A Tutorial



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Central to prosopography are the concepts of individuals and groups - or networks. At its heart stands the idea of identity.

The "principles which make it a distinct form of historical science" are: "that every piece of historical data should, as far as possible, be related to an identifiable historical person, that multiple identities should not be confused, single identities should not be multiplied and collective identities should always be defined in terms of connections between individuals".

Establishing Identity through Names

Individuals are identified by their names. Every person in every society has a name. Although the form of the name will differ from society to society, names are themselves a cultural constant.
Names are more than mere labels. They have two primary functions, to distinguish one person from another, and to categorize, for example to assign a person to a particular family or clan. The name form can contain a wealth of additional information about sex, status, ethnicity, occupation and place.

Name data are the single most important type of information that we have and so a great deal of emphasis is placed on them here. Never forget that what we know about these names is what someone else, a record-keeper somewhere in the past, has chosen to tell us. He (or she) may not give a name at all, but simply refer to a person as ‘a man’ or ‘the priest’. Even this can be important because it will tell us something about that man’s status or role in what is being recorded. The essential point is that names are recorded in a particular context.  All work done preparing a prosopography should be clearly linked to full, or at least, substantial, transcripts of the sources used.
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©University of Oxford

The compilers were Dr Katharine S. B. Keats-Rohan with the assistance of Dr Olga Borymchuk and Jacquelyn Fernholz.