History and Biography
Biographies are written with the intention of celebrating influential figures in society. Other than outlining the person’s achievement, biographers will commonly outline the life story of the person of interest. It is not uncommon for biographies to rely on the circumstances existing in society at the time of writing to attempt to illustrate the person’s life story. Using evidence from the biographies of important historical figures like Cleopatra, Marie Antoinette, Abraham Lincoln, and Martin Luther King Jr., this essay will demonstrate that biographers are likely to be influenced by historical and cultural circumstances at the time of writing. It will also be noted that, while biographers do not necessarily rely upon their subjective opinions, they commonly base their narratives on their own understanding or perspectives of the persons in question.
Depending on the context in which a biography is written, the biographer may tell the person’s life story to make it seem as if the person’s life was far from ordinary. In any case, biographies are influenced by biographers’ perspectives, as well as historical and cultural circumstances that exist at the time the biography is written. For instance, at a time when black teenagers were seemingly targeted by police, it would be expected of biographers to heap praise on Abraham Lincoln, whom they associate with a yearning for the liberty of minority communities. Similarly, biographers are expected to regard Martin Luther King Jr. highly, for the role he played in attempting to liberate the African American community from discriminatory treatment in the face of the law. This is in line with the trend whereby Barrack Obama’s 2008 and 2012 national elections victories inspired biographical comparisons between the latter and Martin Luther King Jr. For instance, the first edition Peter J. Ling’s book Martin Luther King Jr. seemingly took a neutral perspective, inquiring whether the praise that the African American legend was rightfully earned. The second edition of 2015, on the other hand, heaps praise on the revolutionary, includes Barrack Obama’s anniversary speech and fittingly celebrates black history. Needless to say, the success of Barrack Obama to become the nation’s first African American president influenced the author in writing the second edition of the book.
Marie Antoinette and Cleopatra’s biographical accounts mostly celebrate the female leaders’ achievements, bearing in mind that both were tasked with leading vast territories. Such biographies are mostly influenced by modern social movements, which explains why there has been was a surge in the number of biographies dedicated to the two leaders since the emergence of the feminist ideology. Some of the biographical accounts that ascertain this proposition are Marie Antoinette: The Journey by Antonia Fraser, Cleopatra: A Biography by Jean Hamm and Catherine Andronik and Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff. Other than the fact that these biographies are written by female authors, they focus upon the achievements of the female leaders. Schiff particularly describes Cleopatra’s palace as one which glistened with gold and onyx. It is important to note that at the time when these books were written, the feminist ideology was a dominant social theory. It is not surprising, therefore, that this group of authors overlooks the unfortunate circumstances that surrounded the end of the leaders’ regimes.
As observed in this discussion, the perspective taken by biographers is likely to be influenced by cultural and historical circumstances. This is evidenced by the position taken by Peter Ling in his biographical account of Martin Luther King Jr. While biographers may not allow their subjective opinions to guide their narratives, their beliefs and perspectives on the issues that make their subjects popular may influence their biographical accounts. This is evidenced by Cleopatra and Marie Antoinette’s biographies, in which the female biographers celebrate the female leaders’ achievements while overlooking their decline.
Hamm, Jean and Andronik, Catherine. Cleopatra: A biography. New York: Greenwood. 2014
Fraser, Antonia. Marie Antoinette: The journey. Santa Ana, Calif: Books on Tape. 2010
Ling, Peter. J. Martin Luther King, Jr. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, 2015.
Schiff, S. Cleopatra: A life. New York: Back Bay Books. 2011.