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Encyclopedia > Dictionary of National Biography

The Dictionary of National Biography (or DNB) is a standard work of reference on notable figures from British history.

Seeking to emulate national biographical collections published in separate nations of Europe, in 1882 the publisher George Smith (1824 - 1901), of Smith, Elder and 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 concentrate 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, who had been 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 DNB was soon extended by the issue of three supplementary volumes, covering subjects who had died between 1885 and 1900 but who had not been included in the original alphabetical sequence. Conceived as covering British history 'from the earliest times to the year 1900', the supplements brought the whole work up to the death of Queen Victoria on 22 January 1901. This is an article on biographies. ... 1882 was a common year starting on Sunday (see link for calendar). ... Sir Leslie Stephen (November 28, 1832 – February 22, 1904) was an English author and critic, the father of two famous daughters, Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell. ... January 1 is the first day of the calendar year in both the Julian and Gregorian calendars. ... 1885 is a common year starting on Thursday. ... Sir Sidney Lee (December 5, 1859 - March 3, 1926) was an English biographer and critic. ... 1900 is a common year starting on Monday. ... This article is about the Queen Regnant of the United Kingdom. ... January 22 is the 22nd day of the year in the Gregorian Calendar. ... 1901 was a common year starting on Tuesday (see link for calendar). ...

The dictionary was reissued in 23 volumes in 1908 and 1909, incorporating minor revisions. In the words of the 1911 edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica, the dictionary had "elucidated the private annals of the British". Throughout the twentieth century, further volumes were published for those deceased in each decade, 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 including subjects who had died during the twentieth century, and, in 1993, an additional volume entitled Missing Persons was published containing about 1,000 notable people who had been omitted from the previous editions of the main dictionary and its supplements. 1908 is a leap year starting on Wednesday (link will take you to calendar). ... 1909 was a common year starting on Friday (see link for calendar). ... Oxford University Press (OUP) is a highly-respected publishing house and a department of the University of Oxford in England. ...

The supplements published between 1912 and 1996 added about 6,000 lives to the approximately 30,000 included in the Dictionary of National Biography, but the dictionary was not revised and was becoming less and less useful as a reference work. In the early 1990s Oxford University Press committed themselves to compiling a new dictionary of national biography. Work 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; and that room would be made for about 14,000 new subjects. 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) up until 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. Following Matthew's death in October 1999, he was succeeded as editor by another Oxford history professor, Brian Harrison, in January 2000. // Events and trends The 1990s are generally classified as having moved slightly away from the more conservative 1980s, but otherwise retaining the same mindset. ... The University of Oxford, located in the city of Oxford, England, is the oldest university in the English-speaking world. ... December 31 is the 365th day of the year (366th in leap years) in the Gregorian Calendar. ... This article is about the year 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 £7,500, and in an online edition for subscribers. At publication, the 2004 edition had 50,113 biographical articles covering 54,922 lives, including all those in the old DNB. A small permanent staff, including the renowned Rupert Mann, a contributor, 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, and further updates, to include subjects from all periods, will follow in May and October. September 23 is the 266th day of the year (267th in leap years). ... 2004 is a leap year starting on Thursday of the Gregorian calendar. ... January 4 is the 4th day of the year in the Gregorian Calendar. ... 2005 is a common year starting on Saturday of the Gregorian calendar and is the current year. ...

Response to the new dictionary has been for the most part positive, but in the months following publication there has been occasional criticism of the dictionary in some British newspapers and periodicals for reported factual inaccuracies, including some in many important entries such as the biographies for Florence Nightingale, Jane Austen, George V, and Edward VIII. According to The Observer, Florence Nightingale, OM (May 12, 1820 – August 13, 1910), who came to be known as The Lady with the Lamp, was the pioneer of modern nursing. ... Jane Austen, in a portrait based on one drawn by her sister Cassandra House of Jane Austen (today it is a museum) Jane Austen (December 16, 1775 – July 18, 1817) was a prominent English novelist whose work is considered part of the Western canon. ... King George V King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Emperor of India His Majesty King George V (George Frederick Ernest Albert) (3 June 1865–20 January 1936) was the last British monarch of the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, changing the name to the House... King Edward VIII King of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, King of Ireland Emperor of India His Majesty King Edward VIII, (Edward Albert Christian George Andrew Patrick David), later His Royal Highness The Duke of Windsor (23 June 1894 – 28 May 1972) was the second British monarch of the House... Wikipedia does not yet have an article with this exact name. ...

the acclaimed Oxford don and constitutional specialist Vernon Bogdanor believes the Dictionary of National Biography has failed to come up to Oxford's standards. 'It has indirectly done damage to the university,' he said this weekend. 'I can only comment on the areas of my own expertise, but these entries seem to have been written by the constitutionally illiterate.'" (Observer, March 6, 2005)

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 representing less than one thousandth of one per cent of the estimated 10 million factual statements conveyed in the dictionary's 60 million words. 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.

See also

Richard Bissell Prosser Richard Bissell Prosser (August 25, 1838 - March 18, 1918) was a patents examiner and a biographical writer. ...


  • Collini, Stefan (January 20, 2005) "Our Island Story". London Review of Books
  • Thorpe, Vanessa (March 6, 2005). "At £7,500 for the set, you'd think they'd get their facts right". The Observer.

External link

  • Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

This article incorporates text from the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica, which is in the public domain. Supporters contend that the Eleventh Edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica (1911) represents, in many ways, the sum of knowledge at the beginning of the 20th century. ... The public domain comprises the body of all creative works and other knowledge—writing, artwork, music, science, inventions, and others—in which no person or organization has any proprietary interest. ...



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