Greatness is a concept of a state of superiority affecting a person or object in a particular place or area. Greatness can also be attributed to individuals who possess a natural ability to be better than all others. The concept carries the implication that the particular person or object, when compared to others of a similar type, has clear advantage over others. As a descriptive term it is most often applied to a person or their work, and may be qualified or unqualified. An example of an expression of the concept in a qualified sense would be "Abraham Lincoln is the definition of greatness" or "Franklin D. Roosevelt was one of the greatest wartime leaders". In the unqualified sense it might be stated "George Washington achieved greatness within his own lifetime", thus implying that "greatness" is a definite and identifiable quality. Application of the terms "great" and "greatness" is dependent on the perspective and subjective judgements of those who apply them. Whereas in some cases the perceived greatness of a person, place or object might be agreed upon by many, this is not necessarily the case, and the perception of greatness may be both fiercely contested and highly individual.
To prove his thesis, Kroeber collected “long lists of notable figures from several nationalities and historic eras”, and then grouped them within a field and a shared cultural context, e.g., “Configuration for American Literature”. Then within these groupings he listed his notables in “strict chronological order”, identifying the most eminent figures by using capital letters for their surnames (e.g. EMERSON, LONGFELLOW, POE, WHITMAN, etc. in above configuration).
Retrospective studies, involving extensive interviews with individuals who have attained eminence, or at least exceptional levels of achievement, have added much to our understanding of the developmental process. Two studies in particular stand out.