I’ve earlier (“The presentation of self in everyday laboratory web life”) written about my fascination with the new ways in which biomedical researchers present themselves on their websites and blogs. The public face of bioscience and biotech is, for better or for worse, becoming increasingly egocentric and self-presentational. So I was intrigued when I read about the ESF funded exploratory workshop on Ego-documents which my friend Michael H. is attending right now:

Everywhere in Europe, scientific teams or scholars are working on egodocuments. Egodocuments are a specific kind of texts produced by ordinaries people from the end of the Middle Age including memoirs, autobiographies, diaries and other forms of private journals. These fascinating documents could be used in a great number of topics like the history of the self, the history of the family or the history of the European culture and some of these teams are even currently building extensive censuses of all egodocuments kept in archives or libraries. Participants will search the ways to coordinate these efforts at an European scale, to share experience about the use of these texts, to extend the censuses to all the European countries, and to develop common scientific approaches to these texts.

It would have been fun to attend! (Michael sometimes keeps interesting things to himself 🙂 Because the study of late medieval and early modern ego-documents could in fact teach us something about how to study 21st century ego-webpages. But it could also be a total flop, of course. More than ten years ago, I participated in a conference on the epistolary genre with presentations about all kinds of letter-writing, from Mesopotamian clay tablet letters via Roman correspondences to German Romantic epistles. My contribution about letter-writing among mid-20th century scientists was totally ignored, however – the mere fact that I spoke about letters between scientists turned my more authentic humanities colleagues (philologists and literary historians) off.

Such attitudes have certainly changed (the growing interest for the Society for Science, Literature and Arts is an indication of this). For example, a variety of poststructuralist approaches have informed humanistic studies of science. But the tradition of classical humanistic approaches could also be a rich source for understanding social and cultural phenomena in contemporary biomedicine. I mean, even classical philology could generate new and interesting analytical perspectives and research topics.

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