Biography, Communication and Media Studies, Cultural Studies, Humanities, Life Writing, Literary Studies

Digital Biography

25.07.09 | Comment?

This paper reflects on an emerging field that has no accepted name or boundaries but is described here as “digital biography.” The activities, formats, and genres associated with this field are rarely linked with life writing or traditional biographical studies. Rather, this field is seen as the domain of those concerned with digital privacy, copyright, data preservation, and identity management. Over the past decade or so, critics in various disciplines, mainly legal studies, information management, multimedia design, and IT development, as well as sociology, psychology, and marketing, have focused on the complexity of online identity. Though online identity has become such a significant focus of attention in these disciplines, few who study biography have discussed it. Indeed, as Nigel Hamilton points out, biography itself has had less attention than one might expect for a field that “has enjoyed an extraordinary renaissance in recent years” (1), a field that, according to Carl Rollyson, is widely recognized as “the dominant non-fiction of our age” (User’s Guide 137). Suddenly, however, biography is demanding attention more visibly and more urgently than in the past, and from spheres of activity that are so alien to the traditional study of biography that their rapid infiltration of the field is being experienced as something of an ambush. These diverse life-recording developments, mostly outside the mainstream genre are the subject of this paper. Regardless of their immediate relevance to biography as we have known it, these digital incursions will undoubtedly transform, and are already transforming, public awareness of and engagement with concepts of self and identity; truth and fiction; memory and imagination; reality and fabrication; public and private; and, entangled with all of these, autobiography and biography. This paper identifies current digital developments and trends that are influencing the production of lives and identities online in order to speculate on the digital future of biography.


Arthur, Paul Longley. “Digital Biography: Capturing Lives Online,” Auto/Biography Studies 24, no.1 (2010): 74–92. doi: 10.1353/abs.2009.0012.

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Paul Arthur is Vice-Chancellor’s Professorial Research Fellow and Chair in Digital Humanities and Social Sciences, at Edith Cowan University, Western Australia. He speaks and publishes widely on major challenges and changes facing 21st-century society, from the global impacts of technology on communication, culture and identity