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Military Prosopography

Went to a seminar at ADFA on Military Prosopography given by Prof Peter Dennis, who is retiring soon. For historians, this alludes to the works of Sir Lewis Namier (1888-1960), The Structure of Politics on the Accession of George III (1929) and the sequel, England in the Age of the American Revolution (1930). Peter spoke about his AIF Project, which involved putting the personnel files of the First AIF into a computer database, along with what he calls Necrophilian Epigraphy.

This is not going to rewrite the history of the Great War (the good guys still won) but provides a new way of looking at things. He has generated some interesting statistics and overturned the common belief that the diggerts of the Gallipoli landing were youngsters. In fact, most were in their thirties. In more recent times he has looked at Irish born Australians and patterns of their enlistment before and after the Easter Uprising of 1916.

For a time, the database up up on the internet, where it was publicly accessible. This generated millions of hits. It had to be taken down because the volume of enquiries by mail, email or in person exceeded the capacity of the university staff to answer them. Most people were happy about the database but some were offended that relative's criminal and medical records were laid bare.

After a list of Gallipoli diggers was prepared for a Brisbane newspaper, one in Sydney asked for the same. When told that they would have to pay for it, the editor was aghast, pointing out that the paper for a special edition had already been purchased. The paper's editor-in-chief then rang the university and said that the paper would do a hatchet job on it if the list of names was not provided. The University caved in.

Most recently, Peter has been working on digitising New Zealand's files. These were microfilmed in the 1960s and unfortunately there was no quality control or checking that the camera was in focus. Worse, the originals were then destroyed.