"multiple career-line analysis (as the social scientists call it)", Lawrence Stone remarked, in "Prosopography", Daedalus 100.1 (1971), pp 46–71.
In historical studies, prosopography is an investigation of the common characteristics of a historical group, whose individual biographies may be largely untraceable, by means of a collective study of their lives, in multiple career-line analysis. Prosopographical research has the goal of learning about patterns of relationships and activities through the study of collective biography; it collects and analyses statistically relevant quantities of biographical data about a well-defined group of individuals. This makes it a valuable technique for studying many pre-modern societies.
British historian Lawrence Stone (1919–1999) brought the term to general attention in an explanatory article in 1971. The word is drawn from the figure of prosopopeia in classical rhetoric, introduced by Quintilian, in which an absent or imagined person is figured forth—the "face created" as the Greek suggests—in words, as if present.
Stone noted two uses of prosopography as a historians' tool: first, in uncovering deeper interests and connections beneath the superficial rhetoric of politics, in order to examine the structure of the political machine; and second, in analysing the changing roles in society of particular status groups—holders of offices, members of associations—and assessing social mobility through family origins and social connections of recruits to those offices or memberships. "Invented as a tool of political history," Stone observed, "it is now being increasingly employed by the social historians."