From the book to the internet: Digitizing the national biography

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Title







Integration: Education and Science


School of Arts and Humanities




Arthur, P. (2020). From the book to the internet: Digitizing the national biography. Istoriya, 11(3), Article 89. https://doi.org/10.18254/S207987840009416-6


© 2020 Ltd "Integration: Education and Science". All rights reserved. The focus of this paper is the transition from print to digital of the Australian Dictionary of Biography (ADB), widely recognised in Australia as “our greatest collective research project in the humanities”. As a respected and long established resource, the ADB provides an important working example of digital transformation and the new kinds of opportunities it offers. Online biographical dictionaries offer the potential for multi-layered engagement with the biographies they present and with their historical contexts. They do this by allowing quick access to information at the same time as also providing enhanced data-rich environments for sophisticated analysis and visualisation. As a digital resource, ADB online (http://adb.anu.edu.au/) is now much more than a dictionary in the conventional sense. It has been re-designed as a virtual research environment for multiple forms of data analysis. The ADB now allows users to analyse complex biographical and historical datasets including through faceted searching, relationship mapping, and visualisation of search results in addition to standard information discovery. The ADB is a working example that highlights key issues that are inherent in the process of migrating any major project from print to digital form. However, as a long established and iconic collaborative venture, it also raises wider issues for digital history research and practice This paper begins by outlining the ADB's history in order to establish the context for its publication online and subsequent redevelopment. Although the online product was designed for speed and ease of use, the process required to achieve this has been time-intensive and involves an ongoing program of manual indexing which is providing a solid foundation for new applications, including social network analysis, data mining and dataset interoperability. I then focus on a specific aspect of the dictionary - its capacity to be representative of one nation's identity and history - to investigate how the digital medium is radically changing the ways that national biography can be framed and engaged with. Translated by Alla Polevaya (Lomonosov Moscow State University).



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