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Vita magistra historiae? Life experience and meanings of the past


Published: Jul 17, 2016
Keywords:
Historical Experience Autobiography Meaning Teleology German History
Rolf Petri
https://orcid.org/0000-0002-8745-910X
Abstract

The article tackles the question of how the historian’s personal experience interacts with professional choices. To assess in an experimental manner the methodological reach of autobiographical narration, the author considers his own case. In a first step he narrates how he was politicised in the 1970s and what history had to do with it. In a second step he reflects on his early professional activities and ponders how the turning point of 1989 interfered with his changing interests in the past. The final part is devoted to more general considerations regarding the influence of life experience on doing history. While the author’s experience confirms that biography influences professional choices, his theoretical and methodological argumentation rejects the idea that autobiographical writing should account for a new subjectivity paradigm in historiography.

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Author Biography
Rolf Petri, Ca’ Foscari University of Venice, Department of Linguistics and Comparative Cultural Studies
Rolf Petri is full professor of contemporary history (19th and 20th centuries) at the Ca’ Foscari University of Venice. Born in 1957, in 1982 he obtained the university diploma from Philipps-University of Marburg and in 1988 the doctoral degree of the European University Institute in Florence. He was a researcher and assistant professor at Deutsche Historische Institut (Rome), and the universities of Bielefeld and Halle-Wittenberg. From 2006 to 2009 he coordinated the Marie-Curie Training Network European Doctorate in the Social History of Europe and the Mediterranea "Building on the Past", from 2011 to 2014 he directed Ca' Foscari School of International Relations. He was guest scholar at Global and European Studies Institute of Leipzig University, and the School of Historical and Contemporary Studies of Södertörn University Stockholm.
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