Who Rules? logo

 An Internet Guide to Power Structure Research

Power Elites















Sources of Biographical Information 

Doing power structure research often entails tracking down biographical information on individual political and economic elites.  What is their family background?  What schools did they attend?  What corporate or governmental positions have they held?  Are they on the boards of major foundations, think tanks, or policy planning organizations?  What exclusive clubs do they belong to?  

Unfortunately, this is one area in which Internet sources can be very incomplete.  Proprietary databases available through the library are often more helpful.  But, in many cases, there is no alternative to searching the biographical reference works that are available only in hard copy at the library.  Fortunately, the indexes listed below can make that library search go much more quickly.  Here are some of the better sources of biographical information that are available online.

Full-Text Databases

  • Biographies Plus (Current Biography).  If your person is relatively famous, there is a good chance of finding a biography in this database.  It includes more than 46,000 biographies and obituaries, mostly taken from the published volumes of Current Biography. Biographies are fairly detailed, but many are outdated.

  • Lexis-Nexis Academic.  For less famous individuals and more up-to-date information, this is likely to be the best online source.  It contains full text newspaper and magazine articles, including obituaries, profiles, and interviews that may provide biographical information.  There is a "Biographical Information" search page under the "Reference" menu, but be sure to also search the newspaper and magazine articles under the "General News" option of the "News" menu. 

  • Newspaper Source.  This database provides selected full text for 143 domestic and international newspapers, many of which are not included in Academic Universe (Lexis-Nexis).

  • Oregonian Newspaper.  For state and regional elites, try this database.  It provides full text of articles published in the Portland Oregonian newspaper from 1987 to the present. Updated daily.

  • Magazines Fulltext. This database provides full text articles from 570 periodicals, including both popular magazines and professional journals.

  • NDDB.  Perhaps the best free online database of biographical profiles.  The coverage of corporate and political elites is spotty, unless they are among the most prominent, but the profiles are generally informative and sometimes provide information you would not find in a typical Who's Who biography.  The site includes a visual mapping tool for exploring the connections between people in the database, linking them together through family relations, corporate boards, political alliances, and other organizational ties.  

  • LittleSis.  This website advertises itself as "an involuntary Facebook of powerful Americans."  It is organized as a wiki in which much of the information is submitted by users and where links are provided to other websites that were used as sources or references. The focus is on political and business leaders and on the social, organizational, and financial ties among them.  The coverage is uneven but becoming more complete with time.  

  • Explore the 2010 Power Elite in the U.S.  This database was created by Clifford Staples at the University of North Dakota and allows you to search for individual members of the power elite and their organizational ties.  It includes more than 9,000 persons who serve as directors of 2,776 separate organizations (corporations, foundations, think tanks, universities, governmental advisory committees, and business associations). You can trace the multiple affiliations of individual directors and the interlocks that they create between different organizations.  Highly recommended.

  • J3 Information Services Insider Lookup.  This website is aimed at investors seeking information on the purchase and sale of stock by corporate insiders.  Entering the name of a person will provide you with information on their corporate positions, stock ownership, and recent transactions.  Highly recommended.

  • Forbes.com.  Search corporate executives and directors by name or by corporate ticker symbol.  Provides biographical profile as well as detailed information on compensation for recent years.  

  • Forbes 400 Richest Americans. Provides brief biographies of the 400 richest Americans in each of several recent years. 

Indexes to Library Resources

  • Biography and Genealogy Master Index. This is the place to begin if you want to do a thorough library search for biographical information.  The Biography and Genealogy Master Index provides citations to articles in more than 700 biography sources, including the various years and editions of Who's Who, Biography Index, Current Biography Yearbook, and other more specialized sources.  Many of the indexed sources can be found in the reference room of the University of Oregon Library. 

  • NameBase Index. This unique index provides citations to the page numbers of books in which persons are mentioned.  The books indexed include most of the major works of power structure research, as well as other books on American politics, economics, and foreign policy.  These books can then be located in the library or you can purchase xerox copies of the pages for a fee.  One valuable option allows you to see the names of other persons who are mentioned on those same pages and to display these links as a network diagram.

You can also do a general search of the Internet for biographical information on individual elites by using any of the leading search engines.  See the Search Engine page for tips.

Copyright 2013 by Val Burris