Uh oh… doesn’t say much for my ability to keep a resolution if I’ve lapsed before my third week… I think this omission may call for an extra this week. True I’ve had other things on my plate–last week at the archive and some stuff that needs to be written to meet application deadlines, but that is no reason or even an excuse. Part of the point of this resolution was to take time out for random writing no matter what…

But what to write about? I took a look at some of the writing from the senses prompts that I saved as titles of unwritten drafts, and while each is lovely, not one feels right to write about at this time. But perhaps I can draw inspiration from the topics of one of my work-related themes: autobiography.

Autobiography is a theme I’ve dwelt on as a historian of science for a time now. I’ve taken courses on it, taught courses on it and used autobiographies as primary sources in my research. As for writing them, well I’d say the blog is most certainly an autobiographical form–offering the writer’s public facade to its audiences like a memoir, but with the immediacy or time-stamp of a letter (with one difference you can actually go back and edit things in or out later which you can’t really do with a letter). And in fact, one of my students even used a blog as part of her cache of primary autobiographical documents on which she built her final paper for the class.

Other than blogs though, what qualifies as autobiography or “ego-documents” as we sometimes say in the profession? The aforementioned memoirs and letters certainly, as well as private diaries (I remember writing my paper on the published but little read diary of Robert Hooke–a very strange document that). One friend would have it that virtually anything a scholar publishes is in a sense autobiography, a story of the self or rather work by oneself, that he/she wants to share with the outside world. But while I agree at some level, I also think that such a definition is diluting the category overmuch, taking it to a point where it ceases to be useful (maybe?). I think that a piece must contain a definite element of sharing information about the author in order for it be considered some sort of ego-document. For instance, I do not think either of the reference books I’ve written count as autobiographies in any meaningful sense of the word–they are about microbes and about genes in the genome. Even my upcoming historical monograph is not about me, although it will certainly contain certain parts in the foreword (or afterword) that are distinctly autobiographical. But the book itself.. no.

Another rhetorical question here–what to do with all these thoughts? Well for now, not much more than publish it right here and almost right now. But I hope that the exercise has unlocked enough to give me more fodder for one of my other projects that are due for submission in very short order. (#50).

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