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Narrative, biography and prosopography: historical method and its implications

Oldfield, Samantha-Jayne and Day, Dave (2011) Narrative, biography and prosopography: historical method and its implications. [Conference or Workshop Item] (Unpublished)

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Abstract

Historical research is a widely debated topic as historical knowledge is continually evolving and there is no definable recorded structure. The interpretational nature of the discipline highlights the tensions between ‘fact based’ analysis and the ‘fictional’ viewpoint which is at the heart of social science investigation. Contemporary narrative and biographical study has gained acclaim from a generation of academics who demonstrate the balance between empiricism and postmodernity by utilising facts to construct an accurate representation of the past, but, are sympathetic to the use of imagination within the discipline in order to extract the ‘narrative truth’. Biography has long been a respected source for historical inquiry although collective biography, or prosopography, the study of connections between individuals, has been judged as a lesser instrument due to its ambiguous nature and lack of socio-historic use. This paper will challenge deep-rooted views by discussing the influence of technological advancement on biographical exploration whilst considering the emerging phenomena of ‘collective biography’ and its implications within historical research. A prosopography-in-action will provide a working example of the significance of such research in an historical capacity by creating a generic outline of the mid-nineteenth century Manchester sporting entrepreneur.

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