Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Word For Today

Sue Light’s blog, “This Intrepid Band”,  introduced a new word to me - a $20 word at that - prosopography.

“Prosopography is an investigation of the common characteristics of a historical group, whose individual biographies may be largely untraceable, by means of a collective study of their lives, in multiple career-line analysis. Prosopographical research has the aim of learning about patterns of relationships and activities through the study of collective biography, and proceeds by collecting and analysing statistically relevant quantities of biographical data about a well-defined group of individuals. This makes it a valuable technique for studying many pre-modern societies. “ (1)


This definition makes my editor’s bone twitch. Secondly, what’s their definition of pre-modern?

Apparently prosopographical research is highly dependant on the collection of data in the form of an electronic data base (read computer). I assume that the data is reliable. Prosopographists (I think this would be their description) seem to cover bases in history, biography, and genealogy. The study is multi biographical in that they accumulate data on people that have connections in common. For genealogists that would be looking at all of the members of a family tree in a specific time period (ie. The Smith clan in Smithville, Somewhere in the World., from 1700 to 1750). The data on the Smith’s would tell you about their connections, and how they operated within and upon institutions - social, political, economic, legal, and religious.


Two examples are Barbara Harvey, “Living and Dying in England 1100–1540: The Monastic Experience (1993)”, and Michael Erben, “"A Preliminary Prosopography of the Victorian Street", (1996)”. I can accept these studies as pre-modern. Athough where pre ends and modern begins is a good subject for a well lubricated debate.

I think I will look up these books, and try to get a feel for prosopography.


(1) Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopaedia.

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