Egyptian hieroglyphs carved in stone, medieval manuscripts, gold-laden Japanese calligraphy, iconic fonts and even emojis: the British Library’s new show promises to take us on a 5000-year exploration of – yep you guessed it – the written word.
The exhibition charts the evolution of writing through technology and innovation with examples from over 30 different writing systems, including Greek, Chinese and Arabic.
Works by famous hands, such as the final diary entry by Scott of the Antarctic and James Joyce’s autograph notes for Ulysses, sits alongside tools belonging to unknown everyday people, including early 19th century Burmese tattooing instruments and modern reed pens, which will be seen in new light.
Many items will be going on display for the first time, such as an 1,800-year-old ancient wax tablet containing a schoolchild’s homework as they struggle to learn their Greek letters (see main pic, above); a 60,000 strong petition from 1905 protesting against the first partition of Bengal, signed in Bengali and English; Mozart’s catalogue of his complete musical works from 1784-1791, featuring his handwriting and musical notation; and Alexander Fleming’s autograph notebook recording his discovery of penicillin from 1928.
In short, this interactive exhibition helps us reflect on writing’s future and role in an increasingly digital world. Will we abandon pens and keyboards forever soon? Head here to better inform your guess.
Image: Schoolchild’s homework in Greek on a wax tablet. Photo: British Library