Abstract to accepted paper for conference ‘New Historical Perspectives on Ageing and the Life Course’, School of Philosophy, Religion and History of Science, University of Leeds, UK.
Ageing gracefully through memoir writing: Historical inspirations for 21st century academics
Although I have spent my whole career in history of science and history of medicine, I am very liberal/catholic when it comes to the scope of ‘historical research’. I believe that using the past as an open repository for inspiration for present and future individual action and communal policies is as valid as historical research in the strict scholarly sense. In the context of this conference, I will therefore transcend Cynthia Skenazi’s historical and philological focus on the stories of later life in her recent book _Aging Gracefully in the Renaissance_ (2013), and translate her investigations and the insights of other scholars to add another dimension to the current discourse on successful /healthy ageing (Bülow and Söderqvist, ‘Successful ageing’, J Aging Stud. 2014), which is, in my opinion, biased towards diet, physical fitness, bodily wellness and medicine. Accordingly, I will discuss three historical proposals for ‘ageing gracefully’ in the early 21st century: 1) the tradition for autobiographical writing going back to St. Augustin’s Confessiones; 2) the ancient and early modern practice of philosophy as spiritual exercises and ‘souci de soi’ (Hadot, _Philosophy as a Way of Life_, 1995); and 3) the late medieval and modern tradition for the art of dying (ars moriendi). I suggest that autobiographical practices, in oral stories or in writing, constitute a possible ethical anchor point for successful ageing: as a way of life for young olds to escape self-understanding as a continuation of the curriculum vitae, as a means for olds to take care of their selves, and as a mode for old olds to prepare for death.
Thomas Söderqvist (PhD Gothenburg 1986) is professor emeritus in history of medicine and University of Copenhagen. Drawing on his research in the history of ecology, the history of immunology, and the knowledge society, he has focused on studies of scientific biography as a genre and on the problems of the historiography of contemporary science. As director of Medical Museion in Copenhagen, which has received several prizes for its innovative experimental approach to collecting and exhibition making, he has worked on the problems of collecting and making sense of contemporary medical objects. As an emeritus professor at the Center for Healthy Aging, University of Copenhagen, he is currently working autoethnographically to elucidate the range of aims of the genre of academic autobiography.