By Keith Thomas
The e-book of the Oxford Dictionary of nationwide Biography in September 2004 was once an occasion of serious literary and scholarly value. In his Leslie Stephen Lecture, commemorating the founding father of the unique Dictionary of nationwide Biography, the prestigious historian Keith Thomas surveys the numerous previous makes an attempt at collective biography, considers the connection of the Oxford DNB to them, and gives a initial evaluation of it. the writer, who has been chairman of the Supervisory Committee of the Oxford DNB given that its inception, writes with intimate wisdom of the venture.
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Extra info for Changing Conceptions of National Biography: The Oxford DNB in Historical Perspective
265; Colin Matthew, Editor’s Annual Report to the Supervisory Committee (Apr. 1993), p. 9. , the remarks of Sir Ian Kershaw in the Preface to his Hitler 1889–1936 : Hubris (Harmondsworth, 1998), p. xxi; and in Times Higher Education Supplement, 16 Jan. 2004, p. 23. 80 The exploits of military leaders, artists, inventors and business entrepreneurs are also scaled down by this approach. So are those of dictionary editors, for, just as the credits at the end of a modern film offer a seemingly endless list of gaffers, best boys and other production assistants, so the opening pages of the Oxford DNB call a long roll of consultant editors, associate editors, research staff, publishing staff, research associates, freelance, temporary and part-time staff, without whom the work could never have been accomplished.
75 The resulting work, which includes lives of Julius Caesar, Erasmus, Handel, Washington, Marx and Gandhi, can hardly be accused of being narrowly nationalistic (though a critic might detect in such catholicity a kind of ‘lexicographical irredentism’,76 which turns a disproportionate share of the world’s most notable figures into honorary Britons). 74 75 76 ‘A Second Edition of the Dictionary of National Biography ’ (May 1990) (Oxford University Press archives); British Academy, Bid to DES for Financial Year, 1992–3 (British Academy archives); Prince of Wales’s congratulatory message, read at the launch of the Oxford DNB in the National Portrait Gallery, 29 Sept.
60 According to A. F. ’61 Hence the inclusion of such minor authors as the early Victorian orientalist Stephen Reay, of whom we are told that he was mild and ineffectual in character, but ‘remembered by colleagues with affection for his 60 61 H. S. Ashbee, in The Athenaeum, 2880 (6 Jan. 1883), p. 17; (R. C. Christie), review of DNB, vols. i–x, in Quarterly Review, 328 (1887): 374. A. F. Pollard, ‘Sir Sidney Lee and the “Dictionary of National Biography” ’, Bulletin of the Institute of Historical Research, 4 (1926–7): 10.