A History of the World in 100 Objects

A History of the World in 100 Objects

United Kingdom

Director of the British Museum, Neil MacGregor, narrates 100 programmes that retell humanity's history through the objects we have made

Episodes

Solar-powered lamp and charger  

The very last episode in Neil MacGregor's history of humanity as told through the things that time has left behind. The director of the British Museum in London has spent the past year choosing objects from the museum's vast collection to represent a two million year story of humanity. Throughout this week he has been with objects that that speak of the great shifts in human organisation and thinking in the modern world. Here he describes the object that he has picked as his last; it's a solar-powered lamp and charger that he believes can revolutionise the lives of poor people around the globe. The portable panel can provide up to 100 hours of light after just 8 hours of direct sunlight. It can also charge mobile phones and help bring power to millions of people around the world who have no access to an electrical grid. Simple, cheap and clean - this is revolutionary technology for the future. Nick Stern, the expert on the economics of climate change, describes the potential impact of new solar technology. Neil explains why he has chosen a solar-powered lamp and charger as his final object - with examples of how it is already being used in rural Bengal and urban Kenya. Producer: Anthony Denselow.

Credit card  

Neil MacGregor's history of the world as told through things. Throughout this week he is examining objects that speak of the great shifts in human organisation and thinking in the modern world - objects that raise questions about human lives, the environment and global resources. So far this week he has chosen things that deal with political and sexual revolution and that confront the disaster of global arms proliferation. In today's episode he considers the morality of modern global finance and its implication for the future. He tells the story with a credit card that is compliant with Islamic Sharia law - what does that mean and how does it work? He talks to the Governor of the Bank of England, Mervyn King, and to Razi Fakih of the HSBC bank. Producer: Anthony Denselow.

Throne of Weapons  

The history of humanity, as told through one hundred objects from the British Museum in London, is drawing to an end. Throughout this week, Neil MacGregor, the director of the British Museum in London, has been with things that help explain the modern world. He has explored political and sexual politics and freedoms, and now reflects on the impact of guns and weapons in the modern world - especially in Africa where thousands of children have been participants in brutal conflicts. He tells the story through a work of art - a sculptured throne made from decommissioned guns like the ubiquitous AK47. We hear from Kester, the artist from Mozambique who created the Throne of Weapons and test the reaction to the piece of Kofi Annan, the former Secretary-General of the United Nations. Producer: Anthony Denselow.

Hockney's In the Dull Village  

This week Neil MacGregor's history of the world is examining the forces that helped shape our way of life and ways of thinking today. He began with the political revolution that exploded In Russia in the 1920s and today he moves on to the sexual revolution of the 1960s. He explores the emergence of legally enshrined human rights and the status of sexuality around the world. He tells the story with the aid of a David Hockney print, one of a series that was made in 1966 as the decriminalisation of homosexuality was being planned, at least in Britain. We hear from David Hockney on the spirit of the decade and from Shami Chakrabarti, the director of the human rights group Liberty Producer: Anthony Denselow.

Russian revolutionary plate  

Neil MacGregor's history of the world as told through things that time has left behind. Throughout this closing week he is examining some of the major social and political movements that have helped shape our contemporary landscape. Today he tells the remarkable story of a Russian plate. It was made in 1901 in the Imperial Porcelain Factory in St Petersburg. Twenty years later it was painted over as a propaganda tool for the new Communist Revolution - decorated in the same factory that had become the State Porcelain Factory and in a city renamed as Petrograd. The director of the State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg, Mikhail Piotrovsky, and the great historian of modern Russia, Eric Hobsbawn, help piece together this momentous history. Producer: Anthony Denselow.

Suffragette-defaced penny  

Neil MacGregor's world history told through objects from the British Museum in London. The objects he has chosen this week have reflected on mass production and mass consumption in the 19th century. Today' he is with the first object from the 20th century, a coin that leads Neil to consider the rise of mass political engagement in Britain and the dramatic emergence of suffragette power. It's a penny coin from 1903 on which the image of King Edward V11 has been stamped with the words "Votes for Women". The programme explores the rise of women's suffrage and the implications of the notorious suffragette protests. The human rights lawyer and reformer Helena Kennedy and the artist Felicity Powell react to this defaced penny coin. Producer: Anthony Denselow.

