New: Diccionario Biográfico Electrónico (DBE)

I am pleased to report that Oxford researchers now have access to the Diccionario Biográfico Electrónico (DBE).

The DBE is an updated and corrected version of the Spanish national biography, Diccionario biográfico español, providing online access to more than 45,000 biographies of deceased individuals which span 2,500 years of Spanish history. While its focus is on the Iberian Peninsula, it has a global reach to include biographies of individuals active in territories which were part of the Spanish administration. Each biography has a brief listing of key readings.

Important: please note that only the basic search is available without login. For advanced search, log in using the username and password on WebLearn (see instructions in Databases A-Z). Please log out when you have finished as only one Oxford user can be logged in at a time.

Advanced search is particularly useful to locate biographies of individuals whose names you don’t know. For instance you can search by religion, profession, locality, etc. Once you have found a biographical entry, DBE then suggests other individuals related in some way to your person of interest.

While you are here…

  • List of other online biographical resources (only some will be freely accessible)
  • New books on historical biography (blogpost January 2019)
  • Tip how to find published biographies, autobiographies, memoirs, etc. in SOLO:
    • In SOLO, go to Advanced Search
    • Change Any Field to Subject
    • Add biography to the Subject field
    • Can you refine your search further by adding for instance a country to the search, limiting it by language or publication year.


New Bodleian History Books: January 2019 – Historical Biographies

Throughout the ages writers have produced countless famous biographies of similarly famous men in history, from Plutarch’s Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans (2nd century AD) to Vasari’s Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects of Renaissance Italy (1550), Boswell’s Life of Samuel Johnson (1791), Carlyle’s Life of Frederick the Great (1858), or even Ian Kershaw’s Hitler (1991).

Because of its connection to and overlap with popular books of the less scholarly “life writing” tradition, academic historical biography has been something of a stepchild for the subject: “The border separating history and biography has always been uncertain and anything but peaceful” is how Sabina Loriga puts it in her chapter on “The Role of the Individual in History” in a recent volume on Theoretical Discussions of Biography (Loriga, 2014, p. 77). Loriga discusses questions of biographical analysis (“What is important and unimportant in the life of a person?”) as well as questions concerning the relationship between biography and history (“Can the life of an individual illuminate the past?”) (Loriga, 2014, 89). Academic historical biography is thus concerned with both these types of questions, and uses biographical information to examine the lives of individuals in relation to secular and ecclesiastical institutions, local communities, social groups, and other entities, to, as Loriga phrases it, “reassess the balance between personal destinies and social structures” (Loriga, 2014, 90).

Thomas Carlyle famously stated that “the history of the world is but the biography of great men”, but the latest Bodleian acquisitions of the genre beg to differ on both the “great” and the “men” parts of this statement – they include accounts of the lives of undeniably fascinating and influential but not necessarily history-making men and, importantly, women from a vast range of different times, locations, societies, and social circumstances. Here are only a few examples from the three main historical eras to whet your appetite.

For the medieval era, Giorgio Godi describes in detail a few years of the fascinating life and times of the 14th-century longbow man, soldier and mercenary captain John Hawkwood, a man of almost mythical proportions.

Medieval women are also well-represented: Leonora Alice Neville presents a volume on the life and work of Anna Komene, the 12th century Byzantine princess, scholar, physician, hospital administrator, and historian, daughter of the Byzantine Emperor Alexios I Komnenos and historical biographer in her own right as the author of The Alexiad, her account of her father’s reign. In her Stories of women in the Middle Ages, Maria Teresa Brolis then tells the fascinating tales of sixteen other medieval women who led equally interesting lives as fashion icons, art clients, businesswomen, saints, healers, lovers, or pilgrims throughout the European Middle Ages, from Hildegard of Bingen to Heloise, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Saint Clare of Assisi, Joan of Arc, and to lesser-known but still well-documented women such as a moneylender, a healer, and a pilgrim.

The early modern era is represented by a man very close to home in Vittoria Feola’s biography of Elias Ashmole, whose donation of his cabinet of curiosities to the University of Oxford in 1677 led to the establishment of the world’s first university museum, the Ashmolean. Rather less fulfilled (and certainly shorter) lives were led by the three women of the Italian Renaissance which are the subject of Elisabeth Crouzet-Pavan’s and Jean-Claude Maire Vigueur’s book Décapitées. As the title rather suggests, she singles out three cases of women who were beheaded – or more precisely publicly executed for adultery on the orders of their husbands. These wives of three of the greatest lords of Renaissance Italy – Mantua, Milan, and Ferrara – were executed for adultery, though on a closer look it seems what they were most guilty of was having tried to take an active part in the great political and cultural innovations of their time.

On the cusp of the modern era we then find In Napoleon’s shadow, an account of a life lived not as, but alongside a traditional “great man” – it is an edition of the complete memoirs of Louis-Joseph Marchand, the personal valet to Napoleon Bonaparte during his exile to Elba, the Hundred Days, and his exile to St Helena until his death.

Moving into the 20th century the men are represented by a very brief life, with an even briefer apogee, but nonetheless one which : Robert M. Zoske’s Flamme sein! (“Be a flame!”) is a biography of Hans Scholl, founder of the nonviolent Nazi resistance movement Die Weisse Rose. It was less than a year after the group started  distributing their leaflets at German universities in the early summer of 1942, Hans and his sister Sophie were arrested, tried, and shortly after executed on 22 February 1943. A detailed look at the same period of German history from the female side is shown in Elisabeth Krimmer’s German women’s life writing and the Holocaust, which looks at memoirs, diaries, or autobiographically inspired fiction of women who were complicit bystanders during the National Socialist regime, whether as army auxiliaries or nurses, but also as female refugees, rape victims, and Holocaust survivors – their continuing support for the regime and, in some cases, their growing estrangement from it.

You can find all items tagged as “biography” in the Bodleian History collections here.

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography: Aug 2018 update: Women and Parliament

The ODNB’s August 2018 update adds twenty-seven articles (including one reference group article), containing twenty-six biographies, accompanied by ten portrait likenesses. The particular focus is on women and Parliament in the period after 1918 when women’s suffrage was (partially) gained, and when women could stand for parliament for the first time. Their biographies have been curated by Dr Mari Takayanagi, senior archivist at the Parliamentary Archives. Read the full editorial introduction to this month’s update.

New and updated subjects include:

Attlee (née Millar), Violet Helen, countess Attlee (1895–1965), charity fund-raiser and prime minister’s wife
Carnegy, Elizabeth Patricia, Baroness Carnegy of Lour (1925–2010), Girl Guides official and educationist
Carney [married name McBride], (Maria) Winifred, [Winnie] (1887–1943), trade unionist, suffrage activist, and Irish republican*
Chamberlain, Annie Vere [Anne] (1882–1967), political wife

and many more.

To accompany the August update, a new reference group Women candidates at the 1918 General Election is now available.

ODNB’s Reference groups are selected biographies on a particular topic/ themes, professions, clubs, movements, etc. They are particularly useful if you don’t know the names of individuals.

The biography of the one female candidate (out of 17) to be elected, is available in the ODNB: Constance Markievicz was elected as the Sinn Fein candidate for Dublin St Patrick’s constituency. Although she was the first woman MP, she did not take her seat in Parliament in line with other Sinn Fein MPs. She was also a Polish countess by marriage.

Other ODNB reference groups also relevant to women’s history in this period are, for instance:

You might also like:

Source databases (subscription resources available to Oxford students and researchers):


Sappho to Suffrage: women who dared – Weston Library, 6 March 2018 – 3 February 2019 > more

> Digitised exhibits (incl.

New books:

Grayzel, Susan R. ; Proctor, Tammy M.,

Gender and the Great War (Oxford, 2017)


Fara, Patricia,

A lab of one’s own : science and suffrage in the First World War

(Oxford, 2018)

Berthezène, C., & Gottlieb, J. (eds.),

Rethinking right-wing women : gender and the Conservative party, 1880s to the present

(Manchester, 2018)

To find more books, using the following subject searches in SOLO:

  • Women — Political activity — Great Britain — Biography
  • Women — Suffrage — Great Britain

Refreshed Oxford Dictionary of National Biography launched

Great news! OUP has refreshed the interface and improved the searching of the much beloved Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (ODNB). Although they have continually made improvements to the design and functionality since 2004, it is was time for a more radical overhaul.

The new site has a modern look and feel to it. The home page features a simple search box and a list of featured articles, podcasts, and news via the OUP Twitter feed (@odnb). The real change is much more intuitive searching functionality

The novice ODNB searcher will be more easily guided to construct more complex searches and dig deeper into the resource. If you are used to constructing complex searches in ODNB, then fear not. There are plenty of opportunities to refine or modify your search afterwards. For instance, you can add filters, e.g. by gender, occupation and find articles with images. You can also decide to search full-text or search in other fields, such as place, aristocratic title, contributor, etc.

I also like the reference lists and themed collections which are curated biographies of individuals on a wide range of topics or groups. They are tucked away, a little surprisingly considering how useful they are, but can be found, along with featured essays, in Tools & Resources. These lists reveal the little known geographical reach of the ODNB, covering history beyond Britain as many biographies relate to the British Empire.

Examples from the Reference Group and Reference Lists:

  • Advisers of King John (act. 1215)
  • Salem witches and their accusers (act 1692)
  • Papal legates to medieval Britain and Ireland in the Oxford DNB
  • Competition wallahs (act. 1855-1891)
  • Ministers and secretaries of state for health (1919–2013)
  • Colonial administrators and post-independence leaders in Kenya (1895–2000)
  • Holders of the Faraday medal of the Institute of Electrical Engineers(1922–2013)
  • Principal librarians and directors of the British Museum (1756–2013)

“Masters of the rolls (1286–2013).” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. 20 Nov. 2017.

The more prominently positioned option to browse by Occupation or by Religious Affiliation is useful. Particularly the latter gives a wonderful insight into important non-British individuals who nonetheless played a significant role in British history.

Search by Religious Affiliation > Hinduism

Once you have found your biography, it is easy to save or share the citation and articles though the list of citations styles (APA, MLA and Chicago) is a little short compared to other resources.

Once you have created a personal profile, you can also save your favourite searches and biographies and add your own notes.

Overall, here is a big thumbs up from me. Happy ODNB searching!

What is the ODNB?

The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford DNB) is the national record of men and women who have shaped British history and culture, worldwide, from the Romans to the 21st century.

Also useful:

Find more online biographical resources in Databases A-Z > Subject > Biographical resources.

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography: Sept 2015 update

DNB_stamp_block logoNew biographies for religious men and women during medieval and Reformation periods and individuals active during the First World War.

The latest update to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography—published on Thursday 17 September 2015—adds biographies of 112 men and women active between the thirteenth and the early twenty-first century.

The new update includes a special focus on men and women active during the First World War—in combat and on the home front—with a particular interest in the events of 1915. New additions include the physicians Louisa Garrett Anderson and Flora Murray who opened the Endell Street Military Hospital, London, in May 1915; it remains the only British army hospital staffed and run by women. Military inventions from 1915 include the bowl-shaped Brodie helmet (named after its designer John Brodie) which went into production 100 years ago this month. By the end of the war, seven million of these helmets had been produced. Other war-time lives include the boy soldier Horace Iles (1900-1916) who was killed at the Somme; his biography is now part of school education programmes run by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

September’s update also concludes a 3-year research project to extend the Oxford DNB’s coverage of the medieval religious—the abbots, abbesses, priors, and prioresses who led England’s religious houses until the Reformation. The project has added 56 first-time biographies. To mark the project’s completion, Professor Claire Cross of York University considers these Lives of the Religious for what they can tell us about medieval monasticism, and how those in office in the 1520s and 1530s responded to the Reformation.

Dr Philip Carter, Publication Editor, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography update 28 May 2015: cinema & TV

A century of British cinema, in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

The latest update to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography—published on Thursday 28 May 2015—adds biographies of 105 men and women active between the fourteenth and the early twenty-first century.

2015-05-28 12_53_10-Oxford DNB article_ Corbett, HarryThe new edition includes a special focus on a century of British cinema and television—from the pioneering directors of the early 1900s to the actors, directors, and producers of mid and later twentieth-century films such as Bridge on the River Kwai, Hammer Horror’s Curse of Frankenstein, Rita, Sue and Bob Too, and television classics including Steptoe and Son.

Highlights from the update

Film clips from featured actors, directors and producers, now added to the ODNB

Film biographies now added to the Oxford DNB include:

  • film and television actors Oliver Reed (1938-1999) and Harry H. Corbett (1925-1982), known for Steptoe and Son.
  • US-born film producer and screen writer Carl Foreman (1914-1984), who came to Britain in the midst of the McCarthy trials, and whose films include High Noon and The Bridge on the River Kwai.
  • Lewin Fitzhamon (1869-1961), a pioneer film-maker at Walton-on-Thames in the early 1900s, who made some 400 films—notably Rescued by Rover (1905), starring a pet dog and regarded as a landmark in its cinematic narrative technique.
  • World War One film-maker, Geoffrey Malins (1886-1940) whose documentary film of the first day of the Battle of the Somme, 1 July 1916, was seen by millions of British cinema-goers later that summer.
  • director Terence Fisher (1904-1980), who made twenty-nine Hammer Horror films including the influential Curse of Frankenstein (1957).
  • film-maker Alan Clarke (1935-1990), whose television dramas include Rita, Sue and Bob Too and Scum.

Other biographies now added include:

  • Fanny Talbot (1824-1917), benefactor and friend of Ruskin, who made the first ever donation of land to the National Trust, to coincide with the Trust’s formation, in May 1895. Talbot gave land at Barmouth on the Gwynedd coast, known as Dinas Oleu or ‘Fortress of Light’.
  • the Poplar councillors (act. 1921) of East London; 30 local politicians imprisoned for refusing to levy a rate in protest at the inequitable distribution of local taxation in the capital.
  • chess master Phillip Stamma (d. 1755). Born in Aleppo, Stamma came to Britain in the late 1730s. His The Noble Game of Chess (1745) introduced the concept of the ‘end game’ to Western players of the game.

