Maarit Leskelä-Kärki

Teaching life-writing in history: diaries and letters as historical texts

In my presentation I will discuss the methodologies and ethics of diaries and letters in teaching historical research. I have published in collaboration with other historians two anthologies on historians and life-writing (on letters in 2011 and diaries in 2020). The main point in both has been, that historians need to take seriously also the textual (literary) side of these kinds of life writing documents, and not only use them as sources telling about the past as such. In addition to this, life writing studies also needs historians skills in order to contextualize historical life writing material and understand the historicity of life writing practices both in the past and present. Thus, in my presentation I will argue that we need to acknowledge both the textual, genre-specific qualities as well as historical aspects when teaching and analyzing life-writing texts.


Maarit Leskelä-Kärki, PhD, Adjunct professor, Senior Lecturer (Department of Cultural History, University of Turku). She is the vice-director of SELMA: Centre for the Study of Storytelling, Experientiality and Memory. In 2018-2021 she directs the research project: Seekers of the New: Esotericism and religious transformation in Finland during the era of modernisation, 1880–1940 funded by the Finnish Kone foundation. Her research interests include eg. cultural history of writing, esotericism, methodology and theory of biographical research and autobiographical sources. links: