What is collective biography?

Most people understand biography to be a written, nonfiction account of someone else's life (in third person). It may be short or full-length. Very short biographical records often are printed in reference works, such as encyclopedias or websites. CBW does not study the minimal outlines of facts and events in such reference works. Collective biography is the term for works that present multiple short prose narratives about different individuals in the same publication. Group biographies are a subset of collective biography in which the people interacted in their lifetimes, for instance in a family or a social organization. Our bibliography lists all volumes printed in English 1830-1940 that represent three or more women's lives in narrative form (the list is intended to be exhaustive between these dates). We have listed some published before and after these dates.

In CBW, there are a range of formats for collective biography, and a few books that have such extended tables of contents that they seem like reference works, while others present male-female pairs, or have some chapters about groups such as "women of Africa" or "the Peabody sisters." Other chapters are organized by theme with some brief mention of the life stories of several women who fit that theme. The most common form of CBW books, however, is one primary subject per chapter, the woman named in its chapter title.