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The Bible, Shakespeare and national dictionaries of biography

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When I first started to edit BBIH I used the Concise Dictionary of National Biography and then the CD-Rom version. Both were very useful, however searching them did slow down the process of editing and checking material for inclusion. Then came the online versions of ODNB and life was so much easier. As time has gone on I’ve created a favourites folder entitled “Biographical databases” in which are placed all of the national biographies outlined in the recent piece in Reviews in History (and a few more).

I can only echo Martin Farr’s comments on these resources, their usefulness and coverage. All have their individual idiosyncrasies but all are easy to use. I’m not a fan of the Australian search which defaults to a “text” search rather than a “person” search (as with ODNB). To search a specific name in the Canadian, users have to click on “search” or “advanced search” as only a “full text” search is available on the home screen. The New Zealand is the niftiest – a search will bring up names first and then the word in text. Farr does not mention the Welsh Biography Online however I particularly like the Welsh resource for its layout of search fields. Sadly the University of London does not subscribe to the Irish dictionary but the Irish helpfully provide a snippet view which goes some way in aiding research. I can find no Scottish online equivalent. There is the Dictionary of Scottish Architects (DSA), a database providing biographical information and job lists for all architects known to have worked in Scotland during the period 1840-1980, whether as principals, assistants or apprentices. There is also an Internet Archive version of A Biographical Dictionary of Eminent Scotsmen (1870). If anyone knows of a Scottish one I’d be grateful if they would let me know.

And why the title – The Bible, Shakespeare and national dictionaries of biography? Well if I were marooned on a desert island, trawling through the national dictionaries (preferably online) would fill countless hours….