Sudanese slit drum  

The history of humanity as told through one hundred objects from the British Museum in London. This week Neil MacGregor, the Director of the Museum, is looking at Europe's engagement with the rest of the world during the 18th Century. Today he is with an object "freighted with layers of history, legend, global politics and race relations". It is an aboriginal shield from Australia, originally owned by one of the men to first set eyes on Europeans as they descended on Botany Bay nearly 250 years ago. This remarkably well-preserved object was brought to England by the explorer Captain Cook. What can this object tell us about the early encounter between two such different cultures? Phil Gordon, the aboriginal Heritage Officer at the Australian Museum in Sydney, and the historian Maria Nugent help tell the story. Producer: Anthony Denselow.

Hokusai's The Great Wave  

The history of humanity - as told through one hundred objects from the British Museum in London - is once again in Japan. This week Neil MacGregor, the museum's director, is looking at the global economy in the 19th century - at mass production and mass consumption. Today he is with an image that rapidly made its way around the world - Hokusai's print, The Great Wave, the now familiar seascape with a snow topped Mount Fuji in the background that became emblematic of the newly emerging Japan. Neil explores the conditions that produced this famous image - with help from Japan watchers Donald Keene and Christine Guth. Producer: Anthony Denselow.

Early Victorian tea set  

This week Neil MacGregor's history of the world is looking at how the global economy became cemented in the 19th century, a time of mass production and mass consumption. He tells the story of how tea became the defining national drink in Britain - why have we become so closely associated with a brew made from leaves mainly grown in China and India? The object he has chosen to reflect this curious history is an early Victorian tea set, made in Staffordshire and perfectly familiar to all of us. The historian Celina Fox and Monique Simmonds from Kew gardens find new meaning in the ubiquitous cuppa. Producer: Anthony Denselow.

Ship's chronometer from HMS Beagle  

Neil MacGregor's history of the world as told through things. Throughout this week he is examining the global economy of the 19th century - of mass production and mass consumption. Today he is with an instrument that first helped Europeans to navigate with precision around the world - a marine chronometer. The one Neil has chosen actually accompanied Darwin on his great voyage to South America and the Galapagos Islands - a journey that was to help lead him to his revolutionary theories on evolution. The geographer Nigel Thrift and the geneticist Steve Jones celebrate the chronometer and the profound changes it prompted. Producer: Anthony Denselow.

Jade bi  

Neil MacGregor's world history told through the things that time has left behind. Throughout this week, Neil has been looking at Europe's discoveries around the world and its engagement with different cultures during the 18th century - the European Enlightenment project. Today he describes what was happening in China during this period, as the country was experiencing its own Enlightenment under the Qianlong Emperor. He tells the story through a jade ring (called a Bi) that was probably made around 1500 BC and then written over during the Qing dynasty. What does this prehistoric piece of jade tell us about life in 18th century China? The historian Jonathan Spence and the poet Yang Lian find meaning in this intriguing object. Producer: Anthony Denselow.

Australian bark shield  

The history of humanity as told through one hundred objects from the British Museum in London. This week Neil MacGregor, the Director of the Museum, is looking at Europe's engagement with the rest of the world during the 18th Century. Today he is with an object "freighted with layers of history, legend, global politics and race relations". It is an aboriginal shield from Australia, originally owned by one of the men to first set eyes on Europeans as they descended on Botany Bay nearly 250 years ago. This remarkably well-preserved object was brought to England by the explorer Captain Cook. What can this object tell us about the early encounter between two such different cultures? Phil Gordon, the aboriginal Heritage Officer at the Australian Museum in Sydney, and the historian Maria Nugent help tell the story. Producer: Anthony Denselow.

North American buckskin map  

The history of humanity - as told through one hundred objects from the British Museum in London - is once again in North America. This week Neil MacGregor, the museum's director, is looking at Europe's engagement with the rest of the world in the 18th century. Today he tells the story of a map, roughly drawn on deer skin, that was used as the British negotiated for land in the area between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi. It was probably drawn up by a Native American around 1774. Neil looks at how the French and the British were in conflict in the region, and examines the different attitudes to land and living between Europeans and Native Americans. Martin Lewis, an expert on maps from this region, and the historian David Edmunds describe the map and the clash of cultures that was played out within its boundaries. Producer: Anthony Denselow.

Hawaiian feather helmet  

This week Neil MacGregor's history of the world is telling the story of European encounters across the globe during the 18th century. Today he finds out what happened to Captain Cook as he was mapping and collecting in the Pacific. Neil tells the story through a chieftain's helmet made from a myriad of colourful bird feathers that was given to Cook when he landed in Hawaii in 1778. This is not a story with a happy ending. The anthropologist Nicholas Thomas and the Hawaiian academics Marques Hanalei Marzan, Kyle Nakanelua and Kaholokula help describe Cook's impact in the Pacific and the meaning of the feathered helmet. Producer: Anthony Denselow.

