- Dictionary of National Biography
The Dictionary of National Biography (DNB) is a standard work of reference on notable figures from British history, published from 1885. The updated Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (ODNB) was published on 23 September 2004 in 60 volumes and online.
The first series
Seeking to emulate national biographical collections published in Europe, such as the Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie (1875), in 1882 the publisher George Smith (1824–1901), of Smith, Elder & Co., planned a universal dictionary which would include biographical entries on individuals from world history. He approached Leslie Stephen, then editor of the Cornhill Magazine, owned by Smith, to become editor. Stephen persuaded Smith that the work should focus on subjects from the UK and its present and former colonies only. An early working title was the Biographia Britannica, the name of an earlier eighteenth-century reference work. The first volume of the Dictionary of National Biography appeared on 1 January 1885. In May 1891, Leslie Stephen resigned the editorship. Sidney Lee, Stephen's assistant editor from the beginning of the project, succeeded him as editor. A dedicated team of sub-editors and researchers worked under Stephen and Lee, combining a variety of talents from veteran journalists to young scholars who cut their academic teeth on dictionary articles at a time when postgraduate historical research in British universities was still in its infancy. While much of the dictionary was written in-house, the DNB also relied on external contributors, who included several respected writers and scholars of the late nineteenth century. Successive volumes appeared quarterly with complete punctuality until midsummer 1900, when the series closed with volume 63. The year of publication, the editor and the range of names in each volume is given below.
Supplements and revisions
Since the scope included only deceased figures, the DNB was soon extended by the issue of three supplementary volumes, covering subjects who had died between 1885 and 1900 or who had been overlooked in the original alphabetical sequence. The supplements brought the whole work up to the death of Queen Victoria on 22 January 1901. Corrections were added.
After issuing a volume of errata in 1904, the dictionary was reissued with minor revisions in 22 volumes in 1908 and 1909; a subtitle said that it covered British history "from the earliest times to the year 1900". In the words of the 1911 edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica, the dictionary had "elucidated the private annals of the British", providing not only concise lives of the notable deceased, but additionally lists of sources which were invaluable to researchers in a period when few libraries or collections of manuscripts had published catalogues or indices, and the production of indices to periodical literatures was just beginning. Throughout the twentieth century, further volumes were published for those who had died, generally on a decade-by-decade basis, beginning in 1912 with a supplement edited by Lee covering those who died between 1901 and 1911. The dictionary was transferred from its original publishers, Smith, Elder & Co., to Oxford University Press in 1917. Until 1996, Oxford University Press continued to add further supplements featuring articles on subjects who had died during the twentieth century.
The supplements published between 1912 and 1996 added about 6,000 lives of people who died in the twentieth century to the 29,120 in the 63 volumes of the original DNB. In 1993 a volume containing missing biographies was published. This had an additional 1,000 lives, selected from over 100,000 suggestions. This did not seek to replace any articles on existing DNB subjects, even though the original work had been written from a Victorian perspective and had become out of date due to changes in historical assessments and discoveries of new information during the twentieth century. Consequently, the dictionary was becoming less and less useful as a reference work.
There were various versions of the Concise Dictionary of National Biography, which covered everyone in the main work but with much shorter articles; some were only two lines. The last edition, in three volumes, covered everyone who died before 1986.
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
In the early 1990s Oxford University Press committed itself to overhauling the DNB. Work on what was known until 2001 as the New Dictionary of National Biography, or New DNB, began in 1992 under the editorship of Colin Matthew, professor of modern history at the University of Oxford. Matthew decided that no subjects from the old dictionary would be excluded, however insignificant the subjects appeared to a late-twentieth-century eye; that a minority of shorter articles from the original dictionary would remain in the new in revised form, but most would be rewritten; and that room would be made for about 14,000 new subjects. Suggestions for new subjects were solicited through questionnaires placed in libraries and universities and, as the 1990s advanced, online, and assessed by the editor, the 12 external consultant editors and several hundred associate editors and in-house staff.
The new dictionary would cover British history, "broadly defined" (including, for example, subjects from Roman Britain, the United States of America before its independence, and from Britain's former colonies, provided they were functionally part of the Empire and not of "the indigenous culture" (Introduction)) up to 31 December 2000. The research project was conceived as a collaborative one, with in-house staff co-ordinating the work of nearly 10,000 contributors internationally. It would remain selective – there would be no attempt to include all members of parliament, for example – but would seek to include significant, influential or notorious figures from the whole canvas of the life of Britain and its former colonies, overlaying the decisions of the late-nineteenth-century editors with the interests of late-twentieth-century scholarship in the hope that "the two epochs in collaboration might produce something more useful for the future than either epoch on its own", but acknowledging also that a final definitive selection is impossible to achieve.
