Life Writing "from Below" in Europe

Popular Autobiography in Switzerland


  • Fabian Brändle



Switzerland, autobiography, working-class, social mobility, literacy, everyday history


Switzerland has a very old and lively tradition of working-class writing, including outstanding examples such as Augustin Güntzer, Ulrich Bräker or the weavers Matthias and Heinrich Senn. This rich culture is due to the high social mobility, relatively early successful literacy and Protestant self-introspection. Then, though there are not many texts written by left wing workers, male and female, there is a substantial number of texts written by men and women from the margins of society. These texts are not strongly ideological and are thus very interesting sources for everyday history. Despite this tradition, there is a lack of institutional and scientific interest in collecting and conserving autobiographical texts in Switzerland. This article traces the Swiss tradition of working-class life writing, relating it to the social and cultural factors which enabled it; highlights some of the scholarship of editing and interpretation which these texts have generated; and indicates the author’s own contribution to the task of collecting and cataloguing Swiss popular autobiographical texts.

Author Biography

Fabian Brändle

Fabian Brändle has published widely on popular autobiography in Switzerland. He has edited the autobiographies of the 17th-century Alsatian pewterer Augustin Güntzer (Böhlau, 2002), and the 19th-century Toggenburg pedlar, Gregorius Aemisegger (Wattwil, 2007). His recent publications include “Die Würde der Arbeit. Zur Autobiographie des Verdingbuben, Schlossers und Gewerkschaftssekretärs Alois Büchi (1879–1948)” [The dignity of work. On the autobiography of the child labourer, locksmith and union secretary Alois Buchi], Badener Neujahrsblätter (2011); and “‘Ganz sicher müsst ich nicht mehr weben.’ Zum Tagebuch des Degersheimer Webers Johann Jakob Brunner (1806–1879) [‘I certainly will not need to weave’. The diary of the Degersheim weaver Johann Jakob Brunner]”, Toggenburger Jahrbuch (2011). Brändle is currently editing the autobiography of a poor Swiss emigrant and soldier who fought in the US-Army in the Indian Wars, in Cuba and in the Philippines.





Life Writing "from Below" in Europe