Akan drum  

Neil MacGregor's history of the world as told through things that time has left behind. Throughout this week he is examining the often troubled relationship between Europe and the rest of the world during the 18th century. Today he tells the extraordinary story of a now fragile African drum. It was taken to America during the years of the slave trade where it came into contact with Native Americans. The drum was brought to England by Sir Hans Sloane, whose collection became the British Museum in 1753. This drum, the earliest African-American object in the Museum, is a rare surviving example of an instrument whose music was to profoundly influence American culture - bought to America on a slave ship and transported to Britain by a slave owner. The historian Anthony Appiah and the writer Bonnie Greer consider the impact of this drum. Producer: Anthony Denselow Music research specifically for the Akan drum: Michael Doran.

Reformation centenary broadsheet  

Neil MacGregor's world history as told through things that time has left behind. This week Neil is looking at the co-existence of faiths - peaceful or otherwise - across the globe around 400 years ago. So far he has looked at objects from India and Central America, Iran and Indonesia that embody the political consequences of belief. Today he is back in Europe, with a document that marks an anniversary and that is designed to raise morale. It's a woodblock print, a broadsheet, commissioned in Saxony in 1617 to mark a hundred years of the Protestant reformation and anti Catholic sentiment. Neil describes the broadsheet and the uncertain Protestant world that produced it. Was this the first time that an anniversary was commemorated in this way, with a kind of souvenir? The broadcaster and journalist Ian Hislop considers the broadsheet as an early equivalent to the tabloid press while the religious historian Karen Armstrong describes the reforming motivation that the broadsheet celebrates. Producer: Anthony Denselow.

Mexican codex map  

The history of humanity as told through one hundred objects from the British Museum in London. This week Neil MacGregor is looking at the co-existence of faiths - peaceful or otherwise - across the globe around 400 years ago. Today he is with a document that shows what happened after Catholic Spain's conquest of Mexico - it's an old map, or codex, that was made at the height of the Spanish church building boom in Mexico. Neil uses the object to consider the nature of the Spanish conquest and to explore what happened when Catholic beliefs were assimilated alongside older pagan beliefs. The historian Samuel Edgerton offers an interpretation of the map that shows churches alongside older temples, and the Mexican born historian Fernando Cervantes considers the ongoing legacy of the great Christian conversion. Producer: Anthony Denselow.

Shadow Puppet of Bima  

The history of humanity - as told through one hundred objects from the British Museum in London - is in South East Asia. This week Neil MacGregor, the museum's director, is with the objects from across the world around 400 years ago that explore the relationships between religion and society. Today he is with a shadow puppet from the Indonesian island of Java, asking how a puppet watched by a predominantly Muslim audience is a character from a Hindi epic. He describes the history of the theatre of shadows and explores how it reveals the religious traditions that have shaped Indonesian life. He talks to a puppet master from Java. And the Malaysian novelist Tash Aw discusses the influence of shadow theatre on the region today. Producer: Anthony Denselow.

Miniature of a Mughal prince  

This week Neil MacGregor's history of the world is looking at the co-existence of faiths - peaceful or otherwise - across the globe around 400 years ago. Today he is in one of the great Islamic empires of the 16th and 17th centuries - in Mughal India. He tells the story of the Mughal rulers and their relationship with Hindu India through a miniature painting (dated around 1610) that shows an encounter between a noble man and a holy man. Neil describes an early mood of religious tolerance and the development of this exquisite art form. Asok Kumar Das discusses the function of miniature painting in India and the historian Aman Nath reflects on encounters between holy men and men of political power throughout Indian history. Producer: Anthony Denselow.

The Shi'a religious parade standard  

Neil MacGregor's world history as told through things. This week he is exploring the development and co-existence of faiths across the globe around 400 years ago, looking at objects from India and Central America, Europe and Indonesia that embody the political consequences of belief. Today he is with a remarkable object from Shia Iran, that in the 16th Century was open to the co-existence of faiths. The object he has chosen is a symbol of Shia faith, a standard or Alam that was carried at the front of Shia processions. They were often so tall and heavy that they would require great physical strength to handle. Neil visits religious sites in Isfahan to reflect on the spiritual climate of the time. Hossein Pourtahmasbi, from the Iranian community in London and a former alam carrier, describes the tradition. And the Iranian historian Haleh Afshar reflects on the shifting position of Shia Islam within Iran over the centuries. Producer: Anthony Denselow.

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