This page aims to review the existing biographical databases. The current list is not exhaustive. If you think we missed a major resource, please let us know!
Levine’s Chinese Biographical Database (CBD) project [1998-2006] was the first online, collaborative and scholarly moderated database on the Worldwide Web. This pioneering project in the history of Chinese elites was launched by China historian Marilyn Levine (Central Washington University). Designed as a relational database, it included more than 12 related tables (names, birth/death date and place, origin, education, youth activities, affiliations, positions, historical events and locators). It contained more than 3,500 biographies and over 32,000 records. It supported longitudinal (life trajectories, individual careers) and cohort (generations) approaches, allowed multifaceted searches and was GIS-configured. The CBD has been transformed to an actual dataset capable of multivariate and network analysis.
China Biographical Database (CBDB) Harvard University (Fairbank Center for Chinese studies), in collaboration with Academia Sinica and Peking University: a freely accessible relational database with biographical information about approximately 427,000 individuals (as of April 2019), primarily from the 7th through 19th centuries. With both online and offline (standalone) versions, the data is meant to be useful for statistical, social network, and spatial analysis as well as serving as a kind of biographical reference. It offers a multifaceted query interface that allows to search by name, address (birth, death, residence, ancestral…), office (official career), keyword (using specific code tables) or relations (list of persons who are associated by kinship or social relations). For each facet, we can also filter by year, dynasty or period of time. It is also GIS-configured and linked to Harvard’s China Historical Geographic Information System (CHGIS).
Singapore Biographical Database : a collaborative project by the National University of Singapore, the National Library Board of Singapore and the Singapore Federation of Chinese Clan Associations. Containing 200 prominent Singapore Chinese personalities in the first phase of the project, it plans to expand into a large-scale database of eight generations of Singapore personalities from 1819 to 2019. It provides access to biographical information and selected sources, offers the possibility to download datasets as CSV or Excel files (list of names and relations) and to search the database using three entry points: names (personalities), relationships and hometown. Its most original feature is to display information as an interactive network (with individuals as nodes and relations as edges, and colors representing the different ethnic groups). The network view, however, provides only very basic biographical information (names, hometown, date and place of birth/death and references/primary sources). It contains no information on the social and professional life of individuals and makes no attempt to trace their life trajectories. It is restricted to interpersonal (persons-to-persons) relationships only, excluding institutions and social events, and does not specify the nature of relations. It provides no justification for the selection of individuals and no clear definition of what make these individuals “prominent personalities” worth to be recorded in the database.
China Government Employee Database (CGED) and China University Student Datasets (CUSD): two “Big Social Science Data projects” developed by the Lee-Campbell research group at Hong Kong University, in collaboration with Harvard CDBD (see above) and the Institute for Qing History at Renmin University. CUSD aims to explore the social origins of university students in China, including Hong Kong, from 1890 to 2010. CGED investigates civil service and other professional careers in Qing and Republican China (1700-1950). It is the first longitudinal study of any national bureaucracy, contemporary or modern, in its entirety, using micro-data on the careers and family and geographic origins of nearly all officials. As of May 2019, the database contains individual level information for 2 million Chinese (1 million for the Qing dynasty) and 3,373,995 records for approximately 340,373 civil and military positions. The database addresses anyone who may want to look up an ancestor’s personnel records, or for researchers who are interested in looking up the records of a specific officials. The data will be release publicly in successive phases (first release in July 2019). It is already possible to download (and reuse) datasets under different formats (CSV or xls). The database includes a user’s guide (in Chinese) and is accompanied by publications, online courses and tutorials.
Su-Bing Chang – Taiwan Biographical Database (Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies) : started in 2017, not yet available to the public, opening in November 2019.
Base de données sur les Élites suisses au XXe siècle : designed by/for historians at the University of Lausanne and EPFL in the early 2000s, the database contains more than 34,000 entries about political, economic, administrative and academic elites in the 20th and 21st century. Seven reference years, separated by intervals of about 20 years, are taken into account: 1910, 1937, 1957, 1980, 2000, 2010 and 2015. Built as a relational database based on five related tables – main records (biographical information, networks, academic career, bibliographical references), identity records (“static” biographical information), genealogy (filiations, marriages), positions (“mandats”: political, administrative, academic, social life) and entity data – it features information on social origin, military rank or membership in national associations. The website offers a free access to data through a public interface (users just need to register and log in), with the possibility to add or correct the existing information.
BiographyNet : a collaborative project between the Netherlands eScience Center, Huygens ING and VU University Amsterdam. Drawing on a variety of Dutch biographical dictionaries enriched by information from external resources (museum objects or Wikipedia), it contains approximately 125,000 biographies (as of May 2019). Through a combination of NLP/text mining tools, data enrichment, visualization and browsing techniques, it aims to improve the search options and the presentation of outcomes in order to show interconnections, trends, geographical maps, time lines, etc. Not accessible to the public at this stage.
The new Austrian Biographical Dictionary (APIS) (Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften, Vienna) : Based on the “Austrian Biographical Dictionary” (ÖBL), it includes about 18,500 biographies of people who “had an impact” on – back then – Austrian soil and died between 1815 and 1955. Combining up-to-date semantic technologies (RDF, SKOS), it intends to semantically enrich these biographies and to use the resulting data to investigate migration patterns. Data will be accessible through an innovative platform that will be part of the Link Open Data Cloud (not open to the public at this stage).
Heurist Network (Ian Johnson, Sydney University) : a research-driven data management system that puts the users in charge, allowing them to design, create, manage, analyse and publish their own richly-structured database(s) within hours, through a simple web interface, without the need for programmers or consultants.
SymoGIH (Laboratoire de Recherches Historiques Rhône-Alpes, Lyon) : a collaborative historical research platform based on a generic model for storing historical information with a view to guarantee interoperability and to allow selective publication. The platform is GIS-configured. It can be used to store primary data concerning all human activities (social, economic, intellectual, etc.), XML-encoded texts (TEI), and images and their metadata.Fichoz/Actoz (Jean-Pierre Dedieu, CNRS)
Resources for genealogists and the general public
Biographical Database : Republic of China (Taiwan) (1949- Present) : created by China historian Richard R. Wertz (University of Pennsylvania), it is more akin to an online biographical dictionary, with no attempt to reflect upon methodology. The biographical database is part of a more general website aimed at documenting Chinese history and Chinese culture, along with other features (chronologies, interactive maps, pictures). It provides short biographies of individuals from the late Qing dynasty to the present. Biographies are listed alphabetically and provides all possible versions and alternate names of the person (traditional and simplified characters, birth name, pinyin, Wade Giles, Yale), birth dates and basic biographical elements. It also includes photographs of individuals (linked to a database of images) and an index of all the terms used. It contains not only Chinese but also foreigners who were active in China. No justification for the selection of individuals and no clear mention of the historical sources used for each biographies.
BDA Online — Biographical Database of Australia: launched in 2013 by volunteer genealogists, historians and contractors (not clearly identified). As of May 2019, it includes about 1,6 million of names – deceased individuals who arrived in, or were born in, Australia. It relies on a wide array of primary sources (biographies, birth-death-marriage registers, church registers, cemeteries, colonial secretary, convict records, court records, lists of passengers, newspapers, military and land records). The results are basically displayed as a list of records (original records and published biographies) that mention a given person. The database contains persons (individuals) only, excluding institutions and social events. The project is managed by a private (though not-for-profit) organization. As such it provides free access to indexes and source documentation, but users who want to access biographical reports need to pay a subscription fee. Since it is not possible to export results (only to print them), the data is not directly reusable for analytical purposes (SNA, GIS).