Prosopography in the time of Open data: Towards an Ontology for Historical Persons

July 18, 2013, 08:30 | Short Paper, Embassy Regents E

Along with open data about sources and places, open data about historical people provides one of the three legs for an open framework for historical information, since it is one of the three most obvious "entry points" into a potentially shared world of historical data.

DDH has been involved in a number of prosopographical projects (PBE, PBW, PASE, CCEd, PoMS, BoB [1] and most recently the Making Charlemagne's Europe project), and we have become convinced that prosopography is particularly well suited to the world of open and linked data, since its purpose is to establish unique digital identities for people that could be used by other researchers. Furthermore, although we here at DDH have done quite a bit of work on structured prosopography we have found that "one size does not fit all" when it comes to structuring the prosopographical materials. Several of our projects have, at their core, a common approach we are calling "factoid prosopography". However, several of them (Clergy Church of England, Early Modern London Theatres) [2] do not. Finally, of course, many other people take on prosopographical work in their research without taking up a model of their data like ours: one thinks of the "personography" model work within the TEI, for example, and we know of other colleagues with prosopographical components that have developed a different model for their data.

The issue of prosopography as a open, shared resource goes beyond the provision merely of an identity for historical persons. In the same way that CIDOC-CRM (CIDOC-CRM 2011) was developed to record information about cultural heritage objects and therefore not only help uniquely to identify them but also to allow different systems to share a much broader range of data about these objects, a prosopography for historical persons would work to find common ground among the different ways in which different projects collect data about historical persons so that semantic links between them could more effectively be exploited. Indeed, it would seem that much of such a prosopographical ontology would usefully be based on CIDOC-CRM, since there is often significant overlap between the two domains: prosopography often comes into the work of people working with heritage objects, and there are thus substantial elements of prosopography in CIDOC-CRM. We have done some exploring of this idea in a recently created paper by Michele Pasin and myself (Pasin and Bradley, 2012) that takes the "factoid" in our prosopographical model and explores how it might be represented primarily in CIDOC-CRM terms.

We propose calling this shared ontological model for prosopography an Ontology for Historical Persons. By the very nature of such a thing, it would need to be developed out of as broad a shared perspective on the different ways that prosopographical data is being collected as possible. As an early step in thinking about this ontology, we have already been in touch with not only our project partners for the prosopographies we have already done, but also with a range of colleagues who have worked on the question of structured prosopography outside of our own projects, and with colleagues who have worked on the development of CIDOC-CRM. In our talk we would also describe the current state of our ontology, and explain how we think it would link with CIDOC-CRM. However, we'd be most interested in hearing of other people who are working on structured prosopography, and who would be interested in working with us towards enabling the open data potential that an ontology for historical persons might provide.


CIDOC-CRM (2011). The CIDOC Conceptual Reference Model website. At http://www.cidoc-crm.org/
Pasin, M., and J. Bradley. (2012). Factoid-based Prosopography and Computer Ontologies: towards an integrated approach. Submitted for possible publication. Draft available at http://www.michelepasin.org/papers/43/


1. PBE: Prosopography of the Byzantine Empire, PBW: Prosopography of the Byzantine World (http://www.pbw.kcl.ac.uk), PASE: Prosopography of Anglo-Saxon England (http://www.pase.ac.uk), CCEd: Clergy of the Church of England Database (http://www.theclergydatabase.org.uk/index.html), PoMS: People of Medieval Scotland (http://www.poms.ac.uk), BoB: Breaking of Britain (http://www.breakingofbritain.ac.uk/).

2. http://www.emlot.kcl.ac.uk