100 objects, no computer?
June 10, 2012 9:52 PM   Subscribe

"A History of the World in 100 Objects" was a joint project between BBC Radio 4 and the British Museum that aired in the first part of 2010 (covered here previously). The show takes on the history of human civilization through 100 objects collected by the British Museum.

The award winning series of 100 15 minute episodes is fully available for your immediate consumption as a podcast. The website for the series also features high-resolution pictures of all the objects in the series, a timeline of all the objects, and categorization by era, material, or even color.

Experts on each object are frequently consulted, but the producers also took time to interview modern artists and craftsmen of similar objects and materials to try to understand to feelings and skills of the creators.

Some of my favorites:

An Indus Seal, from an advanced ancient civilization (2500-2000BC) that was only recently rediscovered in 1924. The language has not yet been translated.

An otter-shaped tobacco pipe from Ohio (200BC-100AD) in which the otter seems to smile at its owner as it is smoked.

A Ming banknote from 1375AD, one of the first examples of paper money in human history.

... I could go on. It is very much worth a look if you missed it on the radio.
posted by montag2k (18 comments total) 44 users marked this as a favorite
This reminds me of the scene in Childhood's End where a human is visiting an alien museum of Earth artifacts and finds himself increasingly embarrassed when he can't identify them for his hosts.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 10:00 PM on June 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

I actually teach my world history to 1500 class using this podcast as our "text". Since I'm a historian of material culture (well, in training, working on the PhD), and love podcasting, this fit my bill exactly.

And I still can't get over how wonderful the fact is that it is hosted by the director of the British Museum himself! I may have a bit of a fangirl squee about that every semester on the first day of class.
posted by strixus at 10:01 PM on June 10, 2012 [4 favorites]

Strixus - that is the absolute best idea
posted by Shadax at 10:12 PM on June 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

I just finished listening to the whole thing, over the course of 100 lunch breaks at work. I adored it. The same guy produced -- not a follow-up, exactly, but a similar series called "Shakespeare's Restless World" which I'm now chewing through. Same format, putting Elizabethan life in context through their artifacts. It's very much worth your time.
posted by Suddenly, elf ass at 10:22 PM on June 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

I believe there's a companion book. I looked at it in a store a few weeks ago. Seemed interesting but the photos were too small and too few.
posted by neuron at 10:29 PM on June 10, 2012

Very, very cool! Subscribed!

Is there a good list of all of the BBC's podcasts? I dont see them often in the US iTunes store.
posted by gen at 10:30 PM on June 10, 2012

Suddenly, elf ass: you have more patience than I did. I listened to four in a row during runs. I'll be sure to check out the Shakespeare show - thanks!

gen: I found it through the US iTunes store. I think it was recommended based on The History of Rome podcast (also fantastic).
posted by montag2k at 10:43 PM on June 10, 2012

This is one of the podcasts I listen to in order to help me fall asleep. All I know is that I have never made it past the stone handtools, and my iphone is usually somewhere in the crack between my bed and the wall when I wake up.
posted by This_Will_Be_Good at 11:25 PM on June 10, 2012

If you liked 100 Objects you should also check out Shakespeare's Restless World
posted by Quinbus Flestrin at 12:21 AM on June 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

posted by Segundus at 2:11 AM on June 11, 2012

Is there a good list of all of the BBC's podcasts?

Do you mean something like this?
posted by hippybear at 3:46 AM on June 11, 2012 [3 favorites]

I love this podcast for many reasons; one is that the host sounds so quietly celebratory of human achievement and potential. Understated, but optimistic.

I haven't been able to hook my home-educated son on it yet, but there's a whole circle of middle-years women I know who are walking around with bemused smiles thanks to this series.
posted by theplotchickens at 4:00 AM on June 11, 2012

I lived next to the British Museum for 4 years (2008-2012) and use to take brief walks inside of it during breaks in my day. Sometimes we would use it for an evening walk, especially if it was rainy out and the tourists has gone away. (In fact, I took pictures of what it looks like late at night)

I know the Museum well enough that I would conduct personalized tours for guests of ours who wanted to see the good stuff. Including overlooked details in how the Parthenon figures had been restored, attribution errors, stuff like that.

I went ahead and started to put together a guide of MY favorite objects in the museum. Sadly, I only got so far as to write up 8 objects before other distractions appeared in my life.

I will tell you my favorite place in the whole museum, though. It is the rooms with the Assyrian Lion hunts. It is an oddly placed set of rooms and so they tend to be quiet. (Not the main hall with reliefs but a smaller set of rooms off to the West.) Conveniently, the rooms have benches too. It is a great place to just sit and contemplate. The walls are covered from top to bottom with scenes of Ashurbanipal hunting lions, or of Assyrian battles with the Assyrian soldiers floating across the water with the inflated skins of animals. Its a wonderful room.
posted by vacapinta at 4:23 AM on June 11, 2012 [5 favorites]

Rest assured apple fans, you have been carried forward into the next millenia by the British. There is both an "iPhone" and "the Apple iPhone" in the timeline, excluding the use of the iMac as the pictogram for the internet.
posted by Nanukthedog at 5:35 AM on June 11, 2012

It's definitely worth listening to, but I found myself frustrated by the sound byte inserts and the repetition. Each segment is only 15 minutes, so why waste so much of that time repeating things or having someone talk who doesn't really add anything substantive? Some of the experts they bring in to do sound bytes do actually contribute something interesting, but most of them really don't and seem to be there just so they can have a different voice (the greatest offenders of this, IMHO, are the artists - we're looking at a sculpture that's thousands of years old, for example, so a modern sculptor talking about what artists aim to do in general seems arrogant and pointless). I guess I just wish they would have done less speculation and filler, and stuck to what we actually know and how we know it - it's not as if there isn't enough factual information to easily fill 15 minutes for any given object.
posted by marginaliana at 6:18 AM on June 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm surprised at the absence of Maudslay's lathe. This invention lead to modern precision machinery.

Even more surprising - there's no plow. Without the plow, you don't really have agriculture.
posted by MikeWarot at 11:46 AM on June 11, 2012

I'm surprised at the absence of Maudslay's lathe. This invention lead to modern precision machinery.

I believe the object has to be in the British Museum's Collection.
Maudslay's lathe is in the Science Museum.
posted by vacapinta at 12:42 PM on June 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

The Wikipedia list of the objects is highly recommended. The list, the individual object articles and other British Museum-related articles have been improved by a collaborative project between the BM and the Wikipedia community.
posted by infobomb at 3:46 PM on June 11, 2012

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