Life Writing "from Below" in Europe

Life Writing “from Below” in Europe: Authors, Archives, Avenues, Arenas


  • T.G. Ashplant King's College London



life writing from below, workers’ writing, peasant writing, labouringclass poetry, auto/biographical practices, autobiographical injunction, patronage, archives


Drawing on a large body of scholarship from the last forty years, this article offers an overview of the diverse forms of life writing “from below” (by authors from low down in a class or status hierarchy) in Europe since the early modern period (including autobiographies, diaries, letters, as well as transcripts of oral testimonies); and the varied and developing national traditions of collecting and archiving which have developed since the mid-twentieth century. It locates such writing within a field of force between an exteriority pole constituted by the state (or by organisations of civil society, or informal community pressures) which compel or otherwise elicit life writings from below, and an interiority pole of the impulse of someone hitherto excluded to narrate their life in some public sphere; and examines diverse ways (state compulsion or solicitation; citizen engagement, challenge or resistance) in which these pressures give rise to the production of texts. It identifies the roles of intermediaries within civil society (patrons, sponsors, commercial publishers, collaborators) as links between individual (potential) authors and the public sphere.

Author Biography

T.G. Ashplant, King's College London

T. G. Ashplant is a Visiting Professor at the Centre for Life-Writing Research, King’s College London. He is a social and cultural historian, with a research Life Writing “from Below” in Europe: Introduction 7 interest in life writings as a source for exploring the construction and transformation of class and gender subjectivities, and their relationship to political identities. He has recently published “Life Writings from Below in Europe,” History Workshop Journal no. 79 (spring 2015), 274–289; and has co-edited (with AnnCatrine Edlund and Anna Kuismin) Reading and Writing from Below: Exploring the Margins of Modernity (2016). He is author of Fractured Loyalties: Masculinity, Class and Politics in Britain, 1900–30 (London: RiversOram, 2007); and co-editor of Explorations in Cultural History (with Gerry Smyth; London: Pluto Press, 2001).





Life Writing "from Below" in Europe