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Life, Traces & Stories – A Masterclass with Julie Rak


Julie Rak, professor at the University of Alberta, is an expert in the field of life-writing. Having, in extension, written on a plethora of topics within the context of cultural history – ranging from online identity construction, graphic memoirs to indigenous Canadian peoples – her vast interdisciplinary knowledge and boundless enthusiasm are sure to provoke the interest of any humanity student. As part of the Urban Lives Conference, the organization offers (r)MA/PhD students the opportunity to enter into an intellectual dialogue with one of the leading figures in the field of auto/biography.

Taking auto/biography as a point of departure, the two-hour masterclass premises itself on three articles selected by prof. Rak herself. Since interdisciplinarity is Rak’s trademark, the literature concerns – amongst other subjects – Roma/Sinti victims during the Holocaust; the mediation of narrative through editors, translators and other parties and, finally, the role Big Data plays in genealogy within the context of self-focalization. Through this interesting and eclectic mix, the masterclass invites students to engage with various facets of life writing and relate this to their own areas of interest within cultural history – creating a thought-provoking discussion during which students can simultaneously learn from each other whilst being guided in their thinking by prof. Rak herself.


The aims/outcomes of the masterclass consist of a three-pronged approach. First, by way of Rak’s articles and discussion points, students will become aware of the interdisciplinary and multifaceted character of auto/biography – ranging from a theoretical meta-level to a concrete, in situ context. Secondly, and in extension thereof, students are invited to juxtapose this knowledge with their own field of interest within cultural history. This, thereby, creates an immediate symbiosis between the material at hand the students’ prior knowledge/experience(s). Third and finally, the masterclass offers a chance to enter into a dialogue not only with an experienced, established and extremely kind author but, moreover, enables students to come into contact with other, like-minded individuals within the field of cultural history.


Apart from reading the mandatory literature, students are required to create a +/- 500 word summary relating their own area of expertise to the topic of auto/biography as proffered through the articles. Simply put, students must reflect on what caught their attention; what they reckoned to be thought provoking and, perhaps, what they did not understand or disagreed with. Active participation plus attendance is, naturally, required for being granted ECs.


Kadar, Marlene, “The Devouring: Traces of Roma in the Holocaust” in: Tracing the Autobiographical ed. by Linda Warley, and Jeanne Perreault (Waterloo, OT: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2005), 223-246.

Rak, Julie, “Mediation, Then and Now: Ang Tharkay’s Sherpa and Memoires d’un Sherpa” Comparative Literature 45, no. 3, 2022, 125-144.

————, “Radical Connections: Genealogy, Small Lives, Big Data”  Auto/Biography Studies 32, no. 3, 2017, 479-497.


Taking part in the Amsterdam Urban Lives Conference (26-28 October 2023) is not a mandatory part of this masterclass. The organisers however highly recommend joining the conference as well. For more information about the conference and registration: Amsterdam Diaries and Other Stories of the Self conference – Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (

This Masterclass is organized by Babs Boter, Ernestine Hoegen, Marleen Rensen, Leonieke Vermeer & Alexander Williams.

Image: Five U of A researchers join the ranks of the Royal Society of Canada | Folio (, Photo Richard Siemens

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