Prosopography for my mother...

I am at the early design stage for this project: answering the big questions, and learning from other existing projects. I am soliciting ideas, warnings, contacts, and collaborators through to the end of the year and will begin development in January, 2011 with a presentation of alpha and opening up of the code to larger open source community in the summer.

Notes from 2 Minute Dork Short Presentation at
THATcamp New England 2010.11.13

(Sorry for the simple format here, copy and paste job from a Keynote presentation I decided not to use)

Konrad M. Lawson

Online Prosopography Examples:
Harvard China Biography Project
Domesday Pr. of Anglo-Saxon England
The Byzantine World Pr. Project

An Example: My Mother
-Runs a large website dedicated to the Norwegian merchant marine in WWII
-Collaborates with many old sailors and other amateur historians
-Site contains rich information about thousands of ships, sailors, and convoys
-She has never created a database

Example problems
-What sailors were aboard ship X on date Y?
-Were sailor A and sailor B ever in port X at the same time? Ever on same ship?

The problem of a Generic Database
-Trying to predict what fields will be needed for most prosopographies is an almost impossible task.
-Byzantine project tracks coins
-Domesday project tracks property
-China biography track teachers, students, religious sects, and host of other detailed fields
-A database of sailors would need to track both sailors and the ships they travel on and ports of call


-(initially) Web-based, LAMP, open source, easy install
-Let every project create own custom fields
-Must support multiple and contradictory claims

In the database store the data as simple as possible:

-Objects (material or conceptual)
-Relationships between objects delimited in time
-Source of claim for relationship
-Support fuzzy dates

-Initially no advanced Social Network Analysis support, but plug-in architecture for supporting additional features. This is aimed to first meet the needs of research projects for scholars, graduate students, and 'amateur' historians who are increasingly turning to the web to share the fruits of their research.

konrad at