British historian Lawrence Stone defines prosopography as “the investigation of the common background characteristics of a group of actors in history by means of a collective study of their lives” (Stone 1972). The powerful computing capabilities in recent years bring about a revolution in every aspect of prosopography: from data collection to data organization, from data visualization to data analysis, and even to the very definition of prosopography itself. Building on several research projects that I have carried out with Bucknell students, and with colleagues in the United States and China, this talk focuses on two aspects of the digital revolution in prosopography: data mining and network analysis. Drawing on my study of marriage networks of the ruling elite in Song-dynasty China (960–1279), I will show how the use of network analysis breaks new ground in prosopographical research, directing attention from “common background characteristics” of a historical population to the patterned relationships knitting together the members of that population. To harvest large quantities of kinship data efficiently and systematically, I have been working with undergraduates on campus and use regular expressions to process over 4,000 funerary biographies of Song-dynasty China for kinship information.
East Asian Studies