I meant to post this earlier, but hopefully the first episodes are still available; this week BBC Radio 4 is doing an interesting series on language:

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.

And here‘s the British Library page, with gorgeous illustrations.


  1. I love this image. Apparently by 1500 London already looked approximately as it does today. I could have found my way around without much difficulty, I think. And I love that although the landscape is drawn in a fairly naturalistic perspective, the figures are all over the place. They are shown at different scales. There’s obviously a narrative that explains several different incidents; the same person appears two or three times – it’s more like a movie than a photograph. As far as I know no artists are utilising this work, which is too bad, especially since (if you read the papers) everyone in Britain seems to hate contemporary art.

  2. Electric Dragon says

    All the episodes are available as podcasts from here: – but for some reason only until Monday.
    On the other hand, the whole of the current In Our Time series starting from last September is still available as podcast here: , and nearly all the episodes ever are available from the subject archive lists: go to and click on the “In Our Time Archive: [Category]” links

  3. Thanks so much, Electric Dragon. I was hunting all over for those.
    As he says, the last few months are available as podcasts. Everything earlier than that is available as streaming audio.

  4. Ah, I used to subscribe to that podcast, In Our Time. It ranged from fascinating to utterly boring, probably depending on my mood more than anything else — he’s a good host, Bragg, and he gets people who know their stuff. Thanks for putting this back on my radar, Hat. I’m sure you can get the whole series on iTunes, as well as dozens of other past shows.

  5. One hopes that it will be better than his awful series
    on the King James Bible.

  6. Thanks for the bbc link! Nice to listen to in the car when going to work.

  7. I love In Our Times. Thanks for reminding me that he was doing this!

  8. The BBC link no longer seems to work, so here’s another download location for the Written World:
    (I had no problem with his lecture on the KJ Bible; in fact I thought it was nice to hear him give personal opinions rather than defer to experts for a change.)

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