Monday, November 26, 2018

Review: Comparing dictionaries of national biography

The website Reviews in History is mostly reviews in British history, and acknowledges it doesn't give much attention to other countries' historical coverage, including Canada's, except as they relate to British interests. The website Five Books, I might add, is livelier but similarly sparse in treatment of Canadian topics, and it does claim to be global in its interests.  Canadian history, who loves ya?

However, this Reviews in History comparative review of the online dictionaries of biography of several English-speaking countries includes the DCB. Though it is from 2012 and is now dated in some details, it has some interesting (and surprising to me) judgments. ("British" appears in quotation marks in the excerpts below because the British version calls itself the Dictionary of National -- not British -- Biography.)
The American, ‘British’, and Irish generally feature works of compressed scholarship for a serious readership; the Australian, Canadian, and New Zealand feel closer to the general reader and browser, something free access encourages. It is likely– and it should be put no more strongly than that – that the researcher, undergraduate, or postgraduate student, will find the first three more satisfactory than the second, and that the general reader find the second three more approachable than the first....
The male to female ratios are: American 16,121 male to 2,702 female, the Australian 10,512 to 1,397; the ‘British’ 51,868 to 6,230, Canadian, 7,934 to 504, Irish 8,913 to 943, New Zealand 2,260 to 802 (in this respect, as in others, the most balanced)....
The New Zealand has ‘over 3000’ entries, the Canadian 8,400, the Irish 9,700, the Australian 12,000, the American 18,700, and the ‘British’ 58,000. The Irish boasts 700 authors, the Australian 4,500, the ‘British’ 11,500; The American, Canadian, and New Zealand offer no means of collating such information.
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