Dictionary of National Biography

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The title page of the first volume of the Dictionary

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.

First series[edit]

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[edit]

George Murray Smith conceived of the DNB, subsidised it, and saw it finally into print before he died in 1901.

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.

In 1996, the University of London published a volume of corrections, cumulated from the Bulletin of the Institute of Historical Research.[1]

Concise dictionary[edit]

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[edit]

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. In subsequent years, the print edition can be obtained new for a much lower price.[2] 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. Unfortunately recent analytical examination of selected ODNB articles has revealed them to be both inaccurate and incomplete, particularly the older biographies; this issue will have to be addressed by new Editor Sir David Cannadine who takes over the editorship from October 2014.[citation needed]

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.[3][4] 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.[5]

First series contents[edit]

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

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ 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.
  2. ^ E.g., at least one U.K. bookseller in 2012 was asking £1738.44 (US$2842.42) including free worldwide delivery.
  3. ^ Stefan Collini (20 January 2005). "Our Island Story". London Review of Books. 
  4. ^ Vanessa Thorpe (6 March 2005). "At £7,500 for the set, you'd think they'd get their facts right". The Observer. 
  5. ^ "The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography: Dictionary or Encyclopaedia?". The Historical Journal. 50, no. 4: 991-1006. 
Attribution

Public Domain This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainE. G. (1911). "Biography". In Chisholm, Hugh. Encyclopædia Britannica 3 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 952–954.  (see the last paragraph of the EB "Biography" article on page 954).

External links[edit]

DNB
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
Second series of supplementary volumes for the first edition
Second supplement Volume 1 1912 Abbey Eyre
Second supplement Volume 2 1912 Faed Muybridge
Second supplement Volume 3 1912