Brent Tarter was born in 1948 in Texas, graduated from Angelo State College, in San Angelo, Texas, in 1970, and did
his graduate study at the University of Virginia, with a primary research interest in early twentieth-century political history. He was the first, or one of the first, people to gain access to the Harry Flood Byrd Sr. Papers, which were open to researchers at the University of Virginia Library in 1971. From 1974 to 1982 he worked in the basement of the
Virginia State Library (now the Library of Virginia), in Richmond, as one of the editors of the seven-volume Revolutionary Virginia, The Road to Independence: A Documentary Record (Charlottesville, 1973–1983). As a
spin-off project, he edited and the state library published The Order Book and Related Papers of the Common Hall of
the Borough of Norfolk, Virginia, 1736–1798 (Richmond, 1979).
In 1982, Brent and Sandra G. Treadway became the founding editors of the multivolume Dictionary of Virginia Biography. He was also a senior editor in the library's publications division from 1982 to 2010 and assistant division director from 1996 to 2002. From 1995 to 2010, Brent was one of the moderators of "Va-Hist", the first electronic discussion group for any state, and from 2000 to 2010 he was the moderator of the "Va-Roots" disscusion group.
The University of Virginia Press published his study of Virginia's political culture, The Grandees of Government:
The Origins and Persistence of Undemocratic Politics in Virginia, in 2013. He has published numerous articles on various aspects of
Virginia's history in the Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, Virginia Cavalcade, South Atlantic Quarterly, Magazine of Virginia
Genealogy, Journal of Southern Legal History, and American Journal of Legal History. His journal articles include a comprehensive
needs-and-opportunities essay entitled "The New Virginia Bookshelf," Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 104 (1996): 7–102,
and a history of historical writing in Virginia, "Making History in
Brent is a member of the American Historical Association; the Association for Documentary Editing; the Organization
of American Historians; the Southern Association of Women Historians; the Southern Historical Association; and the Virginia Historical Society. In 2006, he and Shenandoah University historian Warren Hofstra founded the Virginia Forum, the first annual conference on Virginia history.