Masterclass, Alistair Thomson

Course Title: How to Research with Life Narratives?
Ph.d. Masterclass with Professor Alistair Thomson (Monash University, Australia)

Content: The Master Class introduces and explores approaches to researching and interpreting life narratives in the humanities and social sciences, and explores concepts, debates and research methods in the field. Participants will present a 15 minute paper on a relevant topic related to their thesis. Feedback and discussion will follow.

Lecturer: Alistair Thomson
Date/Time: December 3rd, 9:00-5.30
Place: Building/room 1481-568, Nobel Parken, University of Aarhus
Deadline for registration: October Monday 1st 2012
Organizer: Palle Nørgaard: E-mail:, Phone: (+45)87162684
Max. no. of participants: 10

Writing or speaking the self has become a central activity in our times. As part of the memory boom of recent decades more and more people are narrating their lives in an ever-increasing variety of media. From diaries, letters, memoirs and self-portraits we have moved through recorded oral histories to personal blogs to the creation of everyday online identity in the social fora of Web 2.0 and beyond. Researchers in the humanities and social sciences increasingly use these life narratives to explore a wide range of historical, social and cultural research topics. How can we define and approach research with life narratives? Is there a common ground for life narrative research in the humanities and social sciences? The master class explores research with life narratives and the methodological questions that it raises, including:

- What are the factors that influence how someone narrates their life?
- How does narrative form and genre shape the story?
- How are life narratives individual and social, private and public?
- If life narratives are partial and constructed accounts of a life, how do we understand the blurred line between autobiography and imagination, between history and fiction?
- In memory narratives, what is the relation between past and present, between the time of the event and the time of the telling?
- How can we use life narratives as evidence about events, and as articulations of experience and subjectivity?
- What are the clues for meaning in life narratives, and how do we make sense of them?
- How can we explore wider social, cultural and historical patterns and themes using individual life narratives?
- What are the ethical and personal issues posed by life narrative research? To what extent can and should researchers ‘share authority’ with the narrators whose stories they use?

Professor Thomson is an oral historian who has researched with written and spoken life narratives for 30 years. He will introduce and explore approaches and issues in life narrative research drawing upon examples from his own work. Each postgraduate scholar will present on an aspect of their thesis related to issues and approaches in life narrative research (paper 15 minutes). There will be feedback and discussion of each paper (15 minutes).

Application deadline: October Monday 1st 2012: The application should include an abstract of the paper (max. 500 words) and a short project description. Send application to/request further information from organizer at

Preliminary program:
9:00 - 9:05 Welcome
9:05 - 10:30 Lecture: Alistair Thomson: Researching with Life Narratives: Issues and Approaches
10:30 - 10:45 Questions
10:45 - 11:00 Coffee and cake (15 minutes)
11:00 - 12:30 Presentation of Papers (3 papers)
12:30 – 13:15 Lunch
13:15 – 15:15 Presentation of Papers (4 papers)
15:15 - 15:30 Coffee and cake (15 minutes)
15:30 - 17:00 Presentation of Papers (3 papers)
17:00 – 17:30 Summary A. Thomson and Concluding Discussion
19:00 Dinner Downtown(on own expense)