The Written Word

The Writing Project
Connections, Communities, Cultures

The written word connects us to each other in the present, gives us access to the past, and opens us to possible futures. It influences our lives in ways both subtle and inescapable. And it gives us entry ways into understanding ourselves and others.

The written word tells us about community – our own and others. We learn about values, the desires of individuals, and the meanings of events, objects, and actions as we read books and newspapers, recite poetry, or read something as simple as a short blurb for a film. Sometimes we have no choice which words we encounter – think of street signs, political or commercial billboards, store shingles, graffiti, or magazine headlines. Yet while we may not be conscious of their presence, or their effect on us, the written word surrounds us every day, and has been significant since humans first picked up a piece of charcoal, a stylus, a quill, a pen – or a computer word processing program.

In essence, the written word is at the center of culture. In it resides all we think and feel, all things we hold dear, all things we fear. And it reveals for us all that we can be.

What are the many ways the written word matters? How and why is writing such a central component of culture? What different ways has writing figured into the identity of groups, nations, societies around the world and through time? How do we – and how does any historically bounded culture – grasp the past and the future through words? What do we learn about our ancestors through their writings? Why does it matter to us? How does it matter? These and other questions will be at the heart of this project as we explore many different ways the written word has been at the core of civilizations and its (dis)contents throughout history.

Unlike a spoken utterance which once uttered vanishes into the past, written words can be held, held accountable, and held up for scrutiny, praise, derision, or honor. Words have the power to shape all aspects of ourselves, our shared community, and our shared humanity. Written words focus this power and manifest it in often permanent forms that have lasting impact on the world in both negative and positive ways.

This project aims to break open the every-day-ness and the taken-for-granted fact of writing. It is generally the mediator, the go-between, and the way information is transferred between here and there, past and present (and future), and you and me. Our goal is to step aside and look at it as the actual method of conveyance, and begin to understand how it shapes our understanding of the world.

Investigating the written word means digging deep in the collective psyche, throughout history, of humankind. As we break writing down and see its inner workings, we see the inner workings of our own past, how and why we think as we do and how that shapes our present, and how we can use this knowledge to write the future.

Issues and Research Streams
Because the written word is so versatile, and because it can be and has been the vehicle for thousands of writers and millions of ideas, the possibilities for exploration are seemingly endless. As well, the cross-overs are multiple. One of the issues surrounding both the concept, and the reality, of the written word is that we take for granted its presence without understanding fully its potential for power – for shaping who we are and what we think, and for what it will say about us when our written words become the stuff of history.

We will be developing the research streams listed below, as well as adding more as they come to the fore, and we invite ideas and suggestions for research into these categories, as well as those which seem to be generative in their combinations. The list is set up hierarchically, with larger categories having solid buttons and the subcategories below them are separate possible streams within the whole. Some crossovers are listed; many more are possible.

