Please feel free to email us with questions. We can make an appointment for you to come in, and we can talk at length about your project.

  • Fred Burchsted, ( Research Librarian and Liaison to the Department of the History, Widener Library
  • Anna Assogba, ( Research Librarian, Lamont Library.

Book-length biographies are easily found in the HOLLIS Catalog, but short biographical articles are scattered widely in biographical dictionaries, subject encyclopedias and periodicals. 

Try the Resources of First Resort. If you don’t find what you need:

Numerous other biographical sources exist  We have listed some major examples, general and by gender, ethnicity, and occupation, on the Biographical Dictionaries page.

Many other specialized sources are listed on the pages of this guide.

Other Guides

Introductory Library Research Guide for History

Library Research Guide for Finding Manuscripts and Archival Collections

Resources of First Resort


To find individual encyclopedia articles in HOLLIS: use Everything Advanced Search, do a Title search on your name and in the results list look for Resource Type under Refine Your Results in the right-hand column. Choose Reference entriesExample.

Current Biography Illustrated (1946- ) includes biographical sketches and obituaries, with portraits, of persons deceased since 1946.

Gale In Context: Biography (formerly Biography in Context) includes full text of many reference books, including Contemporary Authors, Contemporary Black Biography, Directory of American Scholars (10th (2002) ed.), Dictionary of American Biography, Marquis Who’s Who on the Web since 1985. The Biographical Facts Search allows search by occupation, nationality, ethnicity (African-American, Asian- American, Hispanic- American, Native- American only), gender, birth/death year, and place. Available to Massachusetts residents via the State Library of Massachusetts.

Marquis Who’s Who includes all biographies in the 24 Marquis Who's Who print titles since 1985, together with all biographies from Who Was Who in America, 1607–1985.

Notable American women. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1971-2004. 5 v.
LOCATION: Widener: RR 1711. 34
--Covers women deceased before 1999. Articles include extensive source lists giving particular attention to unpublished sources. Classified index (by field) in each vol. Vols. 1-4 indexed in Biography and genealogy master index. Full text in Women and Social Movements in the United States: 1600-2000

World Biographical Information System includes full text of thousands of biographical dictionaries accessible by name of biographee. Largely online full text, partly microfiche or print. What to do if a biographical article is not available online and further information.

World Who’s Who

Thousands of works of collective biography and many biographical periodical articles are indexed in a few general biographical indexes which are listed below. These are not full text; one must do HOLLIS searches for retrieved sources.

Biography and Genealogy Master Index indexes thousands of English-language biographical dictionaries and other compendia, many more than Biography Resource Center. Includes Biography Index, which indexes biographical periodical articles as well as collective biography.  Indexes Contemporary Authors and Dictionary of Literary Biography.

IBN: Index bio-bibliographicus notorum hominum.
Online Version
LOCATION: Widener: RR 1501.15
--Indexes 2000 biographical dictionaries and related works, including non-European publications, published through the 1960s. Gives names, dates, nationalities, and occupations in addition to references to the indexed biographical works, listed in volumes labeled "Key to Sources". Currently extends only to Reulbach, Bernhard.
--​The online version does not include well-known persons with numerous entries and book-length biographies.

Internationale Personalbibliographie, by Max Arnim. 2nd ed. Stuttgart, Anton Hiersemann, 1952-1987.
LOCATION: Widener: RR 1501.7 Library has: 5 Bd.
--v. 1-2: 1800-1943; v. 3-5: 1944-1959.
--Indexes biographical dictionaries and many scholarly/scientific journals.

United States

American National Biography

African American national biography, ed. by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Evelyn Brooks-Higginbotham. NY: Oxford University Press, 2013, 12 v.
Andover-Harv. Theol | Ref. | E185.96 .A4466 2008 (1st ed.)
Lamont | REFERENCE | E185.96 .A4466 2008 (1st ed.)
Widener RR 4781.60 (2nd ed.; 2013)
Online version (Continuously updated)

Other Countries


Canadian biography, part of the Library and Archives Canada site, contains the Dictionary of Canadian Biography


Biography Literature (1962-2016) China. In Chinese

Germany and German-speaking

Deutsche biographie

Deutsche biographische Enzyklopädie online Online version is more up-to-date than print. Print version:
Widener: RR 1786.5

English version:
Dictionary of German biography. München: K.G. Saur, 2001-2006. 10 v.
Widener: WID-LC CT759 .D4813 2001x

Datenbank Schriftstellerinnen in Deutschland, Österreich, Schweiz 1945-2008

Biographische Nachschlagewerke. List of sources with links to full text

Women writers of Germany, Austria, and Switzerland : an annotated bio-bibliographical guide, ed. by Elke Frederiksen. NY: Greenwood Press, 1989, 323 p.
Schlesinger | Harvard Depository | 016.83 F852w
Widener | Harvard Depository | PT167.Z99 W66 x, 1989


Dictionary of Irish biography 


Biografisch Portaal van Nederland

Biografisch Woordenboek van Nederland (BWN)

Digitaal Vrouwenlexicon van Nederland (DVN) (Online Dictionary of Dutch Women)

South Africa

Dictionary of South African biography. Cape Town: Published for the National Council for Social Research, Dept. of Higher Education by Nasionale Boekhandel, 1968-1987. 5 v.
Widener | Afr 8055.50 103554


Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (UK)

A biographical encyclopedia of early modern Englishwomen: exemplary lives and memorable acts, 1500-1650, ed. by Carole Levin, Anna Riehl Bertolet, and Jo Eldridge Carney. London: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, 2017, 630 pages :