Following Matthew's death in October 1999, he was succeeded as editor by another Oxford historian, Professor Brian Harrison, in January 2000.
The new dictionary, now known as the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (or ODNB), was published on 23 September 2004 in 60 volumes in print at a price of £7500, and in an online edition for subscribers. Most UK holders of a current library card can access it online free of charge. The print edition is currently[when?] selling for £1500. At publication, the 2004 edition had 50,113 biographical articles covering 54,922 lives, including entries on all subjects included in the old DNB. (The old DNB entries on these subjects may be accessed separately through a link to the "DNB Archive" – many of the longer entries are still highly regarded.) A small permanent staff remain in Oxford to update and extend the coverage of the online edition. Brian Harrison was succeeded as editor by another Oxford historian, Dr Lawrence Goldman, in October 2004. The first online update was published on 4 January 2005, including subjects who had died in 2001. A further update, including subjects from all periods, followed on 23 May 2005, and another on 6 October 2005. New subjects who died in 2002 were added to the online dictionary on 5 January 2006, with continuing releases in May and October in subsequent years following the precedent of 2005. The ODNB also includes some new biographies on people who died before the DNB was published and are not included in the original DNB, because they have become notable since the DNB was published through the work of more recent historians, for example William Eyre (fl. 1634–1675).
The online version has an advanced search facility, allowing a search for people by area of interest, religion and "Places, Dates, Life Events". This accesses an electronic index that cannot be directly viewed.
Response to the new dictionary has been for the most part positive, but in the months following publication there was occasional criticism of the dictionary in some British newspapers and periodicals for reported factual inaccuracies. However, the number of articles publicly queried in this way was small – only 23 of the 50,113 articles published in September 2004, leading to fewer than 100 substantiated factual amendments. These and other queries received since publication are being considered as part of an ongoing programme of assessing proposed corrections or additions to existing subject articles, which can, when approved, be incorporated into the online edition of the dictionary. In 2005, The American Library Association awarded the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography its prestigious Dartmouth Medal. A general review of the Dictionary was published in 2007.
First series contents
Contents of each volume of the first series with year of publication and editor.
Volume Names Year published Editor 1 Abbadie – Anne 1885 Stephen 2 Annesley – Baird 3 Baker – Beadon 4 Beal – Biber 5 Bicheno – Bottisham 1886 6 Bottomley – Browell 7 Brown – Burthogge 8 Burton – Cantwell 9 Canute – Chaloner 1887 10 Chamber – Clarkson 11 Clater – Condell 12 Conder – Craigie 13 Craik – Damer 1888 14 Damon – D'Eyncourt 15 Diamond – Drake 16 Drant – Edridge 17 Edward – Erskine 1889 18 Esdale – Finan 19 Finch – Forman 20 Forrest – Garner 21 Garnett – Gloucester 1890 22 Glover – Gravet Stephen & Lee 23 Gray – Haighton 24 Hailes – Harriott 25 Harris – Henry I 1891 26 Henry II – Hindley 27 Hindmarsh – Hovenden Lee 28 Howard – Inglethorpe 29 Inglish – John 1892 30 Johnes – Kenneth 31 Kennett – Lambart 32 Lambe – Leigh 33 Leighton – Lluelyn 1893 34 Llywd – MacCartney 35 MacCarwell – Maltby 36 Malthus – Mason 37 Masquerier – Millyng 1894 38 Milman – More 39 Morehead – Myles 40 Myllar – Nicholls 41 Nichols – O'Dugan 1895 42 O'Duinn – Owen 43 Owens – Passelewe 44 Paston – Percy 45 Pereira – Pockrich 1896 46 Pocock – Puckering 47 Puckle – Reidfurd 48 Reilly – Robins 49 Robinson – Russell 1897 50 Russen – Scobell 51 Scoffin – Sheares 52 Shearman – Smirke 53 Smith – Stanger 1898 54 Stanhope – Stovin 55 Stow – Taylor 56 Teach – Tollet 57 Tom – Tytler 1899 58 Ubaldini – Wakefield 59 Wakeman – Watkins 60 Watson – Whewell 61 Whichcord – Williams 1900 62 Williamson – Worden 63 Wordsworth – Zuylestein
- List of contributors to the Dictionary of National Biography
- Biographical dictionary
- ^ University of London. Corrections and Additions to the Dictionary of National Biography, Cumulated from the Bulletin of the Institute of Historical Research Covering the Years 1923–1963. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1966.
