The Mamluk Prosopography Project


La réception des ambassadeurs vénitiens à Damas (Anonymous artist, 1511, Musée du Louvre)

Ghent University (Belgium) is starting up a digital humanities project for the development of a data-infrastructure for the study of late medieval  Syro-Egyptian elites, their networks, and their social and cultural practices, including their textual production and consumption (13th-15th century).

This Mamluk Prosopography Project (MPP), which will build on the achievements of preceding prosopographical projects, will be developed as a new application with web-based multiple user-, input- and analysis functionalities. MPP’s development is scheduled to be achieved between 2016 and 2020, and will be funded by the Research Foundation Flanders (Medium-Size Research Infrastructure), and by the European Research Council.

We are currently starting up the required public tender procedures to inform potential candidates in the private sector of this opportunity. The contract for this development project will be awarded via a European negotiated e-tender procedure with publication of a contract notice. The selection guideline for application was published earlier this week, and may be accessed via, ‘search for publication’, ‘dossier number’: 16OMB003.

Abstract Models for Islamic History

Latest developments in the digital sphere offered new opportunities and challenges to the humanists. Equipped with new digital methods of text analysis, scholars in various fields of humanities are now trying to make sense of huge corpora of literary and historical texts. Perhaps the most prominent of such attempts is the work of Franco Moretti and his abstract models for literary history that trace long-term patterns in English fiction. Inspired by Moretti’s approach, I seek to develop abstract models for the analysis of pre-modern Arabic historical literature, relying mainly on various textmining techniques that are being developed at the intersection of statistics, linguistics and computer science. At the moment, I concentrate primarily on biographical collections, a genre that includes several hundred multi-volume titles (The largest collection—al-Dhahabī’s “History of Islam”—covers 700 years and contains about 30,000 biographies). Working with the corpus of 10 biographical collections (about 125 printed volumes; 45,000 biographical accounts), I am developing an analytical tool that can be later used to study other biographical collections—ideally, all of them together. In the long run I hope that the results of my work will pave the way to the development of analytical tools for other genres of pre-modern Arabic literature such as chronicles, ḥadīth collections, interpretations of the Qur’ān, compendia of legal decisions, etc.

Working with my biographical collections I look primarily into such kinds of biographical data as “descriptive names” (nisbas), dates, toponyms, and, since recently, rather loosely defined linguistic formulae and wording patterns. The analysis of different combinations of these data allows one to trace various social, religious and cultural patterns in time and space. I am particularly interested in how the Islamic world changed over the period of 640–1300 CE: how cultural centers were shifting; how different social, professional and religious groups were replacing and displacing each other; how different regions were connected with each other and how these connections changed over time. The results of my analysis will be presented in the form of graphs and geographical maps (Some current examples of my work can be found at

Author: Maxim Romanov (Univ. of Michigan)

Prosop: A Social Networking Tool for the Past

This presentation will concern an NEH funded project I’m heading to develop a tool called Prosop. Prosop’s first aim is to assemble a database of descriptions of a very large number of historical individuals, of inferior socio-economnic rank to those who feature in most prosopographic projects. The tool is meant to preserve such information in its native format, without any fixed category requirements. It will then find connections within a very large pool of demographic data, and allow aggregate analysis. Ultimately, Prosop aims to make the various historical description and categorization schemes themselves the subject of research.,

Prosop is intended to help three kinds of users: microhistorians who have completed research projects and want to preserve their data, the collection of which cost them their eyesight and at least one marriage; microhistorians doing new work, who want to collect material in a format more useable than a word processor document or spreadsheet; and family historians, who are currently doing tremendous “crowd-sourcing” style work with primary documents, work that is being captured by for-profit sites such as but passed over by professional historians.

This presentation treats a methodological issue: the techniques that we use to deal with the tremendous volume of data generated by Middle East microhistories. I will describe my sense of the challenges and potentialities of this aspect of our work, and discuss ways that I think Prosop can support collaborative historical work. I will explain, in fairly general terms, the features of the data structure of Prosop and its most innovative aspect, which is on-the-fly ontology. I will invite participants to describe the technical characteristics of their own work, their needs, and the solutions they imagine. I will focus this conversation around the ongoing design of Prosop, but my aim is to facilitate a conversation that treats the broadest issues raised by technology-assisted prosopography.

Author: Will Hanley (Florida State University)