2007 Prosopography of Middle Period China

Prosopography of Middle Period China

Warwick University, December 13 to 16, 2007

Organized by Anne Gerritsen

When prominent social historian of Middle Period China Robert Hartwell left his estate to the Harvard Yenching Institute at his death in 1996, it included the database he had developed over two decades containing the biographical details of over 25,000 mainly Song dynasty civil servants. Over the decade that followed, efforts were made to update this prosopographical database in terms of content and technology: Professor Michael Fuller migrated the data to a more usable format and Professor Peter Bol established collaborations with the Academia Sinica in Taiwan and Peking University to continue checking of the extant data and adding further individuals. The workshop held on December 14–15, 2007 at Warwick University (UK) was designed to let a number of younger scholars develop small research projects using the database in a stand-alone Access version, and to discuss the merits and demerits of such prosopographical research, prior to the release of the public access online reporting system of the China Biographical Database in Spring 2008. The British Academy and the Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation generously funded the event, making it possible to bring together scholars from the UK, Germany, the US, Canada, Singapore, Taiwan, and China.

While expertise in prosopographical research and database analysis varied considerably amongst the participants, the view that this particular database could provide a powerful impetus for new directions in pre-modern Chinese historical research was shared by all. Of course many of the papers pointed to lacunae in data; a database that was initially conceived by Hartwell as an aid to social research particularly into the population of the finance offices of the Song dynasty cannot immediately be turned into a fully accurate research tool for, say, Tang history, or studies of Song women and their marriage patterns. At the same time, the possibilities for the future were clearly demonstrated by all the papers, especially where scholars linked the database query results to the map data available via the China Historical GIS. To give just one concrete example: it is possible to extract information from the database about the geographical origins and the administrative experience of the members of social networks of Sima Guang and Wang Anshi, and then to project that information onto a historical map. A great deal of further financial (and personal) investment would be needed to turn the existing database into a comprehensive and accurate research tool for all aspects of middle period China, but even in its current form, it can facilitate social research on a scale that scholars in other fields and areas can only dream of. Important decisions will now need to be made about the allocation of resources and the necessary technologies, perhaps even including some form of automatic data capture. The papers presented at this workshop, the discussions that followed those papers and the valuable comparative perspectives introduced by Grace Fong on the Ming Qing Women's Writings database, by Alex Burghardt on the Prosopography of Anglo-Saxon England, and by Dagmar Schaefer on the mapping technology under development at the Max Planck Institut in Berlin all suggest that such an investment may well be worthwhile.

The following presented papers: Chang Woei Ong, Singapore (“The Zhe Military family in the Northern Song”), Anthony DeBlasi, Albany (“Military Commissioners and Grand Counselors: Testing Tang Era Data Capture in the Chinese Biographical Database”), Hilde de Weerdt, Oxford (“Mapping Communication from Mingzhou: Networks of Correspondence”), Song Chen, Harvard (“Native Incumbency and Elite Networks in Song Dynasty Sichuan”), Naomi Standen, Newcastle (“Networks and Institutions of the Five Dynasties”), Mark Strange, Oxford (“Factionalism and the Formation of Eleventh-century Military Policy”), Chen Wenyi, Academia Sinica (“Social Writings from the Song and Yuan: the Recipients of Prefaces by Writers from Jizhou and Mingzhou), Fang Chengfeng, Peking University (“The Migration of Zhou Bida’s Family during the 1120s and 1150s”), Anne Gerritsen, Warwick (“The Use of the CBDB for the Study of Women and Gender: Some of the Pitfalls”), Chang Wook Lee, Binghamton (“The Use of the Hartwell Database in Studying Tang-Song Hanlin Academicians, 783–1082”) and Robert Foster, Berea College (“Comparing Sources for Lu Jiuyuan’s Social Network”). Very useful comments and comparative perspectives were provided by Michael Fuller (Irvine), Grace Fong (McGill), Alex Burghart (King’s College London), Andrew Wareham (Roehampton), Peter Bol (Harvard), Joseph McDermott (Cambridge) and Dagmar Schaefer (Max Planck Institut, Berlin).

For more information about the workshop, please contact Anne Gerritsen (A.T.Gerritsen@Warwick.ac.uk). The CBDB website provides further specifics on the database and its further development, as well as downloads of earlier standalone verions in Foxpro and Access. The website will link to the online reporting system as soon as it is available.

Please click an item of interest on the left.