Tell me about the history of identity.
September 8, 2012 2:28 PM Subscribe
Tell me about the history of identity. Today it's pretty easy (though not foolproof) to find out if someone was who they said they were, or to verify a communication is from who it's claimed. But what about 200-2000 years ago?
posted by Ookseer to Society & Culture (27 answers total) 52 users marked this as a favorite
Before photo and state issued ID, and before the modern post office, how did you prove you were who you say you were? (or weren't!) Was there anything to keep serial killer (And known witch) Bob Baker from moving to a new town and calling himself Bob Wainwright and getting on with his life? Of maybe even claiming to be a visting duke and cashing in on the generosity of his hosts?
What about record-keeping, like censuses and taxes?
I know that rulers and royalty had various ways to verify themselves and their communication but those were generally kept out of the hands of ordinary people until at least the late 1800's.
I also know that soldiers (before dogtags) would pin their names on their uniforms or just have letters/wills on their body to identify them if they didn't survive battle. But what did they do before high literacy rates? And was there a way to keep spies out when even military uniforms weren't uniform?
Or was all this even a problem since few people moved outside of their known circles?
I'm mostly interested in the late Middle-ages, but pretty much anything about any time in history would be enlightening.