Myanmar, often still referred to by its old name of Burma, has a rich history and culture that is often overlooked because of its current political situation. The mostly rugged and mountainous landscape of Burma is sliced north to south by several great rivers, including the Irrawaddy which forms a large and productive delta as it flows into the sea. Historically, this rough landscape divided the population into numerous ethnic groups that roughly translate into the modern states of Burma today, though many smaller groups are not represented on the political map. The current population, numbering around forty-eight million, remains mostly scattered in the rural countryside, thus maintaining the country's ethnic and linguistic diversity. The official language of Burma is Burmese, though there are also dozens of other languages spoken by the various ethnic groups that make up the remainder of the population. Much of the population lives in rural farming communities; however there are a few large cities, such as Yangon (Rangoon) on the Irrawaddy River. Over time the Burmese people and several other groups in the area developed writing systems similar to many of their neighbors, such as Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos. These alphabets were borrowed from earlier writing systems brought out of India hundreds of years earlier. Many other groups lived without any writing until modern times.
Written literature in Burma began as engravings on stone many hundreds of years ago. These stone engravings were generally used to mark the extent of various ancient kingdoms' power over the area. Over time the use of other writing materials became popular, such as palm leaves, mulberry paper, different metals and even ivory on occasion. During the time of the old Burmese kingdoms, these manuscripts were used to record such things as religious teachings, royal chronologies, medicinal knowledge, and early literature in poetic verse. The methods of recording information on handwritten manuscripts have been passed down through the generations until today. In more recent times European explorers, traders and missionaries introduced printing to the people of Burma, especially when England took control of the area during the 1800's. Printing in Burma during the British period focused on official documents, though religious materials and some newspapers were produced. When Burma became an independent country after World War II the people of Burma were able to continue and expand their printing capacity. The number of publications produced in Burma initially grew but has slowed due to strict controls placed on the publishing industry by the military government. Along with information in printed formats, electronic information is also available, though Burma has been touched by the electronic revolution much less than many of its Southeast Asian neighbors. Even so, electronic documents are now being produced in the country at an increasing rate each year.