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Keywords Project

The Keywords Project is a collaborative research initiative investigating 'key' words prominently used but also contested in social debate in English. Different meanings available for each keyword, which vary both in specific sense and in evaluative implication, can confuse rather than progress discussion in which the word is used. The project aims to contribute to our understanding of the processes involved in  'public conversation' and civil society more widely by publishing short entries on approximately 100 such 'keywords', along with a project archive of longer essays and materials, plus audio and video.

Keyword Search


A word that began with the body— corpus— has become associated with that most faceless of disembodied entities, the multi-national conglomerate. How could such a shift happen? What are its continuing linguistic and social effects?

Keyword Search


Got Faith?
For some, the word faith evokes the fundamentals of an ethical life; for others, it is at best false consciousness, at worst a conspicuous instrument of oppression. See how these meanings and connotations have evolved over time.

Keyword Search


Recent decades have reclaimed queer as a positive term, sometimes extended beyond homosexuality into a calling into question of solid gender roles. But linguistically it was only a merging of two different words that ever allowed queer to function for so long in its gradually displaced derogatory meaning

Keyword Search


When George W. Bush declared his "War on Terror" it was the first time a sovereign state had declared war on an abstract noun. But the history and changing meanings of the word terror, from Robespierre to contemporary jihadis, encapsulate problems associated with the role of violence in modern politics.

Keywords in changing contexts of use

Closer inspection of these and other works in the history of the book shows potentially confusing use of a core vocabulary of keywords that have multiple meanings.

  • 11th century

    Priscianus, De Grammatica (manuscript), Durham, 11th century

  • 12th century

    Biblia Sacra (manuscript), probably York, 13th century

  • 1483

    Anthony Andraes, Scriptum Super Logica , St Albans, 1483 (printed by Wynkyn de Worde, William Caxton's first apprentice)

  • 1527

    Erasmus, Novum Testamentum, Basle, 1527 (Thomas Cranmer's copy)

  • 1612

    Captaine Smith, A map of Virginia with a description on the country, the Commodities, People, Government and Religion, Oxford, 1612

  • 1614

    Sir Walter Raleigh, The History of the World, London, 1614

  • 1624

    Democritus Junior (Robert Burton), The Anatomy of Melancholy, Oxford, 1624

  • 1633

    John Donne, Juvenilia or Certain Paradoxes and Problems, London, 1633

  • 1651

    Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan or The Matter, Forme and Power of the Commonwealth Ecclesiastical and Civil, London, 1651

  • 1663

    John Eliot, The Holy Bible Containing The Old Testament and The New Translated into the Indian Language, Cambridge Mass., 1663 (the first complete Bible printed in N. America and the first printed in a Native American language)

  • 1674

    John Milton, Paradise Lost A Poem Written in Ten Books, London, 1669 (the division into the now familiar twelve books came with the second edition of 1674)

  • 1694

    John Locke, An Essay Concerning Humane Understanding, London, 1694 ('The Second Edition, with large Additions')

  • 1750

    Richard Saunders, Poor Richard improved: Being an almanack ... , Philadelphia, 1750

  • 1765

    Laurence Sterne, Tristram Shandy vol. VII, London, 1765 (the novel was published in nine volumes, 1760-67, with each copy of volumes V, VII, & IX signed by Sterne)

  • 1791

    Thomas Paine, Rights of Man, London, 1791

  • 1798

    William Wordsworth and S.T.Coleridge, Lyrical Ballads, with A Few Other Poems, London, 1798

  • 1798

    Thomas Malthus, An Essay on the Principle of Population, as it affects the Future Development of Society, London, 1798

  • 1823

    James Fenimore Cooper, The Pioneers or the Sources of the Susquehanna, London, 1823

  • 1848

    John Stuart Mill, Principles of Political Economy with some of their Applications to Social Philosophy, London, 1848

  • 1851

    Herman Melville, Moby-Dick; or, The Whale. , New York, 1851

  • 1852

    Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s cabin, or, Life among the lowly. , London, 1852

  • 1870

    Charles Dickens, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, London, 1870 (issued in monthly parts)

  • 1878

    Ralph Waldo Emerson, Fortune of the Republic, Boston, 1878

  • 1885

    Mark Twain, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, New York, 1885

  • 1916

    H.D., Sea Garden, London, 1916

  • 1928

    Robert Frost, West-Running Brook, New York, 1928

  • 1928

    Radclyffe Hall, The Well of Loneliness, with a commentary by Havelock Ellis, London, 1928 (a copy of the first edition which was quickly withdrawn and then ordered to be destroyed for reasons of 'immorality')

  • 1929

    Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms, New York, 1929

  • 1939

    James Joyce, Finnegans Wake, London & New York, 1939

  • 1940

    William Faulkner, The Hamlet, New York, 1940

  • 1952

    "Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man, New York, 1952

  • 1958

    Allen Ginsberg, Howl and other poems, San Francisco, 1958

  • 1973

    Erica Jong, Fear of Flying, New York, 1973

  • 1973

    Adrienne Rich, Diving into the Wreck; poems 1971-1972, New York, 1973

  • 1974

    James Baldwin, If Beale Street Could Talk, New York, 1974

  • 1976

    Maya Angelou, Singin’ and Swingin’ and Getting’ Merry like Christmas, New York, 1976

  • 1998

    Angela Y. Davis, Blues legacies and Black feminism: Gertrude 'Ma' Rainey, Bessie Smith, and Billie Holiday, New York, 1998

  • 1976

    Raymond Williams, Keywords, London, 1976