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A History of the World in 100 Objects

A History of the World in 100 Objects

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

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Object 101

Ten years on from the ground-breaking Radio 4 series, "A History of The World in 100 Objects", former director of the British Museum Neil MacGregor looks back at the impact of the series, on how storytelling in museums has changed over a turbulent decade and asks which object from 2020 would best encapsulate our modern age. Producer: Paul Kobrak
2020-12-25
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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.
2010-10-22
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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.
2010-10-21
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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.
2010-10-20
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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.
2010-10-19
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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.
2010-10-18
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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.
2010-10-15
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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.
2010-10-14
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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.
2010-10-13
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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.
2010-10-12
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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.
2010-10-11
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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 disc (called a Bi) that was probably made around 1500 BC and then written over by the Emperor himself. What does this prehistoric piece of jade tell us about life in 18th century China and how they explored their past? The historian Jonathan Spence and the poet Yang Lian find meaning in this intriguing object. Producer: Anthony Denselow
2010-10-08
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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 a 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
2010-10-07
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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 deerskin that was used as the colonists 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
2010-10-06
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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.
2010-10-05
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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 and 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
2010-10-04
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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
2010-10-01
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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
2010-09-30
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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
2010-09-29
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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
2010-09-28
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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
2010-09-27
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Pieces of eight

Neil MacGregor's world history as told through things that time has left behind. This week he is exploring the world between 1450 and 1600 - looking at what was happening in South America, Africa and Japan at the time of the great European age of discovery. He has looked at the new ocean going galleons that were being built in Europe at this time and today he describes the money that was being used to fuel the great new trade routes of the period. He is with pieces of eight, little silver coins that by 1600 could have been used in many countries around the world. Neil describes Spain's dominance in South America and their discovery of a silver mountain in Potosi in present day Bolivia. He describes the process by which pieces of eight turned into the first truly global money. The Bolivian former head of a UNESCO project in Potosi describes the conditions for workers there today and the financial historian William Bernstein looks at how these rough silver coins were to shift the entire balance of world commerce. Producer: Anthony Denselow
2010-09-24
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Kakiemon elephants

The history of humanity as told through one hundred objects from the British Museum in London is this week exploring the world at the time of European discovery - between 1450 and 1600. Today Neil MacGregor is with a pair of white elephants, the size of small dogs. They come from Japan, are made of fine porcelain and take Neil on a journey that connects Japan to Korea and China and to a growing trade network in Western Europe. How did the great skill of porcelain production spread across the Far East? Why elephants? And how did these objects become so desirable to the European elite? He discovers the specific technique of this porcelain style (and traces it to a Japanese potter called Kakiemon) and follows other examples of this same pottery to an English country house. Miranda Rock describes the Kakiemon collection at Burghley House, the present day Kakiemon potter discusses his work and the Korean porcelain expert Gina Ha-Gorian explains how the detailed technology for porcelain production spread. Producer: Anthony Denselow
2010-09-23
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Double-headed serpent

The history of humanity - as told through one hundred objects from the British Museum in London - is back in South America. This week Neil MacGregor, the museum's director, is with objects from around the world between 1450 and 1600. This is the time of huge European expansion thanks to the new developments in ship building. Today he is with an object made by the Aztecs of present day Mexico. He describes the Aztec world and the Spanish conquest of this culture, through a double-headed serpent made from tiny pieces of turquoise - one of the stars of the British Museum. The Aztec specialist Adriane Diaz Enciso discusses the role of the snake in Aztec belief while the conservator Rebecca Stacey describes the scientific detective work that the object has prompted. Producer: Anthony Denselow
2010-09-22
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Benin plaque - the Oba with Europeans

This week Neil MacGregor's history of the world is exploring the impact of the great European age of expansion and discovery during the 15th and 16th Centuries. In the last programme he described the technology that allowed Europeans to sail around the world in great galleons, the "space ships of their age". Today he looks at what happens when Europeans started trading in West Africa and first came upon the ancient culture of Benin in present day Nigeria. Neil describes the world of this hugely successful warrior kingdom and the culture that produced such exquisite artwork. He also describes what happened when the British raided Benin at the end of the 19th Century and the effect that these brass portraits first had when they arrived in London. The artist Sokari Douglas Camp reflects on the sculptures as art while the Nigerian poet and playwright Wole Soyinka reacts to the violent history of Benin and the loss of part of their great heritage. Producer: Anthony Denselow
2010-09-21
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The mechanical galleon

