I have long been fascinated with what objects tell us about their makers and owners, about their daily lives and their aspirations, about what they choose to commemorate personally and publicly, how the objects they fashion reflect the lives they’ve fashioned—an image of themselves made tangible, and perhaps used as a standard to live up to or disown.
In 2010, BBC Radio 4 developed a radio broadcast (and also a website and book) in which Neil MacGregor examined 100 objects in the British Museum from all over the world spanning the breadth of human history. The objects were grouped into sets of five, each focusing on a theme: religion, economy, manufacturing, exploration, status symbols, trade and so forth.
Together they form an imperfect history, merely fragmented and often incomprehensible messages from our ancestors, messages distorted not only by time and ignorance but often purposefully by those who came afterward in shaping their own vision of the world.
As MacGregor says, this series can only ever be A history of the world. Select a different 100 objects and you’d have a different story. And any single object represents different things to different generations. As our understanding about the context within which it was created changes, our perspective alters. Sometimes we learn more; sometimes we forget what was once obvious.
I was fortunate to see some of these objects in the fall of 2013. The other day as I was dusting off my bookshelves, I came across the book that accompanied the series and lost myself in it again.
The radio shows are still available via podcast for free.
100 British Museum Objects
A link of the “exhibit” at the British Museum…which is a better organized website. It’s not an exhibit in the traditional sense as the objects are not gathered into one location. One has to hunt all over the museum for them which is as fun as any treasure hunt, although it did not enable me to see them all in one day.
A History of the World in 100 Objects