It’s a great honor to follow in the footsteps of Susan Ware, the amazing steward and General Editor behind the American National Biography (ANB) for the last ten years. Susan guided the expansion and reach of the ANB, which she described as the “gateway to all of American history” due to its extensive documentation of the contributions made by people who call the United States home. Today, the online biographical reference work contains more than 19,000 names, and it continues to add to its roster. Our work remains focused on diversifying the people, cultures, and ideas and ideologies represented in the ANB. To do so, we collaborate with a diverse advisory board to amplify the experiences, contributions, and voices of people who come from a range of racial, ethnic, class, gender, sexual, ability/disability, religious, regional, and professional backgrounds. It is through the personal stories of individuals who have made a difference in US society that we can learn more about our past in order to better understand our present and future.
The people who you’ll see reflected in the ANB fit our broadly defined standard of significance, which includes achievement (superior accomplishment as judged by peers and contemporaries), fame (celebrity or notoriety), or influence (effect on one’s own time despite lack of public or mainstream notice). The only “requirement” is that all our subjects must have died.
The ANB is a useful resource for a wide range of researchers, teachers, and general audiences. All entries provide consistent biographical information, including date and place of birth, educational degrees, major career highlights, challenges as well as accomplishments, and significant awards. They are concluded with an assessment summarizing the subject’s significance. A brief annotated bibliography of published and online sources is provided as well. Readers might also find helpful the hyperlinks to other individuals mentioned in each biographical entry, a useful way to follow the professional and personal connections established throughout an individual’s life. More than 3000 essays are illustrated with paintings, prints, etchings, and photographs drawn from the collections of the National Portrait Gallery, and more illustrations are being added on a regular basis. All these features are easily accessed with our powerful search and browse capabilities.
As an online resource, we are aware that the ANB must compete with a number of outlets looking for the eyes and ears–that is, “clicks”—from individuals looking for insights on people who have made history. ANB offers significant advantages over its competitors. As a rich and deeply-researched source, it remains in conversation with new trends in history teaching and historical writing. Unlike the collective and often anonymous process of creating entries in sites such as Wikipedia, our essays are written by individual scholars, writers, and advanced graduate students who are experts in the field and craft a narrative in their own voice. The length of an essay reflects the significance of the subject, with special attention to providing readers the key facts they need to know about a particular individual. As you might imagine, condensing a life into 1000-1200 words is not an easy proposition. To get at the heart of person’s life and significance involves condensing and eliminating many nuances of their lives and their accomplishments while still giving their stories justice. We are proud and thankful for the ANB authors – some 6600 strong – for rising to this challenge. Without them, biographical reference works like the ANB would not exist.
Whatever you choose to research, whether it’s notable African American women in the arts or early women scientists, the ANB has something for nearly everyone. We realize the ANB is far from complete, however. We are working diligently to ensure that we capture a more accurate profile of the diverse people who call the United States home. We invite you to take a moment to see what the ANB has to offer. We know you won’t be disappointed and will be back for more.
— Miroslava Chávez-García