12 October 2010

Step By Step

I totally intended this first 'proper' post of mine to be an amazing intellectual discussion of an important issue - particularly as I had a couple of guilty twinges when reading Arcadian's fantastic post! However, events sort of overtook me, and I think I'm going to have to use this post to tell anyone who hasn't heard yet about an amazing thing currently going on in British culture.

The BBC and The British Museum have joined forces to produce a project called A History of The World (in 100 Objects). It does what it says on the tin: the BBC are producing 100 15 min long radio programmes - also downloadable from itunes FREE as podcasts! - written and narrated by Neil MacGregor, director of the British museum, tracing the history of our world (us humans) through the objects we have made and used over the last 2 million years. Each episode looks at one object from the British museum and details what we can tell from it - who made it, what it was used for etc - and what that says about our development as a species.

Now I appreciate that not everyone is a history nerd or BBC fangirl, but I challenge any one of you to download any one of the episodes available (we're now in the early 80's with an early victorian tea set) FREE (did I say that?) and not be intrigued.

The reason I'm a little bit obsessed at the moment is that somehow, despite being a history nerd and BBC fangirl, I managed to miss this until now. This project has been running since January, so I have quite a bit to catch up on. Despite seeing many posters, and hearing about it, it was only on one of my many ridiculously long commutes to work a couple of weeks ago that I managed to stumble accross an episode on BBC. After 15 mins of hearing why spanish silver pieces of eight represent the first international trading company and one of the first financial bubbles you'd think I'd be asleep at the wheel. Not the case. What MacGregor does skilfully is make even the slightes detail sound interesting - and most importantly, guides the listener through an actual history of the world. This isn't an account of all the stuff the British have looted over the years (though that element of colonialism is certainly acknowledged) - it's a genuine account of the way we as a species have developed. Each five objects is grouped into 'topics' such as 'After the Ice Age: Food and Sex' (9000-3500 BC), or 'Exploration, Exploitation and Enlightenment' (1680-1820 AD) rather than countries of origin, and MacGregor draws on every aspect of the object to build a picture of what was going on globally as well as in the minds of the makers. Because we're looking at objects - from the most richly decorated statues, to a mundane clay bowl - rather than wars or rulers the effect is of accessible fluidity, time moving on regardless of dynastys, countries or calenders.

I've listened to the first 15 episodes, and in those brief snapshots I feel like I've learned more about history in general than any attempt at school to fill my head with dates and names. And I want to learn more. And more. And more. And it sounds trite, but in these little glimpses into the lives of humans living and working and dying thousands of years ago has made me think about how far, and how not far we've come. We're still identified and to a certain extent defined by the objects we choose to make and keep around us. To me, that's what good history - or good anything - does. Makes you think, and then want more.

Have a listen, and let me know what you think. I'm going to go and find out about Mesopotamian writing tablet.

No comments:

Post a Comment