Prosopographies are lists of people mentioned in ancient sources. There are many of these out there, containing a wealth of information on individuals and fragments of their life stories. The UK’s AHRC has just funded a project that aims to create standards for drawing links between databases of people from Greek and Latin texts. I cannot wait to see some of the project’s first results: such information on people and the way they might have been related is a dream for anyone using a network perspective to the study of antiquity. You can find out more about the project and the team led by Gabriel Bodard on the project website. Here is the press release:
A consortium led by scholars in Digital Humanities at King’s College London has been awarded an AHRC Digital Transformations Big Data grant to develop links between several databases of people from classical antiquity. The SNAP:DRGN project (“Standards for Networking Ancient Prosopographies: Data and Relations in Greco-roman Names”), will work with partners at Oxford, Southampton, Edinburgh, Leuven in Belgium, and Duke in the United States, to create standards for bringing together references that are to the same or related people from ancient Greek and Latin texts.
Scholars in the field of classical prosopography (publishing information about known people, their lives, and their relationships) have produced dozens of different collections, organized by region, time period, or political entity, and differing widely in scholarly approaches and technical standards. Dr Gabriel Bodard, the principal investigator of the project, says, “We can only do this work by working closely with both academic and professional experts in the study of ancient people and names, and information scientists who specialize in networked datasets. All of our work will be based on example data from partner projects who record and collate data from Classical Greece, the Roman Empire, Hellenistic Babylon, Greco-Roman Egypt and the Byzantine world. We’re not attempting to impose new models, but rather to reflect the diverse scholarly practices already in use to enable links between collections of people.”
Dr K. Faith Lawrence, the development lead, says, “This is really exciting work because it offers us the opportunity to apply Big Data methodology to bridge existing collections that are currently restricted to their respective data silos. Linked Open Data offers a very powerful way to bring together distributed knowledge, and especially to define entry points. Projects can refer to a figure, name or office within the classical world using the network of collected information from different sources as an authority. This has already been done very successfully for ancient places, but the possibility for scholars to link person and name authorities has been sadly lagging behind. This project will change that.”
By focusing on the way datasets can be brought together, SNAP embraces wider questions of person-tracking, applicable far beyond the Classical world. Without the important issues of privacy that constrain modern networks, the project is able to reflect on the ubiquity of tracking in the modern day. While initially working with data from the Greco-Roman period, we are in discussion with projects that look at other times and places. We hope that our standards can lead to linking prosopographical and biographical information across historical periods and contemporary data.