Wikipedia:WikiProject Dictionary of National Biography

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This is the main page for WikiProject Dictionary of National Biography, concerned with importing and adapting material from the Dictionary of National Biography (DNB), a large British biographical dictionary, with a focus on the biographies from older editions that are now in the public domain. This is a major resource with nearly 70 volumes that are public domain, and is of broad and substantial interest not only for the history of the British Isles (with strong coverage of Irish, Scottish and Welsh history), but also for historians of New England, the Indian subcontinent, and the British Empire generally.

Administrative basics[edit]

Wikipedia:WikiProject Missing encyclopedic articles is the parent WikiProject of this project. s:Wikisource:WikiProject DNB is the sister project dealing with the proof-reading of texts. All of the articles from the original DNB and the first supplement have been available at Wikisource since 2013. The single most useful category for the project is probably s:Category:DNB No WP which houses DNB articles at Wikisource not linked to a Wikipedia article (though the matching article may be there); see also Category:Articles incorporating DNB text without Wikisource reference relating to the {{DNB}} template and Category:Articles requiring a direct DNB link that can be used on article Talk pages to tag for the addition of DNB material and/or a DNB reference.

Background: The Dictionary of National Biography[edit]

The 1885–1900 DNB was a UK publication providing biographies of 30,000 or so people from the UK and its colonies. The contents of the 1900 works are in the public domain in the US.[1] The description a monumental compilation of biographical entries for people important in the history of the British Isles[2] is a typical assessment. (See the first page of text from over 25,000.) Christopher Hill called it "that much maligned and indispensable work" (preface to his Intellectual Origins of the English Revolution). All articles from the original and the first supplement are available at Wikisource.

George Murray Smith conceived of the DNB, subsidised it, and saw it finally into print before he died in 1901.

Articles should be checked for accuracy and currency, probably rephrased, and often trimmed. At first sight DNB material can look bad: stilted prose, too many verbatim quotes from primary sources, judgemental, sometimes marginally verifiable ("X was probably connected with the old Staffordshire family of the same name"). An example such as s:Chillenden, Edmund (DNB00) shows how the DNB can (just possibly) appear inadequate to establish notability by WP standards (in fact there is plenty about Edmund Chillenden in current scholarly literature, so this is a caveat about needing to update as well as adapt). Generally the DNB can have an antiquarian feel, but it mainly needs good and severe copy-editing and the dust blown off. The level of detail is often stimulating for extra research and linking, even if there are also some gross errors. (Errata were published in 1904.)

See the DNB article for further information on the current, updated Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (ODNB), which is up to 56,000 articles. Obviously we just trail in the wake of what is a major scholarly effort on that (subscription) site. On the other hand WP's purposes are well served in many cases by having a respectable biography, and this project has (on a conservative estimate) added 10,000 such articles to Wikipedia, as free content that can be upgraded. However, as of 2016-07, more than 6,300 DNB articles have yet to be associated with a Wikipedia article and therefore remain in s:Category:DNB No WP.

Two forms of adaptation[edit]

Starting from the text of an older DNB biography that is in the public domain, there are two basic methods in which it might be used in Wikipedia.

New article

If there is currently no Wikipedia article on the subject of the biography, one may be created by copying the original source and editing the text:

  • Remove inline DNB references.
  • Create an adequate lead section.
  • Wikify and copy edit the text, updating any old-fashioned prose and trimming out excess detail, and citations from primary sources (in most cases).
  • Sort into sections.
  • Add the {{DNB}} attribution template at the end (see Wikipedia:Plagiarism).

The template {{DNB}} should be filled in with a link to the Wikisource version of the article: {{DNB|wstitle="article name"|volume="number"}} This meets the needs of the reader who wishes to see what references the DNB gave, or would like to chase up detail that has been removed.

Such articles should also be linked in to other pages, and appropriate categories added. A link to the ODNB subscription site is also justified, so that editors with access can check for required updates.

Note: missing WP articles as per the time of creation of the DNB article at WS can be located at s:Category:DNB No WP

Add to existing article

If there is already a Wikipedia article on the subject, it may be a stub, or a fuller article. For a very short stub treatment as for a new article may be appropriate. Otherwise DNB content should be added, carefully and tactfully, as required—material in the old DNB should not be used to contradict or supersede well sourced later material. Additions should be referenced inline using {{Cite DNB}}. If actual DNB text is used, {{DNB}} should also be added at the end of the article. Both these templates should be filled in, as above.


  • DNB biographies may sometimes contain assessments of the subjects, and these should not appear in Wikipedia articles as simple factual statements when they are at best editorial comment. Where such assessments are of interest, they may be cited as in "Thompson Cooper in his DNB biography states that ...", or suchlike form of words. By attributing comments, there is a chance of NPOV being achieved by the addition of further sourced assessments.
  • In all such cases there is a degree of editorial judgement involved, of whether the Victorian POV is worth having at all.


