There are lots of types of things to research, but often we seem to focus on issues or abstract concepts. Are people better off if they do A over B? What does the experiment show? How do we decide a difficult policy question? But those issues and events are put into motion by people, whose lives and ideas shape the ideas.
We turn to biographies when we want to learn about people’s lives. But sometimes, even if it seems like you’re dealing with an abstract issue or policy question, your work will be deepened by an understanding of the people behind it. Who they are, and why they formed the ideas they did. Literature has long embraced this – as much has been written about Shakespeare as his plays; as much about Robert Frost as his poems. But an important psychological or philosophical or political theory can also be more richly understood by knowing the life of the psychologist or philosopher or political theorist in question.
And while there are plenty of valuable biographical books about individuals, there are several great sources dedicated to biographies that would make a great place to start. Perhaps the best of these is Biography in Context, which includes award-winning biographies digitized from numerous print sources and encyclopedias. It also includes full-text periodical articles and rights-cleared images. Just type the name of your subject to begin. A general reference database, MasterFILE Premier (as well as MAS Ultra) includes about 80,000 biographies in addition to the normal articles and reference sources, for people across all walks of life (to see just the biographies, choose ‘biography’ for publication type in the advanced search). For more specific topics, try Literature Resource Center for authors and Science in Context for scientists and mathematicians.
For encyclopedic information, it’s hard to beat the Britannica Online, but we also have such sources as American National Biography, American Writers: A Collection of Literary Biographies, and HerStory: Women Who Changed the World. And Biography and Genealogy Master Index is a comprehensive index of biography sources – while it contains no full text, it does quickly identify and connect you with entries in more than 1,000 biographical sources and dictionaries for over five million people.
Need any help in your search? Ask us at firstname.lastname@example.org!