Things of History, History of Things

I have just started listening to an new podcast from the BBC, A History of the World in 100 Objects, written and narrated by Neil MacGregor, Director of the British Museum. Aside from the obvious reductionism and the occasionally irritating interstitials (lots of ambient chanting and pan flute music), the show is excellent, taking one hundred objects from the British Museum’s collections to tell the history of the world from the point of view of its material culture. MacGregor is a natural, and his guests—fellow curators, historians, archaeologists, anthropologists, and others—are engaging story tellers.

Yet even more interesting from an educational point of view are the live “readings” of artifacts these scholars provide, demonstrating to the audience just how experts tease knowledge from primary source objects. This is much the lesson we at CHNM attempted in our Object of History collaboration with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. The focus was narrower—six iconic objects in U.S. History—but the idea was the same: objects have histories and their curators very particular expertise in bringing those histories to light.

One Reply to “Things of History, History of Things”

  1. This is a really great podcast. It’s especially cool when MacGregor and his collaborators use the objects not only to look at a specific period, but to explore how the meanings of objects change over time (the episode on the Elgin Marbles comes immediately to mind here). I think this series could be a good teaching tool for world history survey courses, not to mention a neat way to introduce new public history students to the uses of material culture.

    My only gripe is that I wish the cover art changed to depict each episode’s object – I often listen to them while out of wireless range and it would be nice to have the visual at hand during the podcast.

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