Discover the extraordinary story behind one of humankind’s greatest achievements. We take you from the very origins of writing 5,000 years ago, charting its evolution through the tools we use, the skills we foster and the craft we contribute to.

Our journey continues into the digital age, where we explore our relationship with writing today and in the future. Will we abandon pens and keyboards in favour of new technologies, or continue to carry the legacy of ancient times with us?


Handwriting on a manuscript

The evolution of writing – 5000 BC to today

How, and why, does writing change over time?

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A child's handwriting

Why handwriting is still essential in the keyboard age

From using a fountain pen to depending solely on electronic tools, Angela Webb examines the case for continuing to write by hand and asks where society will take handwriting in the future.

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Two scribes at work

Why did humans start writing?

We travel back to the ancient Middle East, to look at why, over 5,000 years ago, we first came to write.

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Hieroglyphics on a tablet

Where did writing begin?

From Mesopotamia to the Americas, discover how different regions around the world adopted writing at different times and for different reasons.

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Curator favourites

Discover what our curators selected as their favourite collection items relating to writing.

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Blog posts

2020 New Media Writing Prize is Open

Monday, October 5, 2020

The New Media Writing Prize (NMWP) is in an annual international award, which encourages and promotes the best in new media writing; showcasing innovative digital fiction, poetry and journalism. The types of interactive writing that we have been examining, researching...

‘Using your eyes as a pen’ – Black British Poets in Performance

Thursday, October 1, 2020

By Dr Hannah Silva, British writer and performer and Leverhulme Early Career Research Fellow at Queen Mary, University of London. Paula Varjack selfie. “What you actually do is you use your eyes as a pen,” David J is telling me...

Recording of the week: Another side of Laurence Binyon

Monday, September 14, 2020

This week's selection comes from Steve Cleary, Lead Curator of Literary and Creative Recordings. Portrait of Laurence Binyon - lithograph by Sir William Rothenstein, 1898. © The Trustees of the British Museum, released as CC BY-NC-SA 4.0. Poet and scholar...

BL Labs Public Awards 2020: enter before 0700 GMT Monday 30 November 2020!

Friday, September 11, 2020

The sixth BL Labs Public Awards 2020 formally recognises outstanding and innovative work that has been carried out using the British Library’s data and / or digital collections by researchers, artists, entrepreneurs, educators, students and the general public. The closing...

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