‘Migrants of Letters’ at ‘Prosopografie 2024’ in Bergamo

The conference Prosopografie 2024 organised by the eminent Elena Gritti at the Università di Bergamo promises to bring together scholars working on (digital) prosopography in various historical periodes. It is a most welcomed event, as prosopography is the centrepiece of both, my SNF Postdoctoral Fellowship project on the ‘Migrant Minorities‘, and for the ‘big picture,’ my entanglements of migration and religion in Rome ambitions.

The conference will take place in 16-18 May 2024 in Bergamo. If you are around, feel free to pass by, the conference is for free.

Here goes the abstract:

Migrants of Letters. Relational Prosopography of Migrants in the Letters Cyprian of Carthage

The letter collection of Cyprian contains the correspondence of the martyr-bishop of Carthage with the churches of North Africa and Rome. He penned the wast majority of the 81 letters mainly during the Great Persecutions (251-258 CE). While the corpus had extensively been studied since the antiquity, their lesser famous protagonists, their relationships and movement patterns have never been systematically approached.

In order to represent prosopographic and relational data of migrants with the necessary complexity, I aim to customise OpenAtlas, a web-based open source research data management software for complex relations. Beyond personal information (gender, social status, place of origin, religion, etc.), records will also contain relational information (relationships to migrants, locals, home, family ties; typology of interaction such as friendship, conflict, patronage), and the (meta)data of the source such as author and addressee, date, place, etc.

The aim is not only to create a relational prosopographic dataset, which is valuable sui iuris, but also to open avenues for further enquiry. For instance, the exploration of the corpus by using Social Network Analysis (SNA) has the potential to lay out the episcopal network of Cyprian beyond anecdotal evidence. More importantly, it shed light on the migration flows of Jesus’ followers and their relationships during the Great Persecutions and on the role of maintaining trans-regional networks. This approach creates new data and adds complexity to the otherwise barely visible phenomenon of migration.

After a quick introduction of the letter corpus of Cyprian and OpenAtlas, I will continue this work-in-progress talk with the challenges of modelling relational prosopographic information especially, but not only with regard to database design. Finally, I will conclude with some reflections about the chances how relational information could complement classical prosopography and thus benefit from it.