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De viris illustribus et mediocribus: A BIOGRAPHICAL DATABASE OF FRANCISCAN COMMENTATORS ON ARISTOTLE AND PETER LOMBARD'S SENTENCES In his recent novel, Foucault's Pendulum, Umberto Eco tells the story of three editors in a Milanese publishing house who attempt to construct (or reconstruct) an esoteric history of the West. Armed with a powerful computer—and presumably an even more powerful software—, they piece together disparate historical data in search of a plan of world conquest dating to the time of the suppression of the Templars. Whether it brings relief or disappointment, I offer no such program here. But I would like to describe briefly the project on which I am currently working and then show some of the applications that one might derive from it. At the outset, I must emphasize that this is a project that is still very much incomplete. And so, what I propose is something like a progress report or suggestion of what the finished work will be like. To do so, I will try to follow the following schedule: first, to describe the project briefly and how the database is organized and created; second, to discuss some of the problems inherent in creating such a database, with examples chosen where possible from Franciscan authors; and finally, again for Franciscan authors, to display some of the queries that one might make and the results one might obtain from the database. I. The Database The use of computers in historical work, and especially in medieval intellectual and institutional history, is now more than a generation old. One of the pioneering studies was conducted by T. H. Aston et al.,1 who analyzed A. B. Emden's biographical registers 1T. H. Aston, "Oxford's Medieval Alumni," Past and Present 74 (1977) 3-40; Aston, G. D. Duncan and T. A. R. Evans, " The Medieval Alumni of the University of Cambridge," Past and Present 86 (1980) 9-86. 203 Franciscan Studies, Vol. 56 (1998) 204Steven J. Livesey of medieval Oxford2 and Cambridge3 scholars. Their research displayed, among other things, the extracurricular fortunes of medieval university graduates from the thirteenth through the fifteenth centuries, research that has been the basis of a continuing controversy over the funding of medieval English education. Subsequent prosopographical studies, like Jacques Verger's work on universities of the Midi4 or Christine Renardy's analysis of university masters in the diocese of Liège,5 have tended to focus on a particular university or region and analyze the university structure through the prosopographical data of its graduates. To see the significance of this research, one has only to compare the traditional histories of universities written over a generation ago with those in progress today: in the more modern counterparts, institutional records are scrutinized by comparing their picture of the institution against that emerging from the lives of university members [cf. Rashdall6 and Aston et al.7]. Much of this research has been aided by rapid advances in computer technology. When Aston's group began its work in the 1960s, all the data was stored on cards, and both storage and processing considerations severely limited the number and kinds of data that could be analyzed.8 Recent improvements in microcomputers and database programs have permitted greater numbers of scholars to use prosopographical techniques and widened the types of analysis resulting from these investigations. 2A. B. Emden, A Biographical Register of the University of Oxford to AD 1500 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1957-1959). 3A. B. Emden, A Biographical Register of the University of Cambridge to 1500 (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1963). 4Jacques Verger, " Prosopographie et cursus universitaires, " in Medieval Lives and the Historian. Studies in Medieval Prosopography, ed. Neithard Bulst and JeanPhilippe Genet (Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 1986) 313-332. Christine Renardy, Les maîtres universitaires du diocèse de Liège, 1140-1350 (Paris: Belles Lettres 1981). 6Hastings Rashdall, The Universities of Europe in the Middle Ages, 3 volumes (New edition, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1936). 1HiStOIy of the University of Oxford, ed. T. H. Aston (Oxford: Clarendon Press 1984- ). 8Ralph Evans, "The Analysis by Computer of A. B. Emden's Biographical Registers of die Universities of Oxford and Cambridge," in Medieval Lives and the Historian. Studies...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1945-9718
Print ISSN
0080-5459
Pages
pp. 203-237
Launched on MUSE
2013-07-03
Open Access
No
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