Constructing Relational Databases to Study Life Histories on Your PC or Mac

22 Pages Posted: 5 Aug 2007 Last revised: 2 May 2013

See all articles by Johann Peter Murmann

Johann Peter Murmann

University of St. Gallen; UNSW Australia Business School - AGSM

Date Written: July 29, 2007


The paper presents a strategy for designing relational databases with the program FileMaker to study the histories of individuals and organizations. The approach facilitates efficiency in entering data and flexibility for constructing statistical analyses from the raw data. The key feature of the strategy is to define the basic unit of observation in the database in terms of an agent, an event, and a date. Given that programs such as FileMaker can easily sort data by agent and date, once you structure the data correctly you can construct well-ordered event histories for agents, even if the researcher may enter the data in an unordered fashion. By using events that happened to an agent at a particular time as the basic unit of observation, you maintain maximum flexibility to do statistical analysis that aggregate basic data in different ways. The paper illustrates the power of the approach by outlining how to analyze changes in geographic distances between two events marking the life history of chemists.

Keywords: Longitudinal Datasets, Combining Qualitative and Quantitative Data, Event-History Analyses, Software Tools, Aids for Historical Research

JEL Classification: C80, N80, M10

Suggested Citation

Murmann, Johann Peter, Constructing Relational Databases to Study Life Histories on Your PC or Mac (July 29, 2007). Available at SSRN: or

Johann Peter Murmann (Contact Author)

University of St. Gallen ( email )

Dufourstrasse 40a
Institute of Management and Strategy
St.Gallen, 9000
+41 71 224 23 64 (Phone)


UNSW Australia Business School - AGSM ( email )

UNSW Sydney, NSW 2052
+61-2-9385-9733 (Phone)


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