For historians, the debates surrounding autobiography have focused on the question of reliability: can it be considered an appropriate historical source only when verified by “real” material from “real” archives? Scholars from other disciplines have been more interested in defining autobiography as a genre by asking if it can be distinguished from other literary forms. Far from hypothetical, these questions about where to draw the line are pertinent to the historian in the field faced with the very real problem of identifying materials. The problem seems compounded when the historian’s subject is Muslim women in South Asia, a group often characterized as silent and secluded and thus presumed not to write autobiography at all. As part of the task of “defining the genre,” this article considers the range of possibilities to be included under the labels of personal narratives, life histories, or, ultimately, autobiographical writing—from autobiographical biographies and biographical autobiographies to travelogues, reformist literature, novels, devotionalism, letters, diaries, interviews, and ghosted narratives. It raises questions about the nature of archives and the distinctiveness of women’s writing as these relate to nomenclature, structure, chronology, language, voice, and regional specificity.


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pp. 61-84
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