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The Humanities Conference 2003

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Raid the Archives: Discovering the Neglected Self of Autobiographical Acts

Harold E. Dorton.

As people tell the stories of their lives, they tell not only what happened in a particular time and place, but also who they were and who they are. This paper shows that researchers can and should examine autobiographical acts as acts of self-creation. I contend that when people capture events and experiences in any way, they are not only creating data about events and selves, they are actually creating selves. Many autobiographical products organize the events and experiences of a lifetime, which people can re-live as many times as they remember them. Similarly, people create and re-create historical selves as many times as they reflect on their pasts. These historical selves are subject to evaluation, revision, reinterpretation, and reevaluation. By examining autobiographical acts and products, scholars can discover the many ways that people manage historical, cultural, social, interpersonal, personal, and self-knowledge. We should use the autobiographical products that are already in the archives, and capture autobiographical acts to restock them. Even though sources that document self-creation are readily available, they are underutilized in studies of self and identity. Rather than advocate particular methods, I advocate using these rich data sources more than scholars often do.


Harold E. Dorton  (United States)
Assistant Professor
Department of Sociology
Southwest Texas State University

Dr. Dorton is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Southwest Texas State University, where he teaches and researches social psychology, theory, and popular culture.

  • Self
  • Identity
  • Autobiographical Acts
  • Social Memory
  • Narratives
  • Archival Research

(Virtual Presentation, English)