Faculty contributors to the latest update include John Davis (on the Poplar councillors (act. 1921)), George Garnett (on ‘Magna Carta through eight centuries’), and John-Paul Ghobrial (on Phillip Stamma (d. 1755)).

The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography is the national record of men and women who’ve shaped all walks of British life, in the UK and overseas, from the Roman occupation to the 21st century. It’s a research and publishing project of the History Faculty and OUP and is available via SOLO or Databases A-Z.

Dr Philip Carter, Publication Editor, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

New: e-access to Journal of Medical Biography, 1993 (v.1) onwards

Journal of medical biography - coverI am pleased to report that Oxford users now have e-access to the Journal of Medical Biography [ISSN 0967-7720] from vol. 1, 1993 onwards.

Access is via SOLO or OU eJournals. For remote access, Oxford users should use their SSO login.

A peer-reviewed international journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, it covers the lives of people in or associated with medicine.

“… The Journal of Medical Biography covers medical personalities and many others in the field of health care, hospitals, instruments, techniques and so on. It features original research on persons and places, legendary and less well known, and provides a fresh new perspective on life and lives.” Sage Journals,

You can register for email alerts and set up an RSS feed. For more on current awareness tools, see handouts from Bodleian iSkills courses on Getting Information Come To You.

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography adds 226 lives of people who died in 2011

ODNBThe new update of the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography online, published on 8 January 2015,  adds biographies of 226 men and women who shaped modern Britain and who died in 2011.

Among those now included in the ODNB online are the journalist and author Christopher Hitchens, actress Elizabeth Taylor, artist Lucian Freud, SOE officer and travel writer, Patrick Leigh Fermor, and the film director Ken Russell. Also added are biographies on Claude Choules—the last surviving British-born veteran of the First World War—who was born in 1901, and the songwriter and singer, Amy Winehouse, who was born in 1983.

Historians now added to the Oxford DNB include Patrick Collinson, Kevin Sharpe, John Ehrman, Dorothy Thompson, and Norman Hampson.

Selected highlights, a full list of new biographies, and an Introduction to the new update are available via the ODNB website.

The Oxford DNB now provides biographies of 59,453 individuals from prehistory to the year 2011, available via OLIS. Online updates are published in January, May and September of each year. The January 2015 update is the first under the general editorship of Professor Sir David Cannadine, who is a Visiting Professor in the Oxford History Faculty.

Dr Philip Carter, Publication Editor, OUP

Oxford DNB September 2014 update: 120 biographies added

News from the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography: ODNB

“This is the 30th update to the online edition since ‘first’ publication in September 2004 and marks our 10th anniversary.

The update adds biographies of 120 people from prehistory to the 21st century and takes as its main theme people whose lives illustrate aspects of national character, heritage, and manners. They include, for example, Cecil Chubb (1876-1934), the last private owner of Stonehenge, who gave the site to the nation in 1918; John Blanke, the African-born trumpeter who served in the courts of Henry VII and VIII; Arabella Churchill (1949-2007) co-founder of the Glastonbury Festival; Norman Wilkinson (1878-1971) artist and inventor of ‘dazzle’ camouflage in WWI; and Theoderic Rood (fl.1480-4), the earliest named printer in Oxford.

We have an open highlights page which offers a selection of lives and a full list.

For the 10th anniversary we are also running a series of items, e.g. blog posts on the ODNB’s online evolution since 2004, listed here.

From next week, the ODNB’s new general editor will be Professor Sir David Cannadine of Princeton. There’s a little more on David’s appointment here.”

New: Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography

I am pleased to report that Oxford users now have access to the online Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography.

Dictionary of Scientific BiographyContaining thousands of biographies of mathematicians and natural scientists from all regions and historical periods, this resource is one of the most trusted science biography reference works.

The Dictionary of Scientific Biography is supplemented by the New Dictionary of Scientific Biography with an additional 775 completely new entries which include scientists deceased since 1980, figures omitted from the original and “postscript” commentaries that detail new research on great scientists of the past.

Today’s Biography of Day …

…is Johannes Kepler, the German astronomer and mathematician (b. 1571, d 1630)

Dictionary of Scientific Biography - Kepler

15 November is the 383rd anniversary of his death. Kepler’s work on the laws of motion were hugely influential on Robert Hooke and Isaac Newton. Check out his biography now!

Othe biographical resources available in Oxford