Edinburgh Lives

The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography is the national record of people who’ve shaped British history, worldwide, from the Romans to the 21st century. The ODNB currently includes the life stories of over 60,000 men and women who died in or before 2014.


James Boswell


Of these 60, 000 people, more than 4600 have close ties to Edinburgh—through families, education, work or residence.

Below you’ll find some famous (and some less familiar) Edinburgh faces, including James Boswell (above), and (below) cookery school founder, Christian Wright, and the pioneering balloonist James Tytler. Then discover the ‘who and how’ in Edinburgh by searching the ODNB for people by place.

James Graham RL Stevenson James Tytler  
Walter Scott Sarah Mair Roy Williamson Henry Raeburn 
Muriel Spark Margaret Sinclair Henry Littlejohn Henry Wood
Christian Wright George Heriot Adam Black Robert Knox

Who and how? in Edinburgh

As well as looking for people by name, you can also search by place, for example:

(NB: You'll need to be logged into your library's subscription for these searches.)

How do I search?

Finding people in the Oxford DNB is easy.

  • to discover more Edinburgh people simply use the ‘place’ option on the People Search page. You can find people who were born, baptized, educated or resident in Edinburgh (or elsewhere), or who died and were buried here. Search by county, city, town, village, church, and even street.
  • you can also search the ODNB’s 70 million words for places (e.g. Arthur's Seat). For this use Text Search.

What else does the Oxford DNB offer?

  • Free biography podcast: as well as 60, 000 life stories, the ODNB publishes a twice monthly biography podcast featuring some popular entries from the collection. There are now over 250 episodes in the archive. Highlights include Diana, princess of Wales, George Orwell, John Lennon, and Margaret Thatcher.
  • Follow us on Twitter for more historical figures in the news.
  • Don’t forget: the ODNB online is available free—anywhere, anytime—via Edinburgh libraries: just type your library card number in the box here

> Read the Oxford DNB, free and at home, using your library's subscription
More about the Oxford DNB