By Keith Thomas
The e-book of the Oxford Dictionary of nationwide Biography in September 2004 was once an occasion of significant literary and scholarly significance. In his Leslie Stephen Lecture, commemorating the founding father of the unique Dictionary of nationwide Biography, the distinguished historian Keith Thomas surveys the numerous prior makes an attempt at collective biography, considers the connection of the Oxford DNB to them, and provides a initial evaluate of it. the writer, who has been chairman of the Supervisory Committee of the Oxford DNB on account that its inception, writes with intimate wisdom of the venture.
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Additional info for Changing Conceptions of National Biography: The Oxford DNB in Historical Perspective
It recalls Johnson’s belief that there is no one whose life is not worth recording. It is less well known that Leslie Stephen himself came near to disowning the intellectual foundations on which his great edifice had been reared. In his Science of Ethics he stated that society was an organic 108 Virgina Woolf, ‘The Art of Biography’, in The Death of the Moth and Other Essays (Harmondsworth, 1961), p. 168. 109 In his essay, ‘Forgotten Benefactors’, he declared that advances were not achieved by individuals, but by general movements of opinion.
122 ( 5 Feb. 1780). Boswell’s Life of Johnson, vol. ii, pp. 79, 116, 446; Samuel Johnson, Lives of the English Poets (World’s Classics, 1906), vol. i, p. 438 (Life of Addison). 32 menacingly, offered a radically different biographical canon. The Dictionary of Welsh Biography, the Dictionary of Business Biography, the Dictionary of Labour Biography and the Biographical Dictionary of British Feminists each constituted a frontal assault upon the DNB ’s hegemony. 70 The world of professional scholarship had expanded, the volume of source material had multiplied, historical attitudes had changed, and Stephen’s creation looked increasingly out of date.
Yet one cannot read these lives without hugely enhancing one’s sense of the range of human possibility. The old DNB did not immediately change the way people viewed the British past. But it did suggest an infinity of new insights. The interpretative revolution associated with Sir Lewis Namier was predicted by Sidney Lee as early as 1896, when he remarked that biography gave the historian a better understanding of ‘the vicissitudes of party government in the eighteenth century’ by revealing ‘all the ties of kinship or of early friendship which brought political colleagues together [and] .
Changing Conceptions of National Biography: The Oxford DNB in Historical Perspective by Keith Thomas