Confessions of an Oxford Dictionary of National Biography addict

I’m a huge fan of the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (DNB). It is a wonderful resource for anyone who wants to know about the lives of well-known and not so well-known historic British and British-related figures and can be accessed via the Source either in our libraries or from home with your library card number and pin.

I first encountered the DNB when working at the National Army Museum in 2004 when the newly revised printed edition was published and I catalogued all 60 volumes. (The original Victorian edition was edited by Virginia Woolf‘s father, Sir Leslie Stephen.) The print volumes were beautifully produced, wonderful to flick through, took up a lot of shelf space – and came with a free one year subscription to the online version, which was fantastic to explore.

The DNB truly comes alive online (which is slightly ironic as you have to dead to be considered for inclusion) – there are updates every few months, links to related people of interest, theme pages and lists, and a Lives of the Week feature which highlights a different life every day – these can even be sent direct to your inbox. This last week we’ve had the chance to discover botanist and geologist Sir Albert Seward, shorthand specialist Marie Beauclerc and Polish Battle of Britain pilot Josef František amongst others. I wonder who’s going to be there when you’re reading this?

This is the place to find out about the mysterious Spring-Heeled Jackclaimants to the English and Scottish thronesJohn Lennon (and John Lennon), Presidents of the Royal SocietyMary SeacoleHDangry young men and merry men, and many, many more. Indeed, this blog is taking a while to write as I keep getting sidetracked.

Looking at this resource from a New Zealand angle, many governors, governors-general, premiers and prime ministers are included and can be found on this list, the Canterbury Association has its own theme page, and a simple full text search on ‘New Zealand’ brings up plenty of hits.

New Zealand’s own Dictionary of Biography is part of the Te Ara Encyclopedia of New Zealand.

Who have you discovered? Do you have an online resource you keep returning to?

5 thoughts on “Confessions of an Oxford Dictionary of National Biography addict

  1. Gallivanta 18 October 2013 / 3:58 pm

    I like the Te Ara Encyclopedia of New Zealand but the DNB resource sounds wonderful. Off to check it out now. (not in the old sense of a library check out :D)

    • katccl 18 October 2013 / 5:26 pm

      It is – enjoy!

  2. Robyn 18 October 2013 / 4:06 pm

    I fondly remember the ordered ranks of the DNB shelved in Central Library Gloucester Street, down by the glass cases where we kept the Genealogy Collection. The DNB was always the starting point when a customer came to the desk asking about a personage who didn’t necessarily have a book written about them. I think may have even assessed it as a reference source when I was studying for my librarian qualification. Very presumptuous of me. And difficult because its fascinations were incredibly conducive to distraction and procrastination.

    • katccl 18 October 2013 / 5:27 pm

      So addictive in any format!

      • katccl 18 October 2013 / 5:28 pm

        And useful in any format…

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