Texts in Context

Texts in Context is a rich and unusual collection of over 400 British Library texts. It includes menus for medieval banquets and handwritten recipes scribbled inside book covers. It opens up the first English dictionary ever written and explores the secret language of the Georgian underworld. It allows you to examine the shopping lists of the East India Company and to practise sentences from colonial phrasebooks. It presents smugglers' songs, rare dialect recordings, and the logbooks of 18th century trading ships.

These 'everyday' texts illustrate the many histories – social, cultural, economic, political, technical – within which language is used and produced. We have included a whole range of characters: cooks, clerks, publishers, tradesmen, lexicographers, sea captains, smugglers and quack doctors, to name a few. All the texts will allow you to explore how language varies with situation within as well as across time.

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Use the links below to explore the following themes:

Books for Cooks

600 years of recipes and remedies


Shipwrecks and Smuggling

The adventures of thieves, sailors and tradesmen



Varied perspectives on colonial life


Town and Tourists

travellers in search of sea, scenery and science.


Taking the Waters

Cures, quackery and the diversions of the spa

Dictionaries and Meanings

Dictionaries and Meanings

The history of word-collecting from spelling lists to slang