In the beginning was the word

Euclid, Elementa geometriae - opening page

  • British Library treasures help tell the epic story of the written word
  • In Our Time: The Written World, BBC R4, 9.00am Jan 2 – Jan 6 2012

Treasures including 3,000-year-old oracle bones, the earliest surviving intact European book and a Royalist newspaper from the English Civil War will be used to help tell the remarkable history of the written word in a five-part BBC Radio 4 series to air in the first week of January 2012.

“In Our Time: The Written World” is presented by Melvyn Bragg and will feature some of the most spectacular items held by the British Library, each representing a turning point in the development of written culture. The series includes extensive interviews with the Library’s expert curators, providing insights into the development and spread of written culture – from the dawn of recorded history to the printing press and beyond.

See: www.bl.uk/whatson/permgall/treasures/writtenworld.html

Broadcast over five consecutive mornings, the series looks at the technology of writing and its evolution, the invention of the codex (what we think of today as a ‘book’), the role of sacred texts in the spread of religions, the transition from an oral to a written literary culture, and the surprising story of how science owes its very existence to writing.

British Library items featured include:

  • Codex Sinaiticus – the world’s oldest Bible
  • Beowulf – the earliest medieval manuscript of the Anglo-Saxon epic
  • The Diamond Sutra – the world’s earliest dated printed work
  • The Gutenberg Bible – the masterwork of the inventor of printing with moveable type
  • Chinese oracle bones – more than 3,000 years old and the oldest item in the British Library

Many of these items can be viewed in the free permanent exhibition Treasures of the British Library in the Sir John Ritblat Gallery, in the Library’s flagship building at St Pancras. See: www.bl.uk/whatson/exhibitions/index.html

Notes to Editors:

For images of the British Library items featured in “In Our Time: The Written World” contact Ben Sanderson at the British Library Press Office: 078100 56848 ben.sanderson@bl.uk or visit http://pressandpolicy.bl.uk/

For more information contact:

  • Ben Sanderson
  • The British Library
  • t:+44 (0) 1937 546 126
  • m:+44 (0) 7810 056848
  • f:+44 (0) 20 7412 7168
  • e: ben.sanderson@bl.uk


The British Library is the national library of the United Kingdom and one of the world's greatest research libraries. It provides world class information services to the academic, business, research and scientific communities and offers unparalleled access to the world's largest and most comprehensive research collection. The Library's collection has developed over 250 years and exceeds 150 million separate items representing every age of written civilisation and includes books, journals, manuscripts, maps, stamps, music, patents, photographs, newspapers and sound recordings in all written and spoken languages. Up to 10 million people visit the British Library website - www.bl.uk - every year where they can view up to 4 million digitised collection items and over 40 million pages.  



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