Managing Knowledge: Dictionaries and Ideology

Module code: EN7219

Module co-ordinator: Professor Julie Coleman

This module traces the beginnings of the modern dictionary in the work of Samuel Johnson and his contemporaries, but concentrates on the great dictionary projects of the nineteenth century, particularly:

  • the Oxford English Dictionary
  • Roget’s Thesaurus
  • Wright’s English Dialect Dictionary
  • Brewer’s Phrase and Fable
  • Farmer and Henley’s Slang and its Analogues 

Generally treated as objective authorities on their subjects, these works embody their period’s attitudes, knowledge, and anxieties. All are still in regular use today. We will explore their structure; definitional styles; selection and use of sources, including the treatment of individual authors; and their approach to obscene and other troubling terms.

By the end of the module, you will...

  • Be able to describe and analyse dictionaries using an appropriate range of approaches and terminology
  • Know the relevant lexicographical traditions and of the place of individual dictionaries within them
  • Understand the subjectivity of dictionaries and their relationship to contemporary concerns and scholarly developments


  • A 4,000-word essay