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About Who's Who and Who Was Who

"Who's Who should be a standard for any self-respecting reference collection"
- Gary Archer, Refer

"Who's Who is a mirror in which society glimpses a reflection of its own achievement."
- The Times

Who's Who is the leading source of up-to-date information about over 35,000 influential people from all walks of life, worldwide. Containing autobiographical listings of people from around the globe who have an impact on British life, including senior politicians, judges, civil servants, and notable figures from the arts, academia, and other areas, it is seen as one of the world's most recognised and respected works of reference.

What makes Who's Who unique is that each biographee provides the details for their entry, and many include contact details. Based on the model of the hugely successful Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford DNB), the online edition of Who's Who is built for biographical searching making it a valuable resource for anyone concerned with British history and culture, as well as charities, alumni, and journalists worldwide.

Subscribers to Who's Who can also choose to subscribe to Who Was Who, an invaluable historical archive going back to 1897, which includes the entries of over 94,000 people, now deceased, who were included in previous editions of Who's Who. The online edition contains links to the Oxford DNB, which are available to subscribers to both resources.

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Key Features

  • Over 35,000 entries from the latest edition of Who’s Who
  • Each entry is written by the person themselves, and can include full name, birth date, career, education, publications, recreations, contact details and more
  • A responsive design enabling seamless access across different formats
  • Searching using a query builder, helping you get straight to the content you need
  • Social media integration, so you can share content across channels
  • Over 10,000 reciprocal links mean that you can compare and contrast what people wrote about themselves in Who Was Who with their biographies in the Oxford DNB
  • People from all over the world, including Nelson Mandela, Kofi Annan, Venus Williams, Gwyneth Paltrow, Tom Cruise, Barack Obama, and Woody Allen
  • Updated annually each December with new entries, as well as minor updates during the year – if subjects die, their death dates will be added

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Today in Who's Who

Though you need a subscription to read all of Who's Who, you can read the entries that we highlight each day in Today in Who's Who for free. Either follow the instructions below, or follow us on Twitter @ukwhoswho to read topical biographies every day.

You can view the daily topical biographies directly from the bottom of the homepage, sign up for daily email alerts, or subscribe to our RSS feed using your preferred feedreader or bookmarks.

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Comments? Please contact us.

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History of Who's Who

The first edition of Who’s Who was published in 1849. Then a compact, 250 page volume (less than one tenth of the size of the 2016 edition), it consisted of an almanac followed by thirty-five lists of ranks and appointments and the names of those holding them. These included the Royal Household, members of the House of Peers and House of Commons, judges, archbishops, and British envoys abroad. The lists gave no individual biographical details, apart from the annotations for Members of Parliament, whose constituency, age and ‘political bias’ were noted.

In 1896 Who’s Who was acquired by A&C Black. Substantial changes were made to the nature and content of the book for the 1897 edition, one of which was the introduction of autobiographical entries which were submitted by some five thousand entrants in response to a questionnaire. A unique feature was the invitation to include Recreations. A pioneer of what would become a fascinating and famous tradition, George Bernard Shaw listed his recreations as ‘cycling and showing off’, while artist and author Harrison Weir claimed that he played ‘no games of any sort at any time’.

Who’s Who expanded significantly in subsequent years and eventually, due to pressure on space, the lists that originally established Who’s Who were omitted; the resulting format, a book consisting solely of autobiographical entries, has been retained ever since. Throughout the 20th century Who’s Who reflected the many changes that occurred in the world; during the Second World War, Winston Churchill personally intervened to ensure its publication was not affected by the paper shortage, regarding its full circulation to be of national importance.

In 1996, the first searchable CD-ROM version of Who's Who was published. Containing over 100,000 entries spanning the 100 years since the appearance of biographies in Who's Who, it has proved invaluable as a research tool and a unique way of measuring social change. In 2005, the research potential expanded further as the entire database became available online, giving subscribers access to the complete text of Who's Who and Who Was Who with a wide range of search facilities.

A fuller history of Who’s Who was published to coincide with the 150th edition in 1998. Contact the Office of Who’s Who for more information.

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History of Who Was Who

In 1920 the first volume of Who Was Who was published, providing a wealth of material for researchers without easy access to the earlier individual volumes of Who's Who. This first edition was composed of the entries of those who had died between 1897 and 1915 with the date of death added to each. Subsequent volumes of Who Was Who – there are now twelve – cover the years from 1916 to 2015. Published originally at ten-year intervals, and now every five years, each new edition provides an opportunity for revision and correction where necessary, using many sources of reference. However, as no account is taken of the many changes that may have been made to an entry during a life, serious researchers may, on occasion, wish to consult the individual volumes of Who’s Who to obtain a fuller picture.

Who Was Who has proved invaluable in identifying not only those who shaped the events of their time but others, now forgotten, who were familiar names to the journalists and diarists who recorded the events of the day. An essential tool for researchers is the companion volume, A Cumulated Index to Who Was Who 1897-2000. Until its publication, a name could be found only by knowing, or guessing at, the date of death, so that the appropriate volume of Who Was Who could be consulted. The Index simplifies that search, for it gives not only the volume in which the person is to be found but also the dates of birth and death. In addition it provides cross-references, from pseudonyms to maiden names and married names.

Order a volume of Who Was Who, or its Cumulated Index.

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