- ^ Stefan Collini (20 January 2005). "Our Island Story". London Review of Books. http://www.lrb.co.uk/v27/n02/coll01_.html.
- ^ Vanessa Thorpe (6 March 2005). "At £7,500 for the set, you'd think they'd get their facts right". The Observer. http://observer.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,6903,1431473,00.html.
- ^ "The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography: Dictionary or Encyclopaedia?". The Historical Journal. 50, no. 4: 991-1006. http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=1411984.
This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: E. G. (1911). "Biography". In Chisholm, Hugh. Encyclopædia Britannica. 3 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 952–954. http://www.archive.org/stream/encyclopaediabrit03chisrich#page/954/mode/1up. (see the last paragraph of the EB "Biography" article on page 954).
- Oxford Dictionary of National Biography website
- Free index to the ODNB
- About the Oxford DNB, Oxford University Press site
- Introduction to the Oxford DNB, Oxford University Press site
- Corrections to the ODNB submitted and peer-reviewed by members of soc.medieval/Gen-Med
- Online volumes of the first and second series
- Online volumes of the first and second series, selected from Internet Archive and Google Books at The Online Books Page.
The volumes of the first edition of the Dictionary of National Biography in various file formats in the Internet Archive Volume Date From To Notes Index and Epitome 1903 The Index, with a summary for each entry. Volume 1 1885 Abbadie Anne Volume 2 1885 Anneslya Baird Volume 3 1885 Baker Beadon Volume 4 1885 Beal Biber Volume 5 1886 Bicheno Bottisham Volume 6 1886 Bottomley Browell Volume 7 1886 Brown Burthogge Volume 8 1886 Burton Cantwell Volume 9 1887 Canute Chaloner Volume 10 1887 Chamber Clarkson Volume 11 1887 Clater Condell Volume 12 1887 Conder Craigie Volume 13 1888 Craik Damer Volume 14 1888 Damon D'Eyncourt Volume 15 1888 Diamond Drake Volume 16 1888 Drant Edridge Volume 17 1889 Edward Erskine Volume 18 1889 Esdaile Finan Volume 19 1889 Finch Forman Volume 20 1889 Forest Garner Volume 21 1890 Garnett Gloucester Volume 22 1890 Glover Gravet Volume 23 1890 Gray Haighton Volume 24 1890 Hailes Harriott Incorrectly labeled as Volume 25 Volume 25 1891 Harris Henry I Volume 26 1891 Henry II Hindley Volume 27 1891 Hindmarsh Hovenden Volume 28 1891 Howard Inglethorp Volume 29 1892 Inglis John Volume 30 1892 Johnes Kenneth Volume 31 1892 Kennett Lambart Volume 32 1892 Lambre Leigh Volume 33 1893 Leighton Lluelyn Volume 34 1893 Llwyd MacCartney Volume 35 1893 MacCarwell Maltby Volume 36 1893 Malthus Mason Volume 37 1894 Masquerier Millyng Volume 38 1894 Milman More Volume 39 1894 Morehead Myles Volume 40 1894 Myllar Nichols Volume 41 1895 Nichols O'Dugan Volume 42 1895 O'Duinn Owen Volume 43 1895 Owens Passelewe Volume 44 1895 Paston Percy Volume 45 1896 Pereira Pochrich Volume 46 1896 Pockock Puckering Volume 47 1896 Puckle Reidfurd Volume 48 1896 Reily Robins Volume 49 1897 Robinson Russell Volume 50 1897 Russen Scobell Volume 51 1897 Scoffin Sheares Volume 52 1897 Shearman Smirke Volume 53 1898 Smith Stanger Volume 54 1898 Stanhope Stovin Volume 55 1898 Stow Taylor Volume 56 1898 Teach Tollet Volume 57 1899 Tom Tytler Volume 58 1899 Ubaldini Wakefield Volume 59 1899 Wakeman Watkins Volume 60 1899 Watson Whewell Volume 61 1900 Whichcord Williams Volume 62 1900 Williamson Worden Volume 63 1900 Wordsworth Zuylestein Supplementary volumes for the first edition Supplement Volume 1 1901 Abbott Childers Supplement Volume 2 1901 Chippendale Hoste Supplement Volume 3 1901 How Woodward Errata 1904
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