The Written World - A History of Writing
January 6, 2012 9:42 PM   Subscribe

The Written World is a five part radio series put together by Melyvn Bragg as part of the In Our Time BBC radio project. The programmes look at the history of written word, and how it has shaped our intellectual history. Each episode is available as a podcast and has an accompanying page (1 2 3 4 5) with images and links for further exploration. Also: The books that shaped history (narrated slideshow); the British Library page.

posted by carter (11 comments total) 41 users marked this as a favorite
Cool post! I'm about halfway through the audio series. Also this, from one of Newton's notebooks:

I took a bodkin and put it betwixt my eye and the bone as close to the backside of my eye as I could: & pressing on my eye with the end of it (so as to make the curvature of ABCDEF in my eye) there appeared several white dark and colored circles...

Man, enlightenment science was fucking metal.

posted by Rinku at 11:15 PM on January 6, 2012 [5 favorites]

I've been listening to the podcast of this while plodding along at the gym, and have enjoyed it a lot... but its worth pointing out that that the series is unashamedly western centric (and specifically an "artefacts currently in the UK" centric).

There are several occasions when Melvyn mentions that the artefact they're discussing is pre-dated by a similar one in China/Arabia/Wherever which is hundreds/thousands of years earlier.

I don't mind this at all and thought it was a great series... others may find it irksome.
posted by samworm at 12:47 AM on January 7, 2012

I listened to the first two of these yesterday at work. Sometimes doing lots of dull cell culture has its perks. I'm really enjoying it so far, although I did notice the UK-centric thing samworm mentions.
posted by shelleycat at 5:45 AM on January 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've enjoyed the first two, and many others from this source. However, I am unable to download the rest of the series. I'm subscribed on Google reader, but the third segment is not working and I cannot find this series on their podcast page. Anybody have suggestions? I don't use itunes.

posted by charlesminus at 8:19 AM on January 7, 2012

Charlesminus - they're all five available at the podcast page; just downloaded them.
posted by Devonian at 8:23 AM on January 7, 2012

This is great, thanks!
posted by iamkimiam at 8:32 AM on January 7, 2012

The bias towards the West and particularly the UK is fair enough, I think, given that it's the BBC and this is a domestic programme for an audience with a marked preference for UK culture. You don't get very many thousand words in a half-hour radio slot, and it's a big subject.

Also, I'm still on the first episode and we haven't even got onto the Latin alphabet, so aside for dipping into the British Museum and British Library (both a short bus ride from Broadcasting House, after all, and the budget for the shows won't be huge) the dread implied imperialism has yet to surface. I suppose the fact that the BM's acquisitions policy has been a bit aggressively non-consensual in the past might count.

(A little part of me is going - aha, yes, cultural bias, this is what it's like, America! But I don't know of any equivalent documentary series from outside the UK - do any other Anglophone broadcasters have something similar to listen to? I'm woefully unaware of much outside the flagship NPR programming, mostly because BBC Radios 3 and 4 tend to produce enough to keep up with. Pointers more than welcome.)
posted by Devonian at 8:37 AM on January 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Wonderful! thanks muchly.
posted by unliteral at 6:19 PM on January 7, 2012

If you're looking for a less uk-centric treatment of this topic, I really enjoyed the book Proust and the Squid. It covers the emergence and evolution of written language across the world, linking it to to the neuroscience of how we read, and how that changes for different (eg logographic vs alphabetic) languages. The last chapter then goes off on a bit of a tangent to talk about dyslexia from that perspective The author is a neuroscientist studying how we learn written language, so the digression makes sense for the book.

Really fascinating stuff and, IMO, well written.
posted by metaBugs at 2:20 AM on January 8, 2012

I should point out that I wasn't bothered by the cultural bias at all, just that I noticed it. It does make sense that a BBC series will cover stuff that's mostly located in the UK and near their studio and I'm fine with that. I just found myself noticing and thinking about the really clear bias along with noticing and thinking about all the other things they presented.

I like the In Our Time show in general although it's not one I can listen to every week. I found this a refreshing change to the format which I wouldn't mind seeing more of (although I don't want the studio discussions to stop). In general I rather like Melvyn Bragg's somewhat gentle style of interviewing and guiding the discussion and I get something out of even the shows about things I don't really care about.
posted by shelleycat at 6:49 AM on January 8, 2012

A few weeks on, Devonian's link no longer seems to work. Here's another place to download the series. Great stuff, thanks for FPPing it, Carter.
posted by Busy Old Fool at 7:19 AM on January 28, 2012

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