Prosopography of Anglo-Saxon England

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


Digital strategy

The core of the PASE web publication is a ‘master database’, which identifies Persons who are recorded or referred to the Sources researched. The assertions that Sources make about the Persons are termed ‘factoids’, and they include a variety of personal information, including offices, kin-relationships, and so on, and Events in which they participated in some way. No factoids (including Events) appear unless they are linked both to Persons and to Sources. This principle is rigorously applied so that users are in a position to follow the Person-to-Source ‘trail’, and to make their own reference to the relevant Source at any stage.


As a kind of shorthand, the project refers to each assertion by a source about one or more persons as a ‘factoid’. Information about persons was recorded in the database with as little interpretation as reasonably possible. Sets of factoids were searched, analysed and displayed, so that researchers could draw their own interpretative conclusions, or follow the references back to the sources from which the factoids were derived. The set of factoids thus represents a systematic and structured view of what have been regarded as key types of personal information:

  • Authorship (Person A wrote a particular document)
  • Education (Person A was educated by person B)
  • Event (Persons A, B, C took part in a particular event, e.g. a battle; this category has been revised in PASE 2, and is now searchable under five broad headings: see under Search
  • Occupation (Person A was engaged in a particular occupation)
  • Office (Person A held a particular office)
  • Personal relationship (Person A and person B had a particular relationship between them: e.g. Edward 13 was Byrhtnoth 1’s household officer)
  • Personal information (e.g. Person A had red hair, was a saintly man, … )
  • Possession (Person A was owner of a particular object)
  • Recorded name (Person A was named in a particular way in this source)
  • Status (Person A held a particular status in their society)
  • Transaction (Persons A, B, C were involved in the exchange of ownership of something)

Data collection databases

The project was developed using two types of database. The research team members used ‘data collection’ databases (DCDs), in which they recorded information taken from the sources. For charters, where information is arranged in a particular way, the design of the database was tailored to correspond to that arrangement, in order to make the data collection as efficient as possible.

The Master Database

The data from these data collection databases was then loaded into the ‘master database’ (MDB) which lies at the heart of PASE as published on the internet. The overall information structure of the project is determined by three factors:

  • the need to integrate disparate information in a coherent way
  • the need to ensure that relevant data is linked to the ‘right’ person
  • the needs and aspirations of scholars who will use the database to find answers to a wide variety of questions.

A data structure diagram showing the structure of the MDB is available (see pdf file).

The fundamental elements of structure in the MDB are: Sources; Persons; Factoids. The factoids may be one-dimensional, referring only to a single person - e.g. an occupation or title; or multi-dimensional, linking a person to one or more other people, e.g. kinship. One special type of factoid, Event, usually but not always multi-dimensional, has been used primarily to record the roles of those persons involved in the event - e.g. ‘agent’, ‘recipient’, ‘witness’. The structuring of the Event category has been overhauled during the course of the PASE 2 project to improve searchability.

Access and information retrieval

The master database (MDB) was founded on certain principles of organisation and access:

  • the factoids, as created in the DCDs, are retained in full in the MDB, to make it as easy as possible for users of the system to go back to the sources
  • the project research team had to be able to record interpretative judgments where appropriate, though clearly identified as interpretation
  • users had to be provided with a variety of different means of finding information, asking questions, and searching for patterns.