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Dictionary of Scientific Biography

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Title: Dictionary of Scientific Biography  
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Subject: Historiography of science, Cengage Learning books, Dartmouth Medal, Jamshīd al-Kāshī, Alfred Tarski
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Dictionary of Scientific Biography

The Dictionary of Scientific Biography is a scholarly reference work that was published from 1970 through 1980. It is supplemented by the New Dictionary of Scientific Biography. Both these publications are comprised in an electronic version, called the Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography.

Dictionary of Scientific Biography

The Dictionary of Scientific Biography is a scholarly English-language reference work consisting of biographies of scientists from antiquity to modern times, but excluding scientists who were alive when the Dictionary was first published. It includes scientists who worked in the areas of mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, and earth sciences. The work is notable for being one of the most substantial reference works in the field of history of science, containing extensive biographies on hundreds of figures. It gives information about both the personal biography and in considerable detail about the scientific contributions. Engineers, physicians, social scientists and philosophers only appeared "when their work was intrinsically related to the sciences of nature or to mathematics."[1][2] Though the Dictionary has worldwide coverage, the editors write that it focuses most on Western scientists, due to the limited availability of scholarship about Asian, Indian and Islamic historical scientists at the time.[1]

The articles in the Dictionary are typically 1–5 pages and are written by eminent historians of science. All articles list a selection of the original works of the subject, as well as a comprehensive list of the secondary literature about them (which may be in any language), including early works as well as more contemporary ones.

The first volume of the Dictionary was first put out in 1970, under the general editorship of Charles Coulston Gillispie. The set was completed in 1980. The Dictionary was published under the auspices of the American Council of Learned Societies by Charles Scribner's Sons in 16 volumes. Volume 15 is Supplement I; it contains additional biographies as well as topical essays on non-Western scientific traditions. Volume 16 is the general index. A 2-volume Supplement II with additional biographies was published in 1990.

In 1981, after the 16-volume set was complete, Scribner's published a one-volume abridgment, the Concise Dictionary of Scientific Biography. Its second edition was published in 2001 and includes content from the 1990 Supplement II.

In 1981, the American Library Association awarded the Dartmouth Medal to the Dictionary as a reference work of outstanding quality and significance.[3]

New Dictionary of Scientific Biography

The New Dictionary of Scientific Biography, edited by Noretta Koertge, was published by Scribner's in December 2007 with 775 entries.[4] Nearly 500 of these are new articles about scientists who died after 1950 and thus were not included in the original Dictionary; 75 articles are on figures from earlier periods not included in the original Dictionary of Scientific Biography, including a substantial number of female and third-world scientific figures. The other 250 are supplementary or replacement articles giving recent research and interpretation, intended to be read in conjunction with the corresponding articles in the original dictionary. The coverage now includes psychology, anthropology, and to a limited extent some areas of sociology and economics.[5][6]

Electronic version

In 2007, Charles Scribner's Sons published the Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography as an e-book. It includes the complete text of both print editions, with a unified index and other finding aids. The e-book version is available as part of the Gale Virtual Reference Library.[7] Many of the article are available online through HighBeam Research's encyclopedia portal (through a series of acquisitions both Charles Scribner's Sons and HighBeam Research are both owned by Cengage Learning).

Critical reception

The DSB has been widely praised as a monumental undertaking. One reviewer of another work wrote that "The Dictionary of Scientific Biography (DSB) has become the standard against which to measure all multi-volume biographical works in history of science."[8]


  • Gillispie, Charles C., editor in chief. Dictionary of Scientific Biography. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1970–1980. 16 vols. ISBN 0-684-10114-9. Supplement II, edited by Frederic Lawrence Holmes, 2 vols., 1990. ISBN 0-684-16962-2 (set).
  • Concise Dictionary of Scientific Biography. American Council of Learned Societies. New York Scribner, 1981. ISBN 0-684-16650-X.
  • Koertge, Noretta, editor in chief. New Dictionary of Scientific Biography. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 2007. 8 vols. ISBN 0-684-31320-0.
  • Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 2007 [e-book]. ISBN 0-684-31559-9.


  • by Jacques Barzun, in Science, Vol. 170. no. 3958, pp. 615 – 616 doi:10.1126/science.170.3958.615
  • by Krupp, E. C. "Prisoner in Disguise – A Review of: Dictionary of Scientific Biography Volume XV, Supplement I" Archaeoastronomy, Vol. 8, p. 142
  • Stephen G. Brush. (March 1972). "A Fascinating Reference: Dictionary of Scientific Biography" The Physics Teacher Volume 10, Issue 3, p. 158 doi:10.1119/1.2352143


  1. ^ a b Gillispie, Charles C., editor in chief. Dictionary of Scientific Biography. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1970–1980. 16 vols. Introduction, v. 1, pp. ix–x.
  2. ^ Dictionary of Scientific Biography at the Scholarly Societies project at the University of Waterloo.
  3. ^ ALA Dartmouth Award list. Accessed Jan. 23, 2009.
  4. ^ New Dictionary of Scientific Biography. Retrieved 2008-09-28
  5. ^ Alphabetical list of new articles. (PDF). "11-1-07", pages LI to LVI. Retrieved 2008-09-28
  6. ^ Gale information page about the NDSB. Accessed Jan. 23, 2009.
  7. ^ Gale catalog page for the "Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography. Accessed April 17, 2009.
  8. ^ Hoskin, Michael (2008). "Book Reviews: A DSB of Astronomers". Journal for the History of Astronomy 39 (135). pp. 272–274. 

External links

  • Some sample DSB entries, digitized by Cultural Heritage Language Technologies and the Linda Hall Library
  • Introduction to the New DSB from Indiana University
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