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May 2006, no. 281


May 2006, no. 281

ADB replies to Paul Brunton

Dear Editor,

Paul Brunton has written of the quotas used in the selection of subjects for inclusion in the Australian Dictionary of Biography in a review (ABR, February 2006) headed ‘Mysterious quotas’, and in a follow-up letter (ABR, April 2006).

The explanation of ‘quotas’ is straightforward. At the beginning of each new period (now a decade), the ADB is confronted by the task of selecting individuals for inclusion in the volumes for that period. Who is to choose them? Not the general editor, sitting at a desk in Canberra. Because Australia is a federation of states with separate identities, the ADB has always worked on the democratic principle that state working parties, comprising eminent scholars and representatives of occupational and interest groups, are best placed to identify the significant individuals from their state’s past. To the six state working parties have been added a Commonwealth Working Party, an Armed Services Working Party and, recently, an Indigenous Working Party. The working parties rely on their own professional expertise, consultation with community representatives, exhaustive combing of biographical and historical sources, and careful and lengthy committee evaluation to construct and refine their lists.

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