Scots and Scotland in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography ( tells the life stories of more than 60,000 men and women who have shaped British history worldwide. Of these, more than 6000 were born or lived in Scotland, or left their mark on aspects of Scottish life—from politics to sport, industry to the arts.

In October 2009 the Oxford DNB further extended its Scottish coverage with a set of new biographies (including Christian Fletcher and Jean Armour)—together with a feature on the ‘Faces of Scotland’ highlighting major figures from Scotland’s past.

Together these subjects span 1500 years of Scottish history, beginning with the sixth-century St Moluag (said to have arrived on Lismore on a stone ‘like no other’) and concluding with close contemporaries such as actor and comedian Rikki Fulton (1924–2004) and politician Robin Cook (1946-2005).

The Oxford DNB is a subscriber service and the following searches require subscriber access through a public or university library - find out how to subscribe.

Online access is available free via nearly all public libraries in Scotland (and also across the UK). Libraries now provide ‘remote access’ allowing you to log-in free—from anywhere, at anytime—via your public library’s account. More details on free access >

1. Find people




With the online edition of the Oxford DNB you can search for people

This means you can quickly discover

2. Search for words, references, and images




Online you can also search the Dictionary’s 65 million words of text; its listings of individuals’ archives, likenesses, and wealth at death; and its 10,500 portrait images which accompany 1 in 5 biographies, making this the largest published collection of national portraiture. Which means you can also find:

3. New biographies published three times a year



Since publication in September 2004, the Oxford DNB has been extended three times each year with online updates published every January, May, and October.
January updates add biographies of men and women who died in the early twenty-first century, while those for May and October add people from the ‘earliest times’ to 2000. Recent updates include a special focus on First World War lives to mark the 90th anniversary of the armistice.
Of the more than 2000 men and women added to the ODNB since 2004, examples include:

4. Themes for quick reference and research


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As well as new biographies, updates have added more than 450 articles to create a new Themes area of the online Oxford DNB.

Themes provide an expanding online 'handbook' to the people who shaped British history worldwide. Themes take three forms—lists, groups, and features—and are useful for quick reference, making connections between people, and as routes into the main dictionary (all individuals mentioned link back to the full biography for further reading).

Reference lists provide details of place and office holders: for example, all British prime ministers or Poets laureate.

Reference groups provide essays on well-known groups in history, making links between individual members: from the Magna Carta barons and the Pilgrim Fathers to the Suffragettes and the Goons.

Feature essays allow expert historians to write on popular topics: from Roman Britain to Life on the Home Front.

5. Getting the most from your subscription