Thursday, 2 March 2006

Famous people

I have just discovered to my delight that by using my library membership card I can access at home the mighty Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, a collection of the biographies of “55,000 men and women from all walks of life who shaped British history worldwide, from the 4th century BC to the year 2002. It includes not just the great and the good but people who have left a mark for any reason, good, bad, or unusual”. (The printed version has 60,000 pages and costs $7500.)
The women range from Boudicca (d. 60/61AD) to Barbara Castle (d. 2002) and include saints, monarchs and Fanny Adams, (1859–1867), murder victim and source of a colloquial expression. Men in the latest update include four Nobel prize winners and John Entwhistle, bass guitarist of The Who. Really, the only rule applied rigorously in selecting those for inclusion is that they have to be absolutely dead. And, I suppose, famous or infamous in one way or another.

What proportion of all the entries are for women and how does this proportion vary over the entries for the last two millennia? I shall answer these questions in a couple of days time; in the meantime those who are interested in such matters might like to guess at the answer to the first one and then see how close they got. There are 25,600,000 websites on the net which have some reference to feminism (roughly the same as for communism) as well as 47,000 feminist blogs, so it may be that there are other analyses of this kind out there somewhere, but mine will be based on the January update of the online DNB so will at least be more up-to-date than most.

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