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A history of the world in 100 objects - and our nomination for the 101st


Image: Trustees of the British Museum

From the Wall Street Journal:

LONDON—A humble solar-powered lamp became the star attraction of the British Museum on Thursday when it was revealed as the 100th and final subject of a radio series that has created a huge audience in the United Kingdom and beyond. "A History of the World in 100 Objects" is a joint venture between the British Museum and the BBC, a series of 100 15-minute programs presented by the museum's director, Neil MacGregor. The series has generated about 10 million downloads, of which almost half have come from outside the United Kingdom, Mr MacGregor said.

It's a terrific premise for a show, and lovely that so many people are interested. It needs just one more thing - a suggestion for the 101st object which would unite all 100.

The Journal concluded by quoting Mr MacGregor as saying, "Our histories are never separate, national histories." Assuming Mr MacGregor was accurately quoted, what does the sentence mean? Nations have many connections with other nations, but are we to suppose that because Tibet has connections with India and, against its will, with China, that it does not have a sense of history that is particularly, wonderfully, indubitably and separately Tibetan?

Just as China, despite its overweening overfamiliarity with Tibet, has a history apart from Tibet that is wonderfully and uniquely and separately Chinese.

A nation is, in some ways, an imaginative construct, in addition to being a natural one. And one of the imaginative qualities of the British nation is that it has taken a keen interest in other peoples and nations. That interest was the genesis of the British Museum, among many other museums in these isles. You might assume this interest in and respect for the culture of others was commonplace and shared by other nations and peoples, but a brief look round globally will tell you that this has not been the case.


For over two hundred years, the British Museum has created a new and deeper understanding of the world, and is (drumroll) our nomination for the 101st object!

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