The Written World

Here’s something to keep you occupied over the weekend.  [Will there be a quiz? – Ed]  Possibly…  The BBC magazine has an short and interesting, but un-embeddable, audio slide-show of Melvyn Bragg’s Radio 4 five-parter, In Our Time: The Written World

The British Library has more online information about the texts and technology featured in each of the programmes.  From Chinese oracle bones, the oldest items in the library, to 17th and 18th Century news books, news pamphlets and newspapers.  As they say in their introduction

In this series of five In Our Time radio programmes Melvyn Bragg tells the story of the written word from its origins in the Middle East 6,000 years ago to the present day. He discovers how the technology of writing has developed: from the earliest clay tablets to paper, the printing press and beyond. 

By examining and discussing some of the most important surviving texts, Melvyn and his guests explain how this most powerful of inventions has enabled the dissemination of thought worldwide. Many of the key texts discussed here are in the British Library, and the programme features extensive interviews with our expert curators.

Each part is about 30minutes long and is still available, for now, as a downloadable podcast [14Mb each].  The BBC’s audio slide-show features the 15th Century Gutenberg Bible, courtesy of the moveable type printing press – arguably one of the greatest human innovations.  They also have images from the handwritten notebooks of Isaac Newton, dated 1661, when he was 18 years old.  Wondrous.

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  • HeinzGuderian

    If the Gutenberg Bible is one of the greatest human innovations………….then Gawd elp us !!! 🙁

  • Pete Baker


    Not the Gutenberg Bible. The moveable type printing press.

    But you knew that…

  • tuatha

    And yet, and yet… the first written documents, extant, were ledgers, bean counters for the temples & kings. Wotta sad start.
    Not forgetting that the first true :novel” (an utterly fictional time wasting diversion) was Feilding’s “tristam Shandy“.
    Wobblespear, eddas & mytholgoy were all embellishments of folk memory or pre-existing tropes.
    Now we’ve ‘advanced’ to Jackie Collins, Stephen King & Grisham.
    Gawd help us indeed.

  • The yokel

    As it says in the Good Book Pete, “caste not your pearls before swine”.
    Apart for that, I found the programmmes fascinating, and Mr Bragg almost bearable.

  • Matt

    Link no longer works, you can get the shows from

  • Rory Carr

    Not forgetting that the first true :novel” (an utterly fictional time wasting diversion) was Feilding’s “tristam Shandy“.

    Given that Don Quixote Volume I was published in 1605 and Robinson Crusoe in 1719 and that The Life and Times of Tristram Shandy was written by Laurence Sterne (not “Feilding”, whoever he may have been), perhaps we should forget entirely what you wrote and most particularly discount your opinion that it is “an utterly fictional time wasting diversion”

    Henry Fielding, an English novelist, however did publish in 1749 a novel, The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling which most certainly (and happily) is “an utterly fictional time wasting diversion”, and all the more to be recommended for that.