research practice within and outside Jewish Studies. 


10/26/2021 Grażyna Jurewicz (Potsdam/Berlin): Prologue

11/2/2021 Beatrix Borchard (Hamburg/Berlin): Storytelling or Marking Gaps? Reflecting on the Handling of Biographical Source Material 

11/9/2021 Ernst Piper (Potsdam): Between Intersectionality and Internationalism. Approaching Rosa Luxemburg 

11/16/2021 Reiner Stach (Berlin): Kafka’s Life. A Research 

11/30/2021 Verena Dohrn (Hannover): Family Biography as Literary Procedure. The Saga of the Oil Entrepreneurs Kahan from Baku 

12/07/2021 Dominique Bourel (Paris/Kassel): Moses Mendelssohn and Martin Buber: Biography without Autobiography?

12/14/2021 Stefanie Mahrer (Bern/Basel): Salman Schocken. Topographies of a Life 

01/11/2022 Katharina Prager (Vienna): “I can only understand it Hasidically...” – Jewishness in the Lives of Berthold and Salka Viertel  

01/18/2022 Claudia Willms (Frankfurt am Main): Historiography from below? Franz Oppenheimer and Biographical Research from a Cultural Anthropology Perspective

01/25/2022 Efrat Gal-Ed (Düsseldorf/Augsburg): Nobody’s language. Itzik Manger – a European Poet. On the Biographical Textual Process 

02/01/2022 Jacques Picard (Basel/Zurich): The Clock That Is Still Ticking. On Subjects and Objects in Biographical Research

02/08/2022 Christina Pareigis (Hamburg): Shamanistic Voyages. Review of the Making of an Intellectual Biography of Susan Taubes 

02/15/2022 Philipp Lenhard (Munich): The Pitfalls of the Archive: On the Biography of Friedrich Pollock 

02/22/2022 Stephan Braese (Aachen): To Biographize Hildesheimer: Workshop – Expedition – Laboratory  

03/01/2022 Alfred Gall (Mainz): “I don’t belong anywhere, because I am from somewhere else”: Constellations of Biography and Science Fiction in Stanisław Lem’s Work