The scale and ambition of the project is large, given that the first edition of the DNB (1885 to 1900) had over 27,000 biographies in 63 volumes, and there were supplements in 1901 and later. The need for a formal project comes from the sheer number of biographies to adapt and track. There are currently about 70% of the subjects covered in Wikipedia, with many of the corresponding articles being stubs.

There are complete listings of the first edition and first supplement on WP, and you can access these immediately below.[3] These listings are used to track the presence of articles and the need to expand with DNB text, according to some protocols with ticks. If there is one lesson from earlier efforts of this type (see Wikipedia: Merging encyclopedias), it is this: disambiguation requires considerable care, or otherwise potential articles with the same name but a different person will simply get overlooked. For that reason no names should be removed from the listings, but names should be disambiguated and ticking done in place, so that work can be double-checked later.

Sign-up list for participants[edit]

  1. User:Fortuna Imperatrix Mundifortunavelut luna 12:52, 13 September 2017 (UTC)
  2. Charles Matthews (talk) 09:04, 9 September 2010 (UTC)
  3. Dr. Blofeld 09:29, 9 September 2010 (UTC)
  4. Tagishsimon (talk) 09:30, 9 September 2010 (UTC) (have little time for wikisource, mostly into making good wikipedia articles from DNB source)
  5. P. S. Burton (talk) 09:47, 9 September 2010 (UTC) (will mostly be working on wikisource)
  6. --Senra (Talk) 10:00, 9 September 2010 (UTC) Will be adding subjects as they arise in articles I am writing so DNB is not a prime focus for me. Delighted to help when I can
  7. --Ser Amantio di NicolaoChe dicono a Signa?Lo dicono a Signa. 13:43, 9 September 2010 (UTC) I'll do what I can.
  8. --Rosiestep (talk) 13:56, 9 September 2010 (UTC)
  9. innotata 14:00, 9 September 2010 (UTC)
  10. Victuallers (talk) 15:03, 9 September 2010 (UTC)
  11. billinghurst sDrewth 16:01, 9 September 2010 (UTC) … over the other side, and happy for others to write articles, I'm a better researcher.
  12. Jarry1250 [Humorous? Discuss.] 16:34, 9 September 2010 (UTC), bot operator, or, at worst, someone that can advise or help get approval for any task. – Jarry1250 [Humorous? Discuss.] 16:34, 9 September 2010 (UTC)
  13. Deacon of Pndapetzim (Talk) 21:08, 9 September 2010 (UTC)
  14. DGG ( talk ) 02:21, 10 September 2010 (UTC)
  15. Dsp13 (talk) 08:45, 10 September 2010 (UTC)
  16. Shimgray | talk | 11:20, 10 September 2010 (UTC)
  17. Rich Farmbrough, 14:14, 14 September 2010 (UTC). Here we are...
  18. CUoD (talk) 11:11, 16 September 2010 (UTC)
  19. Magnus Manske (talk) 15:06, 19 September 2010 (UTC)
  20. Bob Burkhardt (talk) 15:44, 20 April 2011 (UTC)
  21. the wub "?!" 20:09, 15 September 2011 (UTC)
  22. Philafrenzy (talk) 12:20, 11 January 2012 (UTC)
  23. Thine Antique Pen (talk) 19:36, 12 September 2012 (UTC)
  24. Brianyoumans (talk) 02:46, 14 May 2013 (UTC)
  25. Revent (talk) 05:38, 2 June 2013 (UTC)
  26. MarkZusab (talk) 01:47, 5 May 2019 (UTC)
  27. Tenpop421 (talk) 19:43, 9 September 2019 (UTC) - happy to add new articles, mostly working within the '/Antiquarians' topical list

Current agenda[edit]

  • Moving project pages to new titles
  • Discuss proposals to use bot importation from Wikisource
  • Develop some topical lists
  • Clarify the notability issue with some concrete examples: e.g. s:Diodati, Charles (DNB00)
  • Renovation of the templates
  • Referencing existing articles: s:Wikisource:WikiProject DNB/WP referencing has an overview
  • Discuss how to manage "wanted" articles
  • Format and disambiguate links in the epitome pages
  • Select statistics and backlogs that are most important to monitor
  • How to collaborate on the volumes that are already complete at Wikisource?
  • ... AOB – Discuss minimum changes required to make a DNB entry into a DYK entry Victuallers (talk) 15:05, 9 September 2010 (UTC)

Project pages[edit]

Missing article topical lists[edit]



  1. ^ Whether any specific article is in the public domain in other jurisdictions may depend on the date of death of the article's author: now-100 or now-70, i.e., 1916 or 1946 as of 2016. – see Wikipedia talk:Copyright problems/Archive_10#Re-examining whether EB1911 really is PD. The editors on the Wikisource DNB project have now finished creating pages for each of approximately 700 DNB contributors, with birth and death dates, and each article links to its author.
  2. ^
  3. ^ These lists are divided by the volume, but, please note, they come from the 1904 Index and Epitome and the 1901 Supplement biographies are in the alphabetical sections, not segregated.