Why write about the life and work of contemporary biomedical and life scientists? What is the use of the genre of biography for understanding contemporary biomedicine? Is it just history by other means, or does biography writing have other uses as well?
In an article titled “The Seven Sisters: Subgenres of Bioi of Contemporary Life Scientsts”(Journal of the History of Biology, vol. 44, pp. 633-650, 2011), I’m approaching these questions by analysing seven kinds of subgenres of scientific biography.
My point of departure for the analysis is the most common use of the genre today, i.e., as a method for writing contextual history of science (this is what I call biography as an ancilla historiae).
In the following sections of the paper, I discuss three other acknowledged contemporary uses of the genre: as a means for understanding the construction of scientific knowledge; as a way of promoting the popular understanding of and engagement with science; and as belles-lettres.
Then I discuss two important, but presently less acknowledged, kinds of biography: as a medium for the public commemoration of an alleged great person (eulogy) and as private commemoration (labor of love).
The paper ends with a discussion of the use of biographies of life scientists as a virtue ethical genre — a genre that implicitly or explicitly contributes to how to live a ‘good life’ in science.
JHB is a Springer-hosted journal so it’s all behind a paywall, but interested friends and colleagues can get a personal pdf-reprint.