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Prosopography of Anglo-Saxon England Project


David Pelteret, King's College London

The Prosopography of Anglo-Saxon England (PASE) has the primary objective of compiling a relational database that presents the information contained in contemporary sources on all named Anglo-Saxons living between AD 597 and 1042. The project is under the directorship of Professors Simon Keynes (University of Cambridge) and Janet Nelson (King's College London), with technical design being provided by members of the Centre for Computing in the Humanities at King's College London under the direction of Harold Short. The United Kingdom Arts and Humanities Research Board is funding the project for five years from 2000 to 2004.

After assembling evidence from the sixth to the ninth centuries during the first three years of the project, the team marked a significant advance in 2003 by developing a fully relational database into which information accumulated in the less powerful data-capture databases can be placed. The master database was designed by John Bradley and Dr Hafed Walda, drawing especially on material already gathered from Asser's Life of Alfred. The evidence collected in the data-capture databases is now being checked and uploaded into the master database, and a start has been made on the complex task of reconciling names of identical people who appear in more than one source. This database has several unusual features. An 'Event' field links together people whose lives interacted and permits a much richer assemblage of information than a simple listing of offices or occupations would. The desire to identify people unnamed in certain sources whose names appear in other texts has also led to the collection of information on a large number of anonymous people associated with Anglo-Saxon England. This information should provide a much richer insight into the lives of the Anglo-Saxons than a simple onomasticon could offer.

In addition to suggesting refinements to the master database, the research group, consisting of Alex Burghart, Dr David Pelteret and Dr Francesca Tinti, have meanwhile continued to input material relating to tenth-century people. Charters especially contain a considerable amount of prosopographical material, and Alex Burghart has now surveyed all the land-charters up to the reign of Æthelred the Unready. Although some versions of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle were compiled after the tenth century, the team has considered this work to be so central that David Pelteret has spent much time surveying all versions of the Chronicle up to the year 1000, as well as entering material from other similar sources such as Æthelweard's Chronicle, the Fragmentary Annals of Ireland and the Annales Cambriae. Francesca Tinti has examined Continental sources such as papal letters and saints' miracula as well as a number of Lives of English saints such as Æthelwold and Dunstan.

An exciting development in research of this kind now lies in its potential to draw on more specialized evidence assembled in other databases. Several members of the team have worked closely in the past year with the AHRB-funded Durham Liber Vitae project, headed by Professor David Rollason of Durham University, and there have also been preliminary discussions with Dr Mark Blackburn of the University of Cambridge about the possibility of drawing on the material he and his colleagues have assembled in two major Anglo-Saxon numismatic databases.

Most of the members of the PASE team have presented papers and reports relating to the project during 2003 at a number of academic gatherings, including the Durham Liber Vitae colloquium in March; a workshop with members of the Prosopography of the Byzantine World project at King's College London in July; the biennial meeting of the International Society of Anglo-Saxonists meeting in Scottsdale, Arizona, in August; and the Digital Resources in the Humanities Conference at the University of Gloucestershire in September. Published information on aspects of the project written by various members of the PASE team has appeared in History and Computing 12.1 (2000), 11–20; Medieval Prosopography 22 (Autumn 2001), 117–25 (where some data-entry tables are reproduced); and Fifty Years of Prosopography: The Later Roman Empire, Byzantium and Beyond, ed. Averil Cameron, Proceedings of the British Academy 118 (Oxford, 2003), pp. 155–67.

In 2004, the final year of its research grant, the PASE researchers plan to enter evidence from some authors whose lives straddle the millennium divide such as Ælfric and Wulfstan, examine a number of texts whose similarity of form suggested they should be surveyed as a group such as epigraphical material and wills, and explore important sources from the first half of the eleventh century including the Liber Vitae of Hyde Abbey and the Encomium Emmae. Special attention will be paid to the further development of the master database and to the editing of its contents to provide the maximum flexibility for users to explore the wide range of information that has been assembled.

A fuller account of the project and its activities can be found on the PASE website at http://www.kcl.ac.uk/humanities/ccl/pase.