Martin Puchner is the Byron and Anita Wien Professor of Drama and of English and Comparative Literature at Harvard University. His books and anthologies range from philosophy to the arts, including The Drama of Ideas: Platonic Provocations in Theater and Philosophy (Callaway Award), Poetry of the Revolution: Marx, Manifestos, and the Avant-Gardes (James Russell Lowell Award) and Stage Fright: Modernism, Anti-Theatricality, and Drama. His best-selling Norton Anthology of World Literature and his HarvardX MOOC have brought 4000 years of literature to students across the globe. His forthcoming book, The Written World, tells the story of literature from the invention of writing to the Internet.
While global histories of commodities such as cod --“the fish that changed the world”-- and of inventions --“Guns, Germs, and Steel”-- have become popular bestsellers, there is no global history of literature or its underlying technologies. The paper will attempt to supply snapshots of such a history with particular attention to the ways in which changes in writing surfaces, including clay, papyrus, parchment, and paper have impacted written story-telling. Which genres and texts have been early adopts of new materials? How does writing incorporate oral storytelling? Case studies include Mesopotamia, Mesoamerica, the Middle East, and Western Africa.