Tuesday, 26 October 2010


An autumnal sadness envelopes Mr Gnome (and me) as Radio 4's A History of the World in 100 Objects comes to an end.

I love the slightly wonky optimism of the project: to tell the story-so-far of humanity through a selection of 100 items in the collection of the British Museum. Each object to be the focus of its own programme. A radio programme.

What next? Mime hour on Radio 3?

As it turns out the series of 15-minute programmes has been revelatory, intriguing, entertaining, often deeply moving - and totally addictive.

My impression is that the series is very much the brain-child of its presenter and script-writer: Neil MacGregor, the Director of the BM.

Wisely, I think, there was no advance list of the objects chosen: just the basic fact that they were to be presented in roughly chronological order from flint cutting implement (2) to solar-powered battery (100).

And unfolding all the way was the intriguing paradox of our relationship with the things we create: mastery and dependence.

Egyptian mummy case, Roman silver cup, fabric fragment from ancient Peru, defaced penny, jade bead: each item was fascinating in itself.

But the revelatory aspect (and for me the series' triumph) was MacGregor's gradual, step-by-step, drawing out of the interconnections between the objects: through trade, through conquest, through the impulse to worship - and the simple wish to make life better.

All of which makes one powerfully aware of how much human beings have in common with one another: across the gulfs of time, and the divisions of culture, ideology and belief systems. And for anyone contemplating the 'image of God' aspect of humanity - well, in terms of food for thought, MacGrgeor serves up a feast.

Any university could do worse than require all students to listen to the series before beginning formal studies.

And, as with all good radio, I've felt that the programmes were planned with me in mind - and that each evening I've had the opportunity to drop in at the BM for fifteen minutes with a brainy, funny, unpatronising friend.

The whole series is available for download in podcast format. If you've not tried it, why not give it a go?

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