Wednesday, March 31, 2010

a history of the world

"What's fascinating about trying to tell a history through objects is that they go on to have lives and destinies never dreamt of by those who made them." - Neil MacGregor
Before I met Gloria, I'd never actually listened to a podcast before, much less any sort of talk radio.  Since I've developed an interest in both, I've discovered that my favourite programs are the ones she suggested.  So I don't know why it took me so long to get into this one.

It's called "A History of the World in 100 Objects" and it's fantastic.  A joint production of the British Museum and BBC4 Radio, each "episode" talks about a single object in the Museum's collection and what it tells us about what was happening in the world at that time.  If it sounds dull, trust me, it's not.  It's narrated by Neil MacGregor, the curator of the Museum, and in nearly every episode he brings in at least one other person to weigh in on the object.  Sometimes it's an archeologist, other times a modern artist or inventor.  In one memorable episode, it was Michael Palin.  He's really great about using easily relatable terms without dumbing things down too much.
There are two things I love best about this series.  The first is that he's great about emphasizing the common ancestry of the human race.  Yes, we're talking about an object from Mesopotamia, but it affects all of us.  The second is that far from coming across as a dry and British, he conveys a sort of child-like wonder about each object he discusses.  In many cases, he actually handles it and describe what it feels like to the touch.

I cannot recommend this series enough.  Seriously.  I listen to it in the car, while cooking, and especially while walking dogs.  Each episode clocks in at under 15 minutes, but don't expect each of those minutes to be filled with minutia about the object.  This series is all about taking the things that man has made and putting them in the context of everything man has done.  I hope you give it a shot.

Shown: Maya Maize God, the Standard of Ur.
Quote is from Neil MacGregor in this episode.  

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