Alison Booth’s Collective Biographies of Women investigates a neglected genre, collective biography or prosopography. It fills a large gap in narrative theory and experiments in digital methods for interpreting narratives in relation to social networks and historical contexts. An increasing prevalence of prosopography online, the diverse forms of digitized narrative, the advances in digital literary studies, and the flexibility of postclassical narratology all suggest that the time is right for a directed dialogue on networked nonfiction narratives.
One of the central research challenges today is the coordination and analysis of data associating persons, events, and documents. Prosopography is practiced today in digital projects in classics, archeology, or medieval and early modern history, but rarely in literary studies or recent contexts. Prosopographers focus on recovery of life narratives in groups and social networks, without considering the form and rhetoric of prosopography; insights of narrative and other literary theory; or the latest methods and theories of digital humanities. Alison Booth and Suzanne Keen, as narrative theorists whose research ranges in British and American literature and cultural studies across recent centuries, wish to advance understanding of prosopography as a rhetoric, form, and method beyond early history. We argue that prosopography is suited to conditions of excess of personal narrative as well as to scarcity. An interdisciplinary theory of prosopography can help us comprehend the overwhelming production of personal narrative in databases and social media as well as the complex history and narrative theory of biography in the age of print, while clarifying and theorizing the person-event-document database.