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NZ Dictionary Only 2nd In The World To Go Online

19 FEBRUARY, 2002

NZ Dictionary Only Second In The World To Go Online

The online version of the award-winning Dictionary of New Zealand Biography was launched this evening by the Prime Minister and Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage, Helen Clark.

Dr Claudia Orange, General Editor of the Dictionary series, said that although a number of biographical dictionary projects around the world have issued CD-ROMs, the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography is thought to be only the second such national biographical dictionary worldwide to go online. It’s also the only one to offer free access. The American National Biography charge a subscription, as will the British New Dictionary of National Biography when it is published in 2004.

The Dictionary of New Zealand Biography broke new ground for dictionaries of national biography when first published in 1990. Its lead continues to be followed by similar projects around the world. The Australian Dictionary of Biography is currently seeking advice from New Zealand in planning for their digital future.

The new website,, comprises the entire five-volume series of the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography and its Maori-language companion series Nga Tangata Taumata Rau.

3049 biographies and over 2000 illustrations vividly bring to life the stories of remarkable New Zealanders over the centuries. The 493 biographies of Maori people can be searched both in Maori and English. With over half a million words in Maori language it is undoubtedly the largest amount of te reo available on any website. Over 1200 writers have contributed to the project so far.

The Millennium Fund of the New Zealand Lottery Grants Board funded the New Zealand Historical Association to commission the website.

The Dictionary includes not only the biographies of well known figures such as Prime Minister Michael Joseph Savage or footballer George Nepia, but also a multitude of the lesser known, such as 'vagabond' Anne Swift, or Alfred Philpott, 'milk factory worker, museum curator, entomologist and writer'.

The Dictionary of New Zealand Biography unit of the New Zealand Ministry for Culture and Heritage prepared the material for electronic publication, under contract to the New Zealand Historical Association. The search for images to illustrate the biographies began at the Alexander Turnbull Library in Wellington and has extended nationwide, forming mutually beneficial partnerships and close relationships with libraries and museums. Many individuals have also contributed. The site was designed, programmed and built by award-winning Wellington firm Click Suite.

From a technical point of view, the site uses Microsoft SQL Server technology to 'serve up' biographies to users quickly and easily - regardless of their level of interest or expertise. The technology provides people with the option to search for a biography via name, word or author, and they may also choose a more advanced option that allows them to find a biography using nine different variables, ranging from occupations to birthplaces.

Highlights of the website include Our Land, Our People, which presents 'snapshots' of historical events and trends using graphics from the award-winning New Zealand Historical Atlas, animation and interactive features, and Born On This Day, which takes the user, on any given day, to a biography of a person born on the same day of the year.

With a general audience in mind, the site has been thoroughly tested by a wide cross-section of users. The developers were acutely aware of the need to provide an information architecture that would meet the needs of many diverse groups: ranging from school students doing class projects, to casual browsers with less specific interests in mind, to academics undertaking detailed historical research.

In closing, Claudia Orange said, 'The website is the culmination of two years' intensive work on the part of the Dictionary team and our contractors Click Suite. We are thrilled with what we have already achieved, and look forward to the possibility of further enhancements to the site in the future. There are also exciting possibilities ahead in our close relationship with the new online Encyclopedia of New Zealand, another digital project which will soon be underway at the Ministry for Culture and Heritage.’

or visit the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography website:

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