A dictionary of national biography is a collection of interpretative biographical articles on people selected for their significance in a nation’s history. Most developed countries produce these works which focus on men and women who were involved in great events, or were leaders who influenced the material and cultural developments that have given each society its present-day character. The dictionaries are vast storehouses of knowledge and information about the past, important resources for historical research, and literary memorials to the people whose lives they chronicle and evaluate.
In 1957 a gathering of representatives of university history departments throughout Australia decided to support the concept of a national biographical project. From this meeting there developed a research and editorial staff headed by a General Editor in Canberra; an Editorial Board; and State, Commonwealth, Armed Services and, more recently, Indigenous, Working Parties. The first volume of the ADB was published in 1966.
The ADB is a national, co-operative enterprise, founded and maintained by the Australian National University. The ANU provides the ADB with its accommodation, operating funds and administrative organisation. The project is managed by the National Centre of Biography in the History Department of the ANU’s Research School of Social Sciences.
The ADB’s State, Commonwealth, Armed Services and Indigenous Working Parties meet regularly to draw up lists of names to be included in the ADB. The ADB prides itself on its blend of elitism and egalitarianism. As well as selecting individuals who have made a prominent contribution to the Australian nation for inclusion in the ADB, the Working Parties attempt to reflect the rich variety of Australian life by including representatives of every social group and sphere of endeavour.
Entries are added to the ADB in chronological order of death. Entries added to date cover the period from the first European exploration of Australia through to those who died in 1990. Entries are currently being selected for people who died in 1991-2000.
The ADB includes anyone who has made a significant contribution to the Australian nation.
The General Editor manages the publication of the ADB. Professor Melanie Nolan is the present general editor. She is assisted in this task by research and editorial staff based at the National Centre of Biography. Four distinguished Editorial Fellows read the entries before a final version is published.
Eighteen volumes (including a supplementary volume of 'missing persons') of the ADB have, so far, been published containing over 11,500 scholarly biographies. Volume 1 was published in 1966; volume 17 in 2007. It is anticipated that volume 18, which will complete the period 1981-1990, will be published in 2012.
The ADB is published by Melbourne University Press. Copies of individual volumes, or the full set, can be obtained from MUP's online bookshop or from the State Library of New South Wales bookshop. The volumes vary in cost.
Over 4500 authors, not all of them academics, have written for the ADB. Our leading contributors, with the number of articles each has written, are G. P. (Gerry) Walsh (192), Martha Rutledge (169), H. J. (Jim) Gibbney (81), Bede Nairn (80), G. C. (Geoff) Bolton (80), K. J. (Ken) Cable (75), Chris Cunneen (71), Ann Hone (65), Ruth Teale (56) and Suzanne Edgar (54). All authors give their services without payment.
Contributors to the ADB are commissioned on the recommendations of ADB Working Parties. If you wish to have your name recorded as the possible author of a future entry, please notify ADB staff at email@example.com. Please supply a cv and indicate your subject area of expertise. Your details will be supplied to the relevant Working Party for consideration.
The print and online editions of the ADB have the same biographical entries. The online version also contains portraits of the subjects and the entries have been indexed so that you can quickly search all 11,500 entries by date and place of birth and death, cultural heritage, religious influences and occupations. ADB entries are also linked to relevant entries in Obituaries Australia
You may contribute illustrations for ADB entries provided that the copyright on the image has expired or you have the permission of the copyright holder.
The ADB does not hold the copyright on images used in the ADB. The link, provided in the captions of images will direct you to the relevant cultural institution which holds the copyright on the image. For images not held by cultural institutions you will need to contact the image donor.
Copyright on ADB entries is held by the Australian National University. Individual entries may be republished in hardcopy newsletters, magazines and books provided they are not altered and are properly cited (including the author’s name) as being from the Australian Dictionary of Biography. Entries may not be republished on websites. Instead you should provide a link to the relevant entry. Those wishing to reproduce a number of ADB entries will need to seek the permission of the General Editor.
The entries are the end product of the research of individual authors and can only be altered if there is an error of fact. We are aware that some of the scholarship in the earliest published entries are now outdated and hope to soon acquire funding to rewrite or revise those entries.
The select bibliographies attached to ADB entries show the main sources used by authors when writing their articles and cannot be altered.
While every care is taken when editing ADB entries, mistakes do occur and the discovery of new source documents can invalidate statements previously accepted as true. While we are happy to correct errors, we can only do so if you send us primary source evidence that supports your claims. Errors in entries should be reported to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The ADB does not have the resources to assist with family history inquiries. Researchers are welcome to access the files created by ADB staff while editing entries. These files are held at the ANU Archives. Contact email@example.com for more information.