Christopher M. Waters, associate professor of history at Williams College, explained the importance of autobiographies Friday in a lecture in Phillips Hall.
The presentation was the last in a series of history department lectures on modern British history, entitled “Autobiography, Nostalgia and Working Class Selfhood in Postwar Great Britain.” The lecture dealt with the use and collection of oral history, highlighting the emotion associated with the postwar period.
“I think so many disruptive changes occurred in Britain as Britain tried to adjust after the war, and it’s always been very interesting to me,” said Waters, a British historian.
Waters said autobiographies provide an inside look at civilization during particular time periods. Capturing what he describes as “culture of the street,” autobiographical accounts have the ability to represent the reality of an era, he said.
“I’m very interested in how these books are produced, how they come out and why,” Waters said.
Audience member Linda Levy Peck raised the issue of oral histories as evoking more of a response than biographies during the question-and-answer period.
“A lot of oral history done most recently is trying to move away from this nostalgia,” Waters said. “I think a lot of individuals who are doing oral history right now are sort of casting their nets as to what else they’re interested in.”
Audience member Mark McClure described the literature as “histories more important to the community than to historians.”
“I think they’re important to historians for different reasons,” Waters responded.