Posts Tagged ‘Dictionary of Irish Biography’

Newspapers and the Dictionary of Irish Biography

1 June 2010

Contributed by Felix M. Larkin

G.K. Chesterton once said that newspapers were ‘the largest work ever published anonymously since the great Christian cathedrals’.  This anonymity has huge implications for historians using newspapers as a source for their research.  Undoubtedly, newspapers are valuable sources of information.  However, there are obvious dangers in relying on any newspaper – or, indeed, periodical – without some background knowledge of the publication in question, in particular its political bias and the people who controlled it.  That is why research on the history of the press is so important – apart altogether from its inherent interest.  The new Dictionary of Irish Biography has made a significant contribution to lifting the veil of anonymity that has long shrouded the history of Irish newspapers.  Take, for example, the Freeman’s Journal – probably Dublin’s most distinguished newspaper, published continuously from 1763 to 1924.

The search mechanism on the Dictionary of Irish Biography website throws up 340 entries that contain a reference to the Freeman.  That’s over 3.75 per cent of the total.  Some are merely references to the newspaper in the bibliographical paragraph at the foot of the entries, and it seems to me that the option of excluding the bibliographies from a word-search would be a worthwhile modification to the website, enhancing the ease with which scholars can find entries relevant to their field of study. Read More

Working for the Dictionary of Irish Biography: a personal experience

4 December 2009

Contributed by Patrick Maume

We asked Patrick Maume to provide Pue’s readers with an inside view of the Dictionary of Irish Biography.  The following offers a perspective on the DIB as historical process rather than focussing on the results.  Enjoy!

I have worked as a researcher on the Dictionary of Irish Biography since April 2001.   I have written almost 300 entries on nineteenth and twentieth-century figures, and am currently working on the first supplement.

In the early stages the editors adopted many of my proposals for additional names.   This last feature tailed off as work progressed because of the requirements of publishing.  I have regrets about some names whom I found too late for inclusion – such as William Desmond Taylor (pictured left), the silent movie director whose unsolved 1922 murder was one of the earliest major Hollywood scandals – but hope they may get into an eventual supplement.  At the same time I am glad that someone like Elizabeth Somers – an early twentieth-century nationalist activist and industrial revivalist – has been given her place in the sun, and might not have without my suggestion.  I am also glad that by finding Paul Mohr’s fine biography of the nineteenth-century astronomer John Birmingham on a remainder pile in Liam Byrne’s bookshop in Galway, I was able to make Birmingham’s entry fuller and more accurate than would otherwise have been the case.  I hope this will lead to Mohr (whose book was generally overlooked because privately published) getting more credit for his research. Read More