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Words on a Page

   2020    History
Writing itself is 5,000 years old, and for most of that time words were written by hand using a variety of tools. The Romans were able to run an empire thanks to documents written on papyrus. Scroll books could be made quite cheaply and, as a result, ancient Rome had a thriving written culture. With the fall of the Roman Empire, papyrus became more difficult to obtain. Europeans were forced to turn to a much more expensive surface on which to write: Parchment. Medieval handwritten books could cost as much as a house, they also represent a limitation on literacy and scholarship.
No such limitations were felt in China, where paper had been invented in the second century. Paper was the foundation of Chinese culture and power, and for centuries how to make it was kept secret. When the secret was out, paper mills soon sprang up across central Asia. The result was an intellectual flourishing known as the Islamic Golden Age. Muslim scholars made discoveries in biology, geology, astronomy and mathematics. By contrast, Europe was an intellectual backwater.
That changed with Gutenberg’s development of movable type printing. The letters of the Latin alphabet have very simple block-like shapes, which made it relatively simple to turn them into type pieces. When printers tried to use movable type to print Arabic texts, they found themselves hampered by the cursive nature of Arabic writing. The success of movable type printing in Europe led to a thousand-fold increase in the availability of information, which produced an explosion of ideas that led directly to the European Scientific Revolution and the Industrial Revolution that followed.
Series: The Secret History of Writing

Out of the Darkness

       History
The third assault on the tattered remains of Roman civilization came from even further North, where the melting glacial ice had created immense sheltered fjords, leaving its inhabitants little choice but the sea. These fearless navigators understood that dominion over the oceans was the key to their ambitions.
Where the Romans expanded incrementally, the Vikings adopted a bolder, more aggressive approach. So was it the Dark Age which failed Europe, or the stifling uniformity of the great Roman experiment? Were the lost tribes more victim than failure? Richard Rudgley will hope to shed new light on the real secrets of the so-called Dark Age.
Series: Barbarians: Secrets of the Dark Ages

Mystery of the Black Mirror

   2021    History
The Obsidian Mirror is a mysterious artefact crafted from volcanic rock, and it's said to be a device used to communicate with supernatural beings; experts use cutting-edge tech to discover who made this strange relic and why.
A golden disc can answer the biggest mystery of all: Are we alone in the universe? The Voynich manuscript is one enormous puzzle. What secrets are hidden in this bizarre 600 year old book that nobody can read?
Series: Strangest Things
The Normans
The Normans

   2010    History
Human universe
Human universe

   2014    Technology
The Truth About
The Truth About

   2018    Medicine
The Real History of Science Fiction
The Real History of Science Fiction

   2014    Technology
Building Giants
Building Giants

   2019    Technology
Japan Earth Enchanted Islands
Japan Earth Enchanted Islands

   2017    Nature
In Search of
In Search of

   2018    Technology
Bronze Age
Bronze Age

   2016    History