What Is Writing?

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Writing and Civilization - From Ancient Worlds to Modernity Course
The written word is so central to our lives that it can seem as if it has always existed. Yet writing is a relatively recent invention. Trace the remarkable saga of "visible speech" from its earliest origins to its future in the digital age. In this thrilling journey, you'll explore…
The Uruk Vase—Vision of an Ordered World
In Mesopotamia, writing was developed 5,000 years ago, alongside the first narrative art, which set the stage for everything that followed in the Western art historical tradition. The registers on the Uruk Vase tell the story of civilization and reveal a hierarchical world as seen by one of the most…
Mycenaean Linear B—An Aegean Syllabary
Episode 17 of Writing and Civilization
How did the decipherment of Linear B change perceptions of ancient Aegean civilization? Why are epigraphers still perplexed by many Linear B spellings? Wade into the discovery, decipherment, and contents of this intriguing ancient writing system--Europe's earliest attempt at writing--and measure it against what you've learned about decipherment of Egyptian…
What Is Decipherment?
The earliest writing systems are known to us only through the efforts of archaeological decipherment. But how can archaeologists be certain that the knowledge is accurate? Learn a bit of history on cryptography and the differences between decipherers and code-breakers as you examine the theory and methodology of decipherment, as…
What Does Cuneiform Say?
Episode 16 of Writing and Civilization
See how scholars revealed a lost world of language and literature when they expanded upon Grotefend's breakthroughs by relating Old Persian to the ancient cuneiform scripts that preceded it. Next, trace the development of writing through 3,500 years of Mesopotamian history, and consider what ancient texts such as The Epic…
The Origins and Development of Writing
Now that you understand the significance of writing, explore three popular beliefs or myths about where writing comes from and how it developed. Investigate the theories of monogenesis versus polygenesis--whether writing was only invented once or independently in locations around the world--and the reasons writing systems are resistant to change.
Medium and Message
Episode 23 of Writing and Civilization
Whether on papyrus, bamboo, clay, stone, or wood, writing shows an important relationship between medium and message. Explore the influence media have had on writing's shape, direction, and use by delving into the origins of terms used for writing implements, the process for making papyrus, the phasing out of scrolls…
Etruscan Government
Episode 14 of The Mysterious Etruscans
Reflect on the Etruscan form of government, which shifted from tyranny to a kind of city-state democracy. Examine some of the limitations of their democracy--especially in the realm of defense against Roman invaders. Then consider how much the Etruscan government and its symbols informed Rome, and therefore much of Western…
What Do the Mayan Glyphs Say?
Episode 19 of Writing and Civilization
How can the strikingly similar structural features of the Mayan and ancient Egyptian writing systems be explained? Continue your exploration of how Mayan writing works through a comparison with Egyptian hieroglyphs. Then find out what scholars have learned about ancient Maya civilization from decipherment, and examine a series of fascinating--and…
Han'gul, Tengwar, and Other Featural Scripts
Episode 22 of Writing and Civilization
Move from writing systems that developed over time to scripts that were deliberately designed by an individual or group, often for use as a universal system. See how these "featural" writing systems betray their intentional design through an examination of examples including Korean Han'gul, Lodwick's Universall Alphabet, and J. R.…
The Future of Writing
Episode 24 of Writing and Civilization
Will typing replace handwriting? Will e-books make printed books obsolete? Will speech-to-text software replace our need to physically write at all? Join Professor Zender as he speculates about the future of writing based on past developments, from the invention of movable type to new signs and spelling conventions inspired by…
Old Persian—Cuneiform Deciphered
Episode 15 of Writing and Civilization
Meet Georg Grotefend, a German high school teacher who made an incomparable contribution to the study of ancient writing and civilization. As you investigate the methods he used to decipher Old Persian cuneiform in the Achaemenid texts of Persepolis, delve into a bit of history on this culture's language and…