WikiProject Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900

WikiProject to add Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, containing over 27,000 biographies related to the current territories of the United Kingdom and Ireland, and to former British colonies; together with its public domain supplements.

Welcome to WikiProject DNB.

The Dictionary of National Biography (DNB) is a standard work of reference on notable figures from British history, "from earliest times to the present", i.e. up until the time it was published, from 1885 to 1900. It is a massive work, comprising 63 volumes and encompassing over 27,000 biographies. Even though it is now more than a century old, the original edition remains an important reference work; and is the best secondary source for many of the subjects or aspects of their biographies. Our project aims to make this work available online in an accessible form. As of February 2013, all DNB first edition and first supplement articles are present at Wikisource. Our project now aims to improve the DNB here in several ways. These include additional proofreading, additional internal linking, and completion of linking to Wikipedia.

Why the old Dictionary of National Biography?

... a successful reference work which is more than the sum of its articles

The Victorian writing style and point of view in the Dictionary of National Biography (DNB) can make reading some of the material tedious, and more recent publications may have updated the information, but that does not diminish the importance of this work as a comprehensive source of British biographies. For many of the minor figures, the DNB's information is still the basis of academic work published a century or more later, as can be seen surprisingly often.

The goal of this WikiProject is to make the original sources available in one place where the text may be verified, and links made to other information. If for no other reason, Wikipedia makes extensive use of the DNB as a reference. By posting a pair of articles with interwiki links, one here that is the original, and another at Wikipedia that is lighter on some of the detail and citations of primary sources, but also updated and corrected, we can add reading value to both articles, and give real help to those with a serious interest.

There are some thousands of DNB articles here without WP equivalent. See Category:DNB No WP.

The Wikipedia sister project


The need for cross-wiki collaboration has led to the creation of a sister project: w:Wikipedia:WikiProject Dictionary of National Biography. We hope that participants in the Wikipedia project will use articles that we have already transcribed. Going the other way, we link each of our articles to the corresponding Wikipedia article when it exists. as of 2021-01, the primary linkage is performed automatically, via Wikidata. Some editors who are members of both projects are actively creating WP articles for each WS article.

The goal of the Wikipedia project is to add useful information to Wikipedia, while the ultimate goal of our Wikisource project is to transcribe the DNB into a web-friendly form that is easy to use and reference. If you are new to our project and wish to help but do not know where to start, please consider adding articles to WP from Category:DNB No WP. If you are willing to do the hard work, please consider proofreading our sources in "page space." Each page of the original DNB is available, and must eventually be progressed by three separate editors from "not proofread" to "proofread" and then to "verified."


As of 2021-01, the primary goal of this Wikisource project is largely complete, but an important secondary goal is to add wiki links to each of the internal cross-references within the original DNB text. These internal cross-references take several forms (see /Wikification).

Comparison with the ODNB


We are not the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, the modern version of the DNB that is a magnificent subscription site of over 50,000 updated biographies and a total number of words around 65,000,000. We can rival the ODNB in various worthwhile ways:

  • by being free, evidently;
  • by linking to a WP article that is kept updated, so that anyone reading articles in WP/WS pairs will get a very fair view of what is known;
  • by being hypertext.

The last point is worth plenty, in fact: the DNB text mentions thousands of place names, for example, often enough in obsolete spellings, and we can link those. For all its virtues, the ODNB has hardly entered the hypertext age.



This project has not been endorsed by the Oxford University Press or any agent, editor, or subsidiary thereof. The Oxford University press has been the publisher of the Dictionary of National Biography since 1917. Modern derivatives and supplements, now known as the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography continue to be protected by copyrights. The 1900 DNB, the first two supplements, and the early reprints are in the public domain because their copyrights have expired.



Wikisource's edition of the DNB is based upon the knowledge available at the time of original publication. Research continued as new sources were discovered. These new sources, reflected in later editions, were initially captured in the 1904 Errata. Readers should bear this in mind when using the information and verify the absence of applicable errata for these articles prior to use. If a Wikipedia article is available, it should be consulted for possibly more recent information.

Structure and points of discussion


The initial structure of this project borrowed heavily from WS:EB1911. Various suggestions for piecemeal change have since been adopted. There is room for further improvements in the ways of working.

This is a work in progress, and you should feel free to add to the list of things to consider. Some of them are:

  • Meeting, greeting and helping: welcoming participants for this mammoth task, and providing practical assistance.
  • Checking processes. We use the coding in the Page namespace that can be read from the bar below the article titles.



Our project has processed scanned text into Wikisource pages. We support this activity with necessary auxiliary pages.

