Prosopography of Anglo-Saxon England

[Image: Witness list of a royal diploma, S 497 (extract); Aelfwine]


Data collection

Data-capture design

The technical team (John Bradley, Harold Short and Hafed Walda) and the researchers (Alex Burghart, David Pelteret and Francesca Tinti) designed a data-capture database to record relevant prosopographical material.

Preliminary terminology

The sources written in the Anglo-Saxon period, termed primary sources (see the authority list in Source in the master database), are distinguished from the modern scholarly assembling of information in academic works referred to as secondary sources. PASE has not assembled major lists of secondary sources, but those secondary sources that have been used directly are listed in the Bibliography.

Information from the primary sources (mostly printed editions of medieval texts) has been assembled in a specially-designed data-capture database whose structure allowed PASE researchers to sort the information from the primary sources using two levels. The first level sorts the information into major categories called entities, e.g. Office, while the second differentiated aspects of an office, termed attributes, such as when or where the office was held or the precise term used to describe it.

The fully relational Master Database automatically links together the entities of Source, Person and Office together with the attribute of Date and provides a complete assemblage of the information for the user.

Historical sources contain information that is asserted to be factual, though they may not be considered factually accurate or plausible by modern historians. PASE researchers have entered such assertions into the database without seeking to evaluate or interpret their historical veracity. The resulting parcels of data are referred to as factoids.

Data-capture database

PASE started with the database design created for the Prosopography of the Byzantine Empire (PBE) project, now the Prosopography of the Byzantine World (PBW), but extended the design used in PBE in several significant ways. The fundamental structure in PBE and PBW consisted of Sources (which provided the raw data) linked to Persons recorded in the sources as interacting with each other (for further information on PBW database design, see John Bradley and Harold Short, ‘Using Formal Structures to Create Complex Relationships: The Prosopography of the Byzantine Empire – A Case Study’, in Resourcing Sources Prosopographica et Geneologica, vol. 7., ed. . K.S.B. Keats-Rohan, (Oxford, 2002).

PBE had created another major entity called ‘Person-Act’ (Pact), and the PASE team developed and renamed this entity as ‘Event’. David Pelteret classified the possible roles that those connected to an event could play, and the project team collectively designed the range of attributes that constituted the Event factoid when PASE was first published in 2005. The Event structure was extensively revised and refined prior to the publication of PASE 2 in 2010.

Some of the conceptual issues involved in the design of the data-capture database were discussed in papers delivered at conferences, several of which were subsequently published as journal articles and as electronic publications on the PASE website (see the Publications section of this website).

Authority lists

In order to maintain consistency within an individual data-capture database, authority lists for the different factoids were compiled. These authority lists contained fixed terms listed in ‘pop-up’ boxes attached to certain attributes of the various factoids. From the point of view of the end-user, the authority lists present another way of entering the master database.

Classification of persons

Although the Anglo-Saxons had a large repertoire of personal names, they did not employ the category of surname or family name as it occurs in many modern European societies today. By-names (such as Christian names, nicknames, occupational and locational names) existed but they started to become common only in the late Anglo-Saxon period. Thus, for the prosopographer, confusion between persons bearing the same name is an ever-present possibility (as with the Ælfwine of the PASE logo, for which see PASE branding). It soon became apparent that each individual in a source would have to be given a numerical identifier such as Alfred 1 and Alfred 2 to distinguish between persons with the same name.

Some sources mentioned unnamed persons who could subsequently be identified from another source. PBE had already begun to call an unnamed individual ‘anonymous’ and groups ‘anonymi’. With the development of the major factoid termed ‘Event’, the researchers saw that the recording of anonymous individuals and groups would have to be considerably expanded. For instance, a leader in a battle might initially be named but subsequent events might describe the actions of his military force without naming him. A true picture of such a military leader would, therefore, require the recording of information about those unnamed persons who were the members of his army.

Constant review

The core group met very regularly to review the existing data-capture database. This was the vital forum for discussion between the academic researchers and the technical team. The meetings ensured clarity of communication and consistency of approach. When the researchers reported new demands made on the database by information uncovered in the sources, the appropriate modifications were agreed upon at the core group meetings and then implemented by Hafed Walda.

