The term "national biography" refers to collections of brief--or sometimes not so brief--biographical sketches defined by nation or ethnic group. A few are online; many older ones are in printed format only. All can be useful for finding information on people who were prominent in the past but may be less well-known now. Here are a few representative titles:
The key to finding people in many of these sources is a database called Biography and Genealogy Master Index (BGMI). This index contains citations that point to over 15 million biographies on nearly 5 million people, living and deceased, from all time periods, geographical locations, and fields of endeavor.
Unfortunately, BGMI does not cover non-Englsh speaking subjects very well. To find these, you will need to explore ALICE (and perhaps OhioLINK) using Subject Search patterns like these:
Or, less common but sometimes helpful:
For concise background information on authors from antiquity to the present, it's hard to beat a series called the Dictionary of Literary Biography. Each entry contains an overview of the author's life and writings, illustrations, and a bibliography which can lead you to more information on the author. This set of nearly 400 volumes is shelved in the Alden Library's Learning Commons (2nd floor), along the back wall near the Multimedia computers.