Andrew W. Mellon Undergraduate Fellow in the Humanities
2007—2008 Forum on Origins
English, Cognitive Science
“Incidents in the life”: Crises of selfhood in 19th century autobiography
The very act of writing entails a question: “Who am I, the writer?” Following on its tail are a slew of other conundrums –“What made me who I am?” “How do I want to represent myself?” and, of great interest to philosophers and self-help gurus alike, “Can I change?” The annals of Western thought are rife with debate over the issues of selfhood and self-development, but we can often gain a more revealing perspective from firsthand (or purportedly firsthand) accounts. This project will explore the status of the self-concept in 19th century autobiography and memoir: how did authors answer the question of their own intellectual origins, and how did their answers reflect the same insecurities that pervade modern attempts to constitute a unique “self”?