A forum for the discussion of biography in the 21st century.

Professor Melanie Nolan, director of the National Centre of Biography at the Australian National University in Canberra, has kindly provided information on the work of the NCB :

1. Background

The Australian Dictionary of Biography (ADB) is Australia’s pre-eminent dictionary of national biography.It was established in 1959 in the Research School of Social Sciences (RSSS) in 1959 and is a fine example of the ANU honouring its foundational role of undertaking projects of national importance. The ADB provides concise, informative and fascinating descriptions of the lives of over 11,500 significant and representative persons in Australian history. Managed and edited by staff at the National Centre of Biography (NCB), the ADB is the largest co-operative project in the humanities and social sciences ever undertaken in Australia. Over 4,500 authors, as well as an Editorial Board of eminent historians, and State, Commonwealth, Armed Services and Indigenous Working Parties have given their services, without payment, since the project started in 1959. The ADB is available both as a print publication and online:

Australian Dictionary of Biography http://adb.anu.edu.au/.

We have just completed volume 18 which will be launched in December 2012.

2. Current Developments: The ADB was integrated into the National Centre of Biography (NCB) in 2008 and the School of History in 2010. Editing new entries for the ADB remains the prime focus of the NCB but our long-term plan is also to develop innovative biographical websites and to undertake E-research based on our data. In the past three years we have successfully applied for a Major Equipment Grant, which enabled us to purchase a state-of-the-art Guardian AO scanner and establish a Digitisation Facility. We have also appointed a computer programmer, a digitisation technician and anonline manager.

In 2011 the NCB launched an Obituaries Australia website http://oa.anu.edu.au/ which aims to publish and comprehensively index every obituary published of Australians. 3500 names have already been added to this site. We anticipate the final figure will be in the hundreds of thousands. This year we launched Women Australia http://womenaustralia.anu.edu.au/ and Labour Australia http://labouraustralia.anu.edu.au/ and are in the process of developing an Indigenous Australia site. These ‘tailored’ sites have been developed to promote biographical research in these often neglected areas. We have also developed a People Australia website http://peopleaustralia.anu.edu.au/ which searches all of the NCB’s sites and includes entries for those for whom there is little biographical information such aspeople who died in infancy and childhood. All of the websites use the same underlying software, developed by our computer programmer, and index terms, so that researchers can move effortlessly between sites.

3. Future developments: Network Analysis and eResearch Projects: After 50 years the ADB has indexed entries on 12,500 individuals. Nine million Australians died between 1788 and 1990. It is only by building up acritical mass of data on individual Australians that E-research can be undertaken. As well as building up that data the NCB is developing network analysis and E Research to analyse associations between Australians over time.

The National Centre of Biography runs a seminar programme, has established a Masters in Biographical Research and Writing and hosts ANU.Lives, a biography series of the ANU E Press.

Contact details:

Melanie Nolan

Professor of History

Director, National Centre of Biography

General Editor, Australian Dictionary of Biography

History Program

Research School of Social Sciences

Australian National University

Acton ACT 0200


email: melanie.nolan@anu.edu.au

phone: 6125 2131

fax: (02) 6125 3644