CFP Life of Testimony / Testimony of Lives: A Life-Writing Conference

Testimony evokes first and foremost legal connotations and images of the courtroom. In this context testimony is bound by strict procedural conventions and the act of testifying in a courtroom can incur actual legal consequences. Outside of the courtroom, however, life-writing (in its broadest sense) can serve as a form of testimony which, while not necessarily causing specific legal ramifications, presents a life’s experience for judgment by the public. This relationship between an idea of testimony and the practice of life-writing is twofold: on the one hand, authors of life-writing may have certain testimonial or confessional intentions and use writing as a way of bearing witness. Readers, on the other hand, may interpret various forms of life-writing as testimony even if the author’s intentions about recording their experience are unknown. The act of interpreting or employing life-writing as testimony thus demands ethical scrutiny from readers as well as scholars using such materials.

This conference aims to explore the notion of testimony as an idea that pervades the practice, reception and interpretation of life-writing across time periods, academic disciplines and literatures. We are interested in testimony as a broad concept, and hope to investigate its scope and impact as an interpretive lens through which the breadth of life-writing can be viewed. Not only does testimony bear witness to the lives of individuals, it takes on a life (and even an afterlife) of its own as it is read and reinterpreted throughout history.

Confirmed Keynotes: Professor Paul Strohm (Columbia University), Professor Roger Woods (Nottingham University).

Papers are invited from all scholars (including postgraduate students) across the fields of (comparative) literature, history, philosophy, art, cultural studies, religious studies, curation and conservation of archival material, memory studies, and film studies. Topics could include but are not limited to:

  • The ethics of producing, reading and interpreting life-writing as a form of testimony
  • Stylistic, rhetorical and aesthetic dimensions of life-writing
  • The relationship between authors and readers of life-writing
  • Truth and subjectivity
  • The afterlife of testimony
  • Images as testimony
  • Culture as testimony, eg. published diaries of Holocaust survivors
  • Persuasion and manipulation of and within life-writing sources
  • Instrumentalisation of life-writing for political purposes
  • Life-writing as (historical) evidence and the act of bearing witness
  • Life-writing and the law
  • Reappropriation and adaptation of life-writing in popular culture
  • History and the individual
  • Challenges and conditions of writing lives

The conference will be hosted at Queen Mary University of London (Arts Two lecture theatre) on 5 and 6 May 2016, the registration fee will be £35,-/£20,- (non-concession/concession).

Please submit a short abstract (c. 300 words) and a short bio (c. 100 words) to Lotte Fikkers and Melissa Schuh at by Sunday 17 January 2016. Notification of acceptance will be given by 8 February 2016.