Where there were wider scholarly issues to be decided, these were discussed at project co-ordination team meetings. These were meetings of the whole PASE team including the Academic Directors, Simon Keynes and Jinty Nelson, who played the key role in major policy decisions.

Some of the modifications to the form of the initial data-capture database introduced during the course of the project included the following:

  • Date fields: These were increased in order to draw a distinction between a date or dates asserted in a source and the various kinds of dates on which there was modern scholarly agreement
  • Locations: The need to record places mentioned in the sources and their equivalent modern locations and regions required especial technical ingenuity imposed by the constraints of the chosen database programme.
  • Kinship: This factoid required expansion and eventual re-naming (to ‘Personal Relationship’) to take into account the variety of relationships recorded in the sources.
  • Second-person ID: This field (directly linked to the Person Master factoid) was obviously essential in the Personal Relationship factoid but its introduction into most other factoids also proved to be necessary, with the exception of Recorded Names and Event.

Guide to data entry

A guide to data entry was compiled and maintained by Francesca Tinti to promote consistency of data entry on the part of the researchers. The guide has now been modified with the needs of users in mind, and forms the basis of the Help section of this website.

Master database

In the fourth year of the project a fully relational master database (using MySQL) was designed by John Bradley on the basis of a pilot study of data recorded from Asser’s ‘Life of Alfred’, a source that presented a wide range of database demands. The master database has undergone further modification in the course of PASE 2, especially in light of feedback from users.

Master database audit programme

Given the risk of loss of data in the process of uploading from the data-capture databases to the master database audit programmes were devised to monitor every stage of the uploading process.

Merging of names

All named and anonymous persons were automatically renumbered when the data-capture databases were uploaded into the master databases. It was inevitable that many individuals appeared in several databases, such that the same person might appear with several different numbers. The merging of names was a process that could not be automated because it demanded a knowledge of the sources and scholarly judgment. During PASE 1, John Bradley provided a technical tool for doing the merging and the task of merging named persons was undertaken by Alex Burghart and Francesca Tinti during PASE 1, and by Ben Snook during PASE 2.

Editing of material

Tools were developed by John Bradley and Hafed Walda to allow the researchers to edit materials in the master database. Two of the many tasks undertaken here were reorganising and rationalising the authority lists, and restructuring of the factoids to make them more consistently presented across the entire collection. Bradley extended the toolset that had been created for PASE 1 so that PASE 2 materials could be directly entered into the master database. The entering was then done by Alex Burghart, Francesca Tinti, David Pelteret and Eleonora Litta Modignani. Alex Burghart’s work on PASE 2 was completed by Ben Snook.

Presentation of materials on the internet

The original web application was developed by John Bradley and Hafed Walda in consultation with the PASE research team. The graphical look, and many other enhancements to it, were added by Paul Vetch. Further improvements have been made for PASE 2 by Paul Vetch. The new and substantially different facetted browsing interface application was developed by a team consisting of Timothy Hill, Payman Labbaf, Paul Vetch and John Bradley, in consultation with the PASE research team.

Project plan and minutes of meetings

A project plan was maintained by Harold Short throughout the duration of the project. This detailed the tasks to be completed each year, such as the individual sources that were to be analysed (see the Source Survey), the responsibilities of the members of the PASE team and the probable time required to complete the specific tasks. The project plan was reviewed at each project co-ordination team meeting and the completion dates recorded or adjusted. This ensured the forward progress of the project, eliminated the risk of duplication of effort and enabled problems of implementation to be highlighted and addressed.

Detailed minutes were kept of both core group and project co-ordination team meetings, and compiled and distributed in advance of each subsequent meeting by David Pelteret. The minutes ensured full communication between all members of the PASE team, clarified specific responsibilities and reminded everyone of deadlines that had to be met. For PASE 2, these vital roles were carried out by Alex Burghart, Julie Dresvina, and Ben Snook.

Minutes of the meetings of the International Advisory Committee and of the PASE colloquia were also kept. These served as useful sources of reference to the PASE team.