Several mass scanning projects have scanned the original 63 volumes of the DNB. We have attempted to find the "best" scan for each volume, and these have been copied into the Wikisource "page space" to use as the basis for this project. However, none of the scans is perfect, and in many cases some pages of the "best" scan are not as good as the same page of an alternate scan. As the project has evolved, our methods of tracking the original scans have changed. As of 2011-12-10, you can find all 63 scans in wikisource page space. You can access the page space scan for a particular article as follows:

For pages that are not part of articles, you may find pages for a particular volume as follows:

This link also provides information about any alternate sources we have found. If you find additional alternate scans on the Internet, feel free to edit the relevant "access" page to add the new source. As a last resort, some team members have access to the original hard-copy DNB and can scan the pages. Add a request to the talk page if this proves necessary. (So far, we have found online alternates for each request.)

Before the scans were available in page space, some articles were created by directly adding the text to the article either from an OCR version on the internet or by manual transcription. A few of these may remain, but we are attempting to convert them.

The scanned text you need should be by the djvu. When it is, the proof-reading task is conventional, with some standard format and markup conventions. The proofed text can be advanced in status (pink to yellow to green) using the radio buttons at the bottom of the editing box.

Articles in the main namespace have been created by transclusion, so any subsequent proof-reader finding errors can navigate back to the djvu and parallel text, using the left-margin figures or the transclusion data accessible via the "edit" tab, and can fix them in the pagespace version. These corrections (caching permitting) then will be found in the article.

To complete the picture, the auxiliary pages divide into those that provide listings, and templates: firstly

  • listings by volume (the volume ToCs);
  • listings by author, on each Author page for a contributor.

Each single biography has been listed in both those places. The project has created an Author page for each DNB contributor: See Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/List of Contributors, and a reference for the abbreviations.

There is a template for each contributor, such as {{DNB AA}}, and each article uses the correct template. (A small proportion of unsigned articles exist in the DNB).

Style Manual


We aim for a "letter-perfect copy" of the original DNB. But what exactly does this mean when we transform a set of 63 nineteenth-century books into pages on Wikisource? The project members have found a reasonable way to do this, and we have documented it. See Wikisource:WikiProject DNB/Style Manual. If you encounter a problem that is not covered on the style manual, use its talk page to discuss your problem. We can then add the solution to the style manual. You should consult the style manual if you are proofreading.

Using transclusion


Few (normal) people read a volume of a long biographical dictionary from cover to cover. It is a reference work, and the natural unit for the reader is the article. To do the two things at once (reproduce the paginated text, produce single articles) is quite possible, using the transclusion of whole or partial pages into articles. For one fundamental aspect of the activity of the project, checking the text against the image of the original in our djvu files, this has a clear advantage: correction of an error found with the text next to the image will propagate into the free-standing article. And then anyone can go and verify a spelling or date (say), and make a change if one is needed.

The technical requirements to do the transclusion are twofold: markup in the Page: namespace, which is simple and something of which the reader will not be aware; and the transclusion syntax applied by the article creator, which lives on the article page. The transclusion infrastructure should already exist for all articles, so proofreading corrections should only be needed in page space.

Early in the project some pages were created simply by article text plus header only. If you encounter such a page, please mention it on the talk page here so we can re-create it using transclusion. See /Transclusion.

Reporting and requesting


Scale is an issue for this project, and the need for collaboration on the creation from rough raw materials of approximately 30,000 articles hardly needs stating. We developed structures to ensure that anyone who becomes aware of issues relating to the work of the project can report them.

  • Category:Problematic is used across Wikisource for tagging pages that are obviously defective; we now use its DNB subcategories systematically. Defective pages in the Page should be categorised, to aid cleanup of djvus and text. For example, for the notorious "interleaved text", for example, where the two-column format has defeated the scanner which has read across the whole page, please report bad cases of this text problem by adding Category:Problematic DNB pages, text.
  • /Progress has tabulated information relating to the 63 volumes and their issues. This is the place to leave reports of "bot hiccups" or other problems with the initial postings of djvus.
  • /Data capture is really an automated version of "Most wanted" designed to pick up needy Wikipedia articles, those that could use article creation here to provide a good Web reference. This page now carries links to Wikipedia pages that track the template use.



Add your name here with ~~~~ if you wish to join the team!

  • Wikisource DNB links to Magnus Manske's statistics and maintenance tool. (The detailed readout is now more complicated than in the past, because the /DNB author subpages are causing some unproblematic pages to register in both of the main cleanup lists.)
  • Articles requiring a direct DNB link at Wikipedia

Finding aids