ODNB

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This is a bibliography page, concerning a work to which reference is made elsewhere in this guide.


The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (commonly the DNB or ODNB in academic circles) 2004. It is a collection of biographical articles about over 50,000 people significant in "British history, 'broadly defined'", written collaboratively.

Currently, the version published on paper is The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, in 60 v. The first editor was H. C. G. Matthew; he was succeeded at his untimely death in 1999 by Brian Harrison, and the current (2007) editor is Lawrence Goldman.

This is the successor to the original edition, The Dictionary of National Biography, to which the abbreviation DNB properly refers. This was founded by George Smith, a publisher and partner in the firm Smith, Elder & Co. who first published it. The first editor by Leslie Stephen, till 1891. From then, it was edited by his assistant, Sidney Lee. The first vol. was published in 1885, and the last (no 63) in 1900. The articles were written by a team of researchers with contributions from many distinguished collaborators. A second edition in 23 vols appeared in 1908-1909. The Oxford University Press took over the project and published it from 1917. Various supplements appeared through the twentieth century, as the subjects died (the DNB has no articles about living people). These added about 6,000 lives of people who died since its preparation to the 29,120 in the original publication. There have also been various Concise DNBs, in two or three volumes, designed as epitomes, or guides to the main work.
  • Perhaps the most useful form at the moment for most students is the on-line ODNB. This subscription service provides desktop access to the complete text of the new 60 Volume Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. The database contains 50,000 biographies and 10,000 portrait illustrations. The on-line version has several advantages apart from its convenience: it is regularly updated (and can be easily corrected), and it has several advanced search facilities. It contains all the lives from the previous editions (many re-written) as well as additions. If you are working with an institution of Higher Education or with certain public libraries, you may be able to use their subscriptions. University students may often gain access through an Athens password.
Although the ODNB is obviously useful to historians and biographers, it contains material not only interesting but useful to scholars in all areas.