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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, 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 nineteenth-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 and 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 20th century.

The supplements published between 1912 and 1996 added about 6,000 lives of people who died in the 20th century to the 29,120 in the 63 volumes of the original DNB. In 1993 a volume containing missing persons 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 in that it could not take into account 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.

Concise dictionary

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. The print edition is currently selling for £6500. 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 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.

First series contents

Contents of each volume of the first series with year of publication and editor.

 
   
   
   
   
 
   
   
   
   
 
 
  
   
 
 
   
   
 
 
   
   
 
 
   
   
   
 
 
   
   
 
 
   
   
 
 
   
   
 
 
   
   
   
 
 
   
   
 
 
   
   
 
 
   
   
 
 
   
   
   
 
 
   
   
 
 
   
   
 
 
   
   
 
 
   
   
   
 
 
   
   
 
 
   
   
 
 
   
   
 
 
   
   
   
 
 
   
   
   
 
 
   
   
 
 
   
   
 
 
   
   
   
 
 
   
   
 
 
   
   
   
 
 
   
   
 
 
   
   
   
 
 
   
   
 
 
   
   
 
 
   
   
 
 
   
   
   
 
 
   
   
 
 
   
   
 
 
   
   
 
 
   
   
   
 
 
   
   
 
 
   
   
 
 
   
   
 
 
   
   
   
 
 
   
   
 
 
   
   
 
 
   
   
 
 
   
   
   
 
 
   
   
 
 
   
   
 
 
   
   
 
 
   
   
   
 
 
   
   
 
 
   
   
 
 
   
   
 
 
   
   
   
 
 
   
   
 
 
   
   
 
 
   
   
 
 
   
   
   
 
 
   
   
 
 
   
   
 
 
   
   
 
 
   
   
   
 
 
   
   
 
 
   
   
 
     
Volume
Names Year Pub.
Editor
     
1
Abbadaire - Anne 1885
Stephen
     
2
Annesley - Baird
     
3
Baker - Beadon
     
4
Beal - Biber
     
5
Bicheno - Bottasham 1886
     
6
Bottomley - Browell
     
7
Brown - Burthogge
     
8
Burton - Cantwell
     
9
Canute - Challoner 1887
     
10
Chamber - Clarkson
     
11
Clater - Condell
     
12
Condor - Craige
     
13
Craike - Damer 1888
     
14
Damon - D'Eyncourt
     
15
Diamond - Drake
     
16
Drant - Eldridge
     
17
Edward - Erskine 1889
     
18
Esdale - Finan
     
19
Finch - Forman
     
20
Forrest - Garner
     
21
Garnet - Gloucester 1890
     
22
Glover - Grovet

Stephen

     

&

     

Lee

     
23
Gray - Haighton
     
24
Hales - 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 - Lambert
     
32
Lambe - Leigh
     
33
Leichton - Lluelyn 1893
     
34
Llywd - MacCartney
     
35
MacCarwell - Maltby
     
36
Malthus - Mason
     
37
Masquerier - Millyng 1894
     
38
Milman - More
     
39
Morehead - Myles
     
40
Mylar - Nicholls
     
41
Nichols - O'Dugan 1895
     
42
O'Duinn - Owen
     
43
Owens - Passelene
     
44
Paston - Percy
     
45
Pereira - Pockrich 1896
     
46
Pocock - Puckering
     
47
Puckle - Reidford
     
48
Reilly - Robins
     
49
Robinson - Russell 1897
     
50
Russen - Scobell
     
51
Scoffin - Sheares
     
52
Sherman - 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

See also

References

External links

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