'Paper is integral to every sphere of thought' - Professor James Daybell

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What do you think has been a revolutionary invention that has changed the way we live?

 As part of our Revolutions season, we invite top academics from the University of Plymouth to make a case for what they believe to be a revolutionary invention that has changed the world. Here Professor James Daybell makes the case for paper.

Paper is without doubt one of the most important inventions of all time. Ever since it was first manufactured in ancient China, as a cheaper and more versatile alternative to papyrus, paper has been a technology at the forefront of revolutions, educational as well as political, personal as well as global.

Paper after all is what has underpinned most knowledge systems around the world; indeed archived knowledge would not exist without it. Think not simply of a humble sheet of Basildon Bond, but rather view paper as a material that was integral to printing, and therefore to every sphere of thought. It was central to the advancement of scientific progress, the discovery of the self and what it is to be human.

Paper is linked to the development and spread of political, religious and economic ideas; and allied to literary, cultural and artistic production. As societies shifted from oral to literate, writing permitted more complex modes of organisation, and social advancement. The very act of writing too restructures thought, and all of this relies, you've guessed it, on paper.

James Daybell is Professor of Early Modern British History at Plymouth, where he is Director of the Arts and Humanities Research Institute and Fellow of the Royal Historical Society. He has produced eight books including Tudor Women Letter-Writers (Oxford University Press, 2006), Women and Politics in Early Modern England (2004), and The Material Letter (2012). He has written more than 35 articles and essays on topics ranging from Renaissance letter-writing, Elizabethan politics, and secret codes, to the family and archives. He is co-presenter with the BBC's Sam Willis of the chart-topping podcast Histories of the Unexpected, part of Dan Snow's History Hit Network.

Read the competing cases made on ultrasound scanning, photography, the transistor and semi-conductor, and join us for the live debate on Tuesday 6 February in The House, where you get to cast your vote. Follow the conversation online with #RevInventions.


'Revolutionary Inventions' season at Peninsula Arts

Recognising that the revolutionary theme not only speaks to political change, we asked our programmers and academic colleagues to think about revolution in terms of inventions – those life-changing, ingenious and innovative inventions that alter the course of history forever. Of course technological inventions do not happen in isolation, they are often linked to social and cultural shifts with one usually preceding the other. Our programme attempts to look at these cultural and technological connections.

It is also important to remember that inventions are just that – invented – they are constructs of human interactions and relations, borne out of questioning, observation, study and sometimes argument.

Animal Condensed by Jennet Thomas