The Introductory Essays of the Dictionary of Canadian Biography/Dictionnaire biographique du Canada (DCB/DBC)
Between 1966 and 1985, the Dictionary of Canadian Biography/Dictionnaire biographique du Canada (DCB/DBC) published nine volumes. Of these, five (I, II, III, IV and VIII) contained introductory essays, the purpose of which, according to George Williams Brown and Marcel Trudel, general editor and directeur adjoint respectively of volume I, was to “provide for the biographies a framework of events and significant developments which will make many of them more understandable and meaningful.” These preliminary essays, as they were sometimes called, were written with the aim of helping readers to familiarize themselves with the historical eras corresponding to the years covered by the volumes of which the essays were part. The directors of the DCB/DBC judged that it was not essential to include such essays in volumes V, IX, X and XI, published during the same period. Subsequently, after the appearance of volume VIII in 1985, for reasons related to publication deadlines and budgetary constraints, it was decided to stop producing the introductory essays and concentrate exclusively on the biographies.
When, at the end of the 1990s, the DCB/DBC prepared the CD-ROM (2000), which contains biographies published in volumes I to XIV, it was agreed not to include the introductory essays, which had become outdated. The same decision was taken in 2003, prior to the launch of the DCB/DBC website, which was then hosted by Library and Archives Canada/Bibliothèque et Archives Canada. Since then, however, university professors have requested that the essays be made available, pointing out that the online version of the dictionary is more readily accessible than the printed version. In their opinion, despite their publication dates and the fact that they have not been made current, these introductions remain, in many ways, reference works of the first order. These arguments are compelling and, after reconsideration, the editorial teams decided to devote a feature to the introductory essays, but to exclude the glossaries of the names of native peoples that appeared in volumes I to IV. The teams have made the most of digital media to highlight the richness of the essays: the eminent historians who wrote these works (which are presented very much as they appeared in the volumes in which they were published, along with the titles of the positions they held at the time), the works upon which they drew, and the individuals they observe.
Putting the introductory essays online has several advantages for readers. Besides providing convenient access for those searching the Internet, the process has allowed the addition of hyperlinks, which make it easier to consult the hundreds of biographies mentioned, either in an essay itself or in a list of individuals organized according to categories.
Most of the authors of these introductions are, unfortunately, no longer with us; the others are enjoying their well-deserved retirement. The DCB/DBC could not, therefore, ask to have the texts updated. The editorial decision to concentrate on biographies ruled out commissioning new articles that would take into account advances in research. While attempting to produce versions that are close to the originals, the editors have nevertheless made necessary changes: correcting misprints, spelling mistakes, some sentences that were difficult to understand, and a few factual errors. They have also modified the names of certain individuals and added or removed asterisks to conform with the content of the DCB/DBC. Additionally, unless they are part of a quotation or title, offensive terms have been replaced by terms that are currently more appropriate out of respect for those men and women to whom the terms referred. The essays and bibliographies now online thus reflect the state of research at the time of their publication. In this sense, they are representative of an era.