Teaching Life Writing Texts in Europe

A Postcolonial Education: Using End of Empire Autobiographies to Introduce Postcolonial Studies


  • Astrid Rasch University of Copenhagen




Postcolonial studies, autobiography, teaching, discourse


This article reviews the experiences with teaching Jill Ker Conway’s autobiography The Road From Coorain (1989). The two weeks of lectures and seminars were part of a six-week introductory course to Postcolonial Studies for first year undergraduates at the English Department at the University of Copenhagen. The lectures provided a theoretical and historical framework and the seminars consisted of close reading and discussion of the texts. I describe how four concepts which are central to postcolonial theory, discourse, identity, representation and agency, were used in readings of the text. The article takes its point of departure in discussions about the post-imperial time of writing, the creation of individual identity in dialogue with one’s context, the ambiguous representation of Aboriginal people and the agency involved in writing a life story which goes against the expected narrative. I discuss the difficulties of the course and provide recommendations for improvements for future iterations of the course. Despite occasional difficulties, I argue that autobiographies are useful sources for an introduction to Postcolonial Studies.


This article was submitted to the European Journal of Life Writing on 28 July 2015 and published on 12 December 2015.


Author Biography

Astrid Rasch, University of Copenhagen

Astrid Rasch is a PhD fellow in English at the University of Copenhagen as part of the Velux-funded research project Embers of Empire. Her PhD project examines autobiographies from various parts of the former British Empire by people who have lived through its dissolution to study how they make sense of that event as well as of their pre-decolonisation lives. She has taught courses on contemporary Australia, on the metropolitan repercussions of the end of the British Empire and on Postcolonial Studies. She holds an MA in English from the University of Copenhagen from 2012.





Teaching Life Writing Texts in Europe