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From the editor.

The fruit of an inspired collaboration between two of the nation's great institutions is currently being broadcast on BBC Radio 4. A History of the World in 100 Objects is a series of 15-minute instalments each of which tells the story of an item from the British Museum's peerless collection. The aim is to offer a genuinely global history, to reach out beyond the old, but still influential idea of the Mediterranean as the cradle of civilisation. Artefacts under examination include a hand are from the Olduvai gorge in east Africa believed to be more than one million years old; a shadow puppet from Java (pictured below) which accommodates the sensitivities of Hindus and Muslims; and bits of the telegraph cable, manufactured in Birmingham, that was laid across the floor of the Atlantic Ocean to link the Old World to the New for the first time.

In its ambition, its erudition and originality, A History of the World in 100 Objects bears the stamp of its presenter Neil MacGregor, the British Museum's director and arguably the most distinguished curator of his generation. It also takes its place among a BBC radio schedule that marks this as a golden age of the medium, sharing the airwaves with other beacons of Radio 4 programming such as Melvyn Bragg's excellent (and soon to be archived) In Our Time and Amanda Vickery's recent History of Private Life, as well as the unashamedly highbrow output of Radio 3.

Amid all this excellence, however, there is cause for concern. At the press conference for the series, held appropriately at the British Museum's Enlightenment gallery, one journalist asked Mark Damazer, Controller of Radio 4 and himself a noted historian, why the series wasn't being broadcast on BBC1 television instead. After all, the objects are visual and need to be seen and what an opportunity to bring the wonders of the British Museum and the world to the widest possible audience. Although BBC1 is to transmit regional programmes on objects deemed of interest to a local audience, it appears increasingly that the best of the BBC is becoming confined to radio and the cultural ghetto of BBCA television. Like the British Museum, the BBC is funded by the nation and should offer excellence to all the nation. It should neither presume nor promote a cultural divide reminiscent of the Morlocks and Eloi of H.G. Wells's The Time Machine.


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Title Annotation:A History of the World in 100 Objects
Author:Lay, Paul
Publication:History Today
Article Type:Editorial
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Feb 1, 2010
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