Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Genre of Biographical Cultural History

People often describe my books as oral history. I did too until I became aware that what I was doing did not fall within that definition. I searched for a correct definition, and could not find one. After considerable thought, I decided to define my work as "biographical cultural history." You might ask, "What is the difference?" Oral history is generally presented dryly as only the verbatim answers of the interviewee to an invisible interviewer. Or, if visible, the interviewer is represented only by his question. In my books, I seek to transform the interview into a short biography related as a lively conversation between the subject and me. Thus, I'm not only visible, but shifting here and there, as required by the arc of the short biography I am writing, to the third person to interject comments or information to fill in the gaps, and thus project the interview not only as a lively conversation, but as the story, in essence, of a person's life, and with his or her observations and opinions, especially within the field of their interest. I believe this to be a new genre which I have sought to define below in a more academic manner:

"Biographical cultural history" appears to be a new book genre, applicable to a multiplicity of topics. In-depth personal and topical interviews of a group of individuals chosen for their prominence in a certain cultural historical field are fashioned by the author into short biographies to reveal the essence of their lives per se and their pertinence to the topic. All are then organized and integrated to create the penultimate "biographical cultural history." In each biography the author interweaves his questions and relevant verbatim extracts of the interviewee's words into a living first person present tense conversation, with the author's third person opening and closing commentary, interstitial observations and remarks, relevant biographical, historical, cultural information, and informative illustrations. An eminent historian, cultural expert, and/or the author then may write an interpretative essay for inclusion in the book to assess the social and cultural impact of the information developed in the biographies on the present and future.