Beyond Endings: Past Tenses and Future Imaginaries

Autobiography as Political Legacy in Transition Periods. Benjamin Franklin and Konrad Adenauer Compared


  • Volker Depkat University of Regensburg



Benjamin Franklin, Konrad Adenauer, political legacy, political autobiography, consciousness of epoch


Developing consciousness of epoch as a category of autobiographical time, the article approaches the autobiographies of Benjamin Franklin and Konrad Adenauer as acts of political communication in historico-biographical transition periods. The temporal semantics of Franklin’s and Adenauer’s autobiographical texts anchor in a consciousness of epoch, which suggests that (a) the foundations for an anticipated ideal future have been laid through the political decisionmaking of the autobiographer, and that (b) it is uncertain whether the succeeding generations of political decision-makers will continue to pursue the political course that, in the eyes of the autobiographer, will eventually realize the anticipated utopia of an ideal world. The article thus moves away from an understanding of political autobiography as justification of political decisions taken and not taken in the past. Instead, it investigates autobiography as acts of political communication legitimating the past with a future anticipated at the moment of writing the autobiography. This angle sheds light on political autobiography as a future-oriented continuation of politics by autobiographical means. The temporal semantics of the autobiographical text anchoring in a given consciousness of epoch and the communicative functions of the autobiographical act thus extend well beyond the endings of the text and the autobiographer’s life.

Author Biography

Volker Depkat, University of Regensburg

Volker Depkat is a trained historian and Professor of American Studies at the University of Regensburg. One of his major research interests is defined by the question of how historians can tap life writing as historical sources. Recently, he has also been moving into the field of biography studies. His publications include Lebenswenden und Zeitenwenden: Deutsche Politiker und die Erfahrungen des 20. Jahrhunderts (Oldenbourg 2007), ‘Doing Identity: Auto/Biographien als Akte sozialer Kommunikation,’ in Imperial Subjects: Autobiographische Praxis in den Vielvölkerreichen der Romanovs, Habsburger und Osmanen im 19. und frühen 20. Jahrhundert, ed. by Martin Aust and Frithjof Benjamin Schenk (Böhlau 2015, 39–58) as well as several contributions to Martina Wagner-Egelhaaf’s Handbook of Autobiography/Autofiction (De Gruyter 2020). Email:





Beyond Endings: Past Tenses and Future Imaginaries