Unhinging the National Framework: Platform for the Study of Life-Writing and Transnationalism

Dr. Babs Boter is convenor of the international expert group “Unhinging the National Framework: Platform for Life-Writing and Transnationalism.” The affiliated researchers, coming  from various disciplinary backgrounds, investigate the lives of men and women whose life-work, including the building of socio-cultural and professional networks, questioned and transgressed the national boundaries that existed or emerged during the twentieth century. Jointly the researchers intend to show how these life-stories add new, transnational perspectives to the entangled histories of the first and second world war, decolonization, the Third World project and the Cold War. They will also demonstrate how these life-stories may work as leverage instruments to unhinge methodological nationalism and colonial determinism in post-war historiography. As part of this collaborative project, the platform hopes to set off a dialogue between PhD candidates and senior researchers currently working on biographies, and biographers who published work on comparable transnational historical figures between 1980 and 2015, and who will be asked to revisit their life-writing in the context of “Unhinging the National Framework.”

Boter’s own research project, “Mary Pos: Travel Journalist and Cosmopolite,” aims at the publication of a biography of Pos, the internationally operating Dutch author and cultural mediator. The project focuses on archival papers and photographs housed at the VU-based Historical Documentation Centre for Dutch Protestantism (HDC), the Noord-Hollands Archief and the Letterkundig Museum in The Hague. 

Latest Event

The expert group Unhinging the National Framework: Platform for the Study of Life Writing and Transnationalism held its Fourth Symposium on 6 December 2019. More than 90 participants, including many scholars in the interdisciplinary field of life writing but also BA-and MA-students from the VU and elsewhere, listened to keynote speaker Prof. dr. Sonja Boon of Memorial University (Newfoundland). Boon has written on life writing, autoethnography and citizenship, and recently published What the Oceans Remember: Searching for Belonging and Home (2019). Prof. dr. Elleke Boehmer, Oxford Professor of World Literature in English and Director of the Oxford Centre for Life-Writing, presented the second keynote speech. She discussed her ideas on a more inclusive pedagogy, and proposed curricular change in the transnational field of postcolonial literature.
Project details
Funding: Funded by  CLUE+ (VU) & Department Language, Literature and Communication (VU)
Project Leader: Dr. Babs Boter


An international group of researchers in the field of life-writing and transnationalism.


Boter, Babs. “First Female Travel Journalist Meets First Lady: Mary Pos and Eleanor Roosevelt Speak on Women’s Roles and Intercultural Understanding,” A Transatlantic Public Diplomat? Recent European Scholarship on Eleanor Roosevelt, special issue of The European Journal of American Studies, edited by Dario D. Fazzi and Anya Luscombe (forthcoming January 2017).

Boter, Babs and Lonneke Geerlings. “Neerkijken en rondzien: Twee reizigers uit Nederland portretteren en presenteren Harlem.” Tijdschrift voor Geschiedenis, vol. 129, no.3 (forthcoming Fall 2016).

Boter, Babs. “Heavenly Sensations and Communal Celebrations: Experiences of Liminality in Transatlantic Journeys.” Tales of Transit: Narrative Migrant Spaces in Atlantic Perspective, 1850-1950, edited by Michael Boyden, Hans Krabbendam and Liselotte Vandenbussche, Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, pp. 179-195.

Mary Pos