  • Personal writing
    • Love letters
    • Epistolary writing
    • Therapeutic writing (journals, diaries, more)
    • Blogging
  • Online Words
    • Writing online: similarities/differences to other forms
    • Blogs – popularity, gateways to other forms of artistic production, fame
    • Digital archives of heretofore unavailable documents
  • Inspirational / Spiritual Writing
    • Bible / biblically-inspired
      • Illuminated manuscripts
    • Gnostic traditions
    • Parables, myths, poetry
  • Medical literature
    • In fiction
    • In medical tracts
    • Dying words
    • Wills (?)
  • Dramatic writing
    • Famous playwrights
    • Plays
  • Hidden literature
    • Slave tales
    • Women’s stories
    • Children’s writing
  • The (un)Written Word
    • images/cave pictures
    • symbols
    • icons / iconography
    • narrative traditions / oral histories
  • Writing from the ‘other’ side
    • Displaced populations
    • Diasporic populations
  • Historical Writing
    • Traditional memoir
    • Autobiography
    • Biography
    • Margin notes in historical documents
    • History tracts
    • Long-lost documents and/or the discovery thereof
  • Genres – Fiction
    • Literary genres and how they shift and change
    • The development of the Novel
    • The cultural significance of the revolving popularity of various genres: Science fiction, horror, romance, murder mystery, detective, etc.
      • Examples:
        • Zombie literature that draws from historical persons (Abraham Lincoln) or canonical writers (Jane Austen)
        • Post-apocalyptic writing
        • Werewolves
        • Vampires
        • The current fascination with Sherlock Holmes
      • Graphic novels
    • Political writing
      • Speeches
      • National founding documents
      • Nationalistic tracts
      • Resistance
      • Cultural theory / philosophies
      • Writing and Protest
        • Graffiti
      • Satire
      • Post-apocalyptic writing
    • Writing as art
      • Graffiti
      • Calligraphy
      • Other
    • Writing spaces
      • Rooms of one’s own
      • Coffee shop writing
      • Writing workshops/retreats
    • Literacy
      • The role of literacy in various cultures
      • Illiteracy / literacy as values
    • Disability and Writing
      • Braille
      • Other tactile writing / learning
    • The History of Writing
      • Materials
        • Stone, Parchment, Vellum, Paper, CDs…
      • Preferred writing subjects vs. those avoided
      • Writing and / as learning
      • Travel literature
      • Writing as inculcator of culture
        • Children’s books
        • Magazines / Tabloids
        • Dear Abbey columns or similar
        • Music lyrics
      • Tangential to Writing
        • Diversity of languages
        • Translations
        • Links to culture
        • Links to identity

While I as the project director will take an active role in all of the above, the Research Streams I will be developing in particular are:

  • The demise of cursive writing; connecting this to the past through the lost arts of illuminated manuscripts and calligraphy
  • Circuses / Freak shows / Teratology
  • Writing in Stone: Renaissance and Mannerist Gardens in Italy
  • Monks’ marginal doodling in Medieval illuminated manuscripts
  • Creative Writing Workshops

While writing is at the core of our Selves, our identity as a people, our sense of history, it is a relatively recent development in the trajectory of human development. A fascinating Research Stream might be something related to PRE-history, where the term literally means ‘that period of time before writing.’ Something perhaps called:

  • Identity and the absence of the written word

Outcomes, Events and Activities
The written word lends itself to publication; our activities, therefore, will include that both as an end result of conferences, seminars, workshops, research, and interaction with others, as well as an end in and of itself.

Possible Events include

  • Creative Writing Workshops
  • Creative Writing Courses
  • Readings of plays, screenplays, poetry
  • Accompanied tours
    • public talks
    • museums
    • archives,
    • repositories
    • cathedrals
  • IDN Consultancy
    • Writing projects

The above-mentioned conferences, seminars and workshops will be offered based on your submissions for inclusion, and we will schedule them and launch on this website; please be sure to check back often, and / or subscribe to our Written Word newsletter.

Who Should Get Involved?
Because writing and culture are so intimately entwined, this Project covers a lot of ground. Anyone who uses the written word – whether for communication, for learning, for straight transference of information, or for the magic found in the unfolding of meanings – participates in the meaning-making of culture. When we take it one step further and turn to look at writing as a cultural artefact in and of itself, we realize it is alive and brimming with possibilities.

At IDN we welcome the participation of writers of all kinds, researchers and thinkers about the written word, theorists, and backyard scribes. We invite those who have wondered just what that graffiti artist was trying to say as well as those who have written tomes on the subject of writing for the masses. Whether you are an academic, an independent scholar, a writer, a linguist, a reader of literary or genre fiction, or creative non-fiction, we hope to hear from you. Ultimately, anyone who feels strongly about the written word and its myriad of potential meanings, its place in, or resistance to, identity and culture and meaning, and/or its use in the everyday business of living – past, present, or future – is welcome.

(As a function of where and how this Project was created, our focus tends to be on the so-called ‘Western Tradition’ of writing; this does not and should not preclude other possibilities for study, and we welcome other insights and proposals.)

Tell us what you think! Send us an idea – or two or three! We welcome your perspectives, your thoughts, and your passion.