Examining the Cultural Revolution Through Biographies

Does a biographical approach limit historical understanding?
Throughout history, humans have found hundreds of ways to record the current events of their time so it may be passed down through time for generations to come. From telling nursery rhymes to writing extensive theses analysing past events, society is almost obsessed with recording and passing on information. Some methods are more useful than others, and premise of the question posed seems to question the usefulness of biographies as a means of gaining historical understanding. Simply suggesting that a “biographical approach [could] limit historical understanding” is in itself ambiguous and limiting; it is imperative that one first understands what is meant by a “biographical approach” and by “historical understanding” in order to judge if one is affected by the other. It is also necessary to understand the purpose for gaining the ambiguously posed “historical understanding” – is this understanding of politics, the life of a peasant worker or the changes in government policy towards a certain group of people? Although there is considerable danger to making assumptions, it could be inferred that by considering a “biographical approach” one is interested in the “historical understanding” from the perspective of ordinary people, as biographies are by definition the stories of people. Thus providing that one can see through the contextually informed ‘literary lens’ of the author to uncover the truth, it is very hard for biographies to “limit” the “historical understanding” of people.
The first area of ambiguity to be addressed is what is meant by a “biographical approach”. A head on interpretation of this would be to only use biographies when exploring an area of history, however it doesn’t take an esteemed historian to realise that this wouldn’t provide the most factual or well-rounded interpretation. Another perspective would be to say that a “biographical approach” could also involve the use of textbooks...