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Biographies can provide valuable material for research papers in a variety of fields. Naturally, they are an indispensable resource for researching the lives, thoughts, and works of historical figures. But they are also useful for papers about historical events and ideas, since they offer the perspectives of the individuals who shaped those events and ideas. Additionally, biographies of authors can provide interesting insight into the themes and characters of their literary works.

The guide below highlights some of the best biographical resources available at the Geisel Library and online, and explains how to locate biographies on specific individuals.


Reference Resources

Many reference resources contain short to medium-length biographies of historical figures. To find a biography in an online reference resource, try a Keyword search of the person's name. In most reference book sets, biographies will be organized alphabetically by last name. If not, look in the Index under the person's last name to find the volume and/or page number in which a biography appears.

General Biographical Resources

African American National Biography
     Ref E185.96 .A4466

American National Biography
     Ref CT213 .A68

Current Biography Yearbook
     Ref CT100 .C8

Dictionary of American Biography
     Ref E176 .D564

Dictionary of National Biography (Great Britain)
     Ref DA28 .D55

Encyclopaedia Britannica
     Ref AE5 .E364 (print version)

Notable American Women
     Ref CT3260 .N574

Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives
     Ref CT213 .S37

Women in World History: A Biographical Encyclopedia
     Available in Gale Virtual Reference Library

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Specialized Biographical Resources

Arts and Humanities

Dictionary of Art (Grove)
     Ref N31 .D5 (print version)

Encyclopedia of Religion
     Available in Gale Virtual Reference Library

New Catholic Encyclopedia
     Available in Gale Virtual Reference Library

The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians
     Ref ML100 .N48

Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy
     Ref B51 .R68 (print version)


Encyclopedia of Latin American History and Culture
     Available in Gale Virtual Reference Library

Encyclopedia of the Enlightenment
     Available in Oxford Reference Online

Encyclopedia of the Middle Ages
     Available in Oxford Reference Online

Encyclopedia of the Renaissance
     Ref CB361 .E52

Encyclopedia of the Romantic Era
     Available in Credo Reference

New Encyclopedia of Africa
     Available in Gale Virtual Reference Library

Oxford Reference Online History Collection
     Look here for biographies of figures in US and British history


African American Writers
     Ref PS153.N5 A344

American Writers
     Ref PS129.A55

British Writers
     Ref PR85.B688

European Writers
     Ref PN501 .E9

Latin American Writers
     Ref PQ7081.A1 L37

Modern American Women Writers
     Ref PS151 .M54

Oxford Encyclopedia of American Literature
     Available in Oxford Reference Online

Oxford Encyclopedia of British Literature
     Available in Oxford Reference Online


Biographical Dictionary of Mathematicians
     Ref QA28 .B534

Biographical Dictionary of Scientists
     Ref Q141 .B528

Dictionary of Scientific Biography
     Ref Q141 .D5


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Biographical Books

Geisel Library Catalog
To find biographies at Geisel Library on a specific individual, do a Subject search for the name of the person of interest. For most individuals, you should enter their name as follows: Lastname, Firstname. However, for individuals who are typically referred to by their first name only (such as ancient Greek philosophers, certain Renaissance artists, popes, and others), simply type in their first name.

Here are some examples of biographical subject searches:

  • Bronte, Emily
  • Disraeli, Benjamin
  • Alexander the Great
  • John Paul II
  • Raphael

Use WorldCat to search the collections of libraries worldwide for additional biographical books. Conduct a Subject search on the person's name, using the same form as described above. If you find a book of interest, click on the title and then click the "Request via Interlibrary Loan" link to have the book delivered to Geisel Library for your use.


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Finding Biographies in Databases

Literature Resource Center
This database contains lengthy biographical essays that examine the lives and works of authors from all countries and time periods. On the Basic Search screen, enter the author's name, tick the "Person - By or About" limiter, and limit the Content Type to "Biographies".

MasterFILE Premier
This database provides full-text access to over 84,000 biographies on people from all professions, countries, and time periods. Enter the person's name in the search box, then scroll down and limit the Publication Type to "Biography".

Oxford Art Online
This database includes the full text of the Grove Dictionary of Art, which includes biographies of artists from antiquity through the present. To find biographies, go to the Advanced Search, click on the Biography Search tab, and search the artist's name.

Oxford Reference Online
This collection includes biographies taken from several hundred reference sources. It is strongest in history and the humanities. After running a Quick Search on a person's name, click the "Subject Reference: Longer Entries" tab to view more the more substantive entries.


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Selected Websites

American President
This website offers in-depth biographies of all US presidents. For each president, the biography starts with a "Life in Brief" profile, then proceeds to sections about "Campaigns and Elections", "Foreign Affairs", "Impact and Legacy", and other topics.
This website affiliated with the A&E Television Network's "Biography" series contains a searchable database of over 25,000 brief biographies. Users can also browse by occupational category.

Catholic Encyclopedia List of Popes
This website provides access to biographies on every pope through 1914, as originally published in the Catholic Encyclopedia. For biographies of more recent popes, search the pope's name in the New Catholic Encyclopedia.

Dictionary of Canadian Biography
This is an online version of the most authoritative biographical source on figures in Canadian history who died prior to 1930. It can be browsed or searched, and the profiles are generous in length.

Encyclopedia of World Biography
This website offers lengthy biographies of thousands of people from around the world, with an emphasis on famous people of the 20th century.

MacTutor Index of Biographies of Mathematicians
A collection of informative biographies on mathematicians throughout history. The index can be browsed alphabetically or chronologically.

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
This scholarly resource on the field of philosophy also contains detailed biographies of philosophers from all time periods, which discuss the philosopher's life and theories.


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