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History 200: Dr. Rebecca Bates: Fall 2023: Biographical resources



These are major biography sets that history students should know and will often find them valuable first stops. Our electronic resources seldom duplicate these print reference works! Most, but not all scholarly encyclopedias include biographies; careful researchers will consult major encyclopedias.

Great Lives

This 24 volume series is organized around historic eras but without additional limits concerning ethnicity, nationality, geographical location, gender or other specific factors are imposed. During its revision, the series editors deliberately expanded the number of women and individuals from beyond Western Europe and North America. The Great Lives Series now offers an excellent starting point for international biography. The entries do not presume significant prior knowledge of the subject and are geared toward offering foundational knowledge to an undergraduate audience. Nearly 3,800 important people from the Ancient World to the turn of  the 21st century are included. Hundreds of illustrations, maps, photographs, and side bars provide an additional dimension. The entries range from three to five pages or 1,500 to 3,000 words, utilize a common format and offer annotated bibliographies. Each entry has a subheading for significance of the individual. While employing the standard A to Z format, each set has an outstanding indexes. There is, however, no series index. The 20th Century set does contain many living individuals. The series is divided in the sets listed to below.

Great Lives from History: World Prehistory – 476, 2 volumes

Great Lives from History: The Middle Ages 474 - 1453 2 volumes

Great Lives from History: The Renaissance & Early Modern Era, 1454 -1600, 2 volumes

Great Lives from History: The 17th Century, 2 volumes

Great Lives from History: The 18th Century, 2 volumes

Great Lives from History: The 19th Century, 4 volumes

Great Lives from History: The 20th Century, 10 volumes


Biographical reference books are often organized around one or more of the following: nationality, time period, ethnicity, profession, or gender. Many individuals could be included in multiple categories. Biographical reference works are often restricted to individuals who are deceased. These works are known as historic or retrospective biographies. Biographies of living individuals are noted as current biography. Reference works include both historic and current biographies are uncommon. These questions provide you with starting points.
• What do you know about this individual?
• Are they living or dead?
• If deceased what time period did they live?
• Do you know their nationality?
• What is their profession or occupation?
• Are gender or ethnicity a factor?

Biographical Databases

Online Biography collections

In recent years some national biographies have become available online free to the public. The following links provide good examples. National biographies in various languages maybe be freely available.