Neil MacGregor's world history as told through things. This week he is exploring the impact of Western European travel, trade and conquest between 1450 and 1600. He kicks off with an exquisite miniature version of the sort of high tech vessel that was to take Europeans right around the world. Today's object is a small clockwork version of the type of galleon that the Spanish sent against England in the Armada and that they sent across the high seas. This one was made for a grand dinner table - it could move, make music, tell the time and fire tiny cannons. Neil discusses the significance of this new breed of sailing ships and describes the political state that this galleon symbolises - the Holy Roman Empire. The marine archaeologist Christopher Dobbs compares the tiny galleon to the Mary Rose in Portsmouth and the historian Lisa Jardine considers the European fascination with mechanics and technology throughout the 16th Century. Producer: Anthony Denselow Music research specifically for the Akan drum: Michael Doran
2010-09-20
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Durer's Rhinoceros

Neil MacGregor's world history as told through things that time has left behind. This week he is exploring vigorous empires that flourished across the world 600 years ago - visiting the Inca in South America, Ming Dynasty China, and the Timurids in their capital at Samarkand and the Ottomans in Constantinople. Today he examines the fledgling empire of Portugal and describes what the European world was looking like at this time. His chosen object is one of the most enduring in art history, and one of the most duplicated - Albrecht Durer's famous print of an Indian rhino, an animal he never had never seen. The rhino was brought to Portugal in 1514 and Neil uses this classic image to examine European ambitions. Mark Pilgrim of Chester Zoo considers what it must have been like to transport such a beast and the historian Felipe Fernandez-Armesto describes the potency of the image for Europeans of the age. Producer: Anthony Denselow
2010-09-17
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Jade dragon cup

The history of humanity as told through one hundred objects from the British Museum in London is this week exploring powerful empires around the world in the 14th and 15th centuries. Today he is with a handsome jade cup that once belonged to one of the great leaders of the Timurid Empire - the great power that stretched across Central Asia, from Iran to parts of India. The owner of the cup was Ulugh Beg, the man who built the great observatory in his capital Samakand and who - like Galileo and Copernicus - has a crater on the moon named after him. Neil tells the story of the Timurids and charts the influences that spread along the Silk Road at this time. The Uzbek writer Hamid Ismailov and the historian Beatrice Forbes Manz describe the Timurid world and the extraordinary character of Ulugh Beg. Producer: Anthony Denselow
2010-09-16
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Inca gold llama

The history of humanity - as told through one hundred objects from the British Museum in London - is back in South America. This week Neil MacGregor, the museum's director, is with the powerful elites - exploring the great empires across the world 600 years ago. Today he is with a small gold model of a llama, the animal that helped fuel the success of the great Inca Empire that ruled over some 12 million people right down the Pacific West Coast. For a culture living at high altitude in rough terrain and without horses or pack animals, the llama proved all important - for wool, for meat and for sacrifice. Neil tells the story of the Inca, the ways in which they organised themselves and things that they believed in. And he recounts what happened when the Spanish arrived. The scientist and writer Jared Diamond and the archaeologist Gabriel Ramon help tell the story. Producer: Anthony Denselow
2010-09-15
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Ming banknote

This week Neil MacGregor's history of the world is exploring the great empires of around 1500 - the threshold of the modern era. Today he is in Ming Dynasty China and with a surviving example of some of the world's first paper bank notes - what the Chinese called "flying cash". Neil explains how paper money comes about and considers the forces that underpinned its successes and failures. While the rest of the world was happily trading in coins that had an actual value in silver or gold, why did the Chinese risk the use of paper? This particular surviving note is made on mulberry bark, is much bigger than the notes of today and is dated 1375. The Governor of the Bank of England, Mervyn King, and the historian Timothy Brook look back over the history of paper money and what it takes to make it work. Producer: Anthony Denselow
2010-09-14
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Tughra of Suleiman the Magnificent

Neil MacGregor's world history as told through things. This week he is exploring the great empires of the world around 1500 - from the Inca in South America to the Ming in China and the Timurids in the Middle East. Today he is with the great Islamic Ottoman Empire that, by 1500, had conquered Constantinople as its new capital. The object Neil has chosen to represent this empire is the personal signature of the great Ottoman ruler Suleyman the magnificent, a contemporary of Henry V111 and Charles V. This monogram is the ultimate expression of Suleyman's authority at this time - a stamp of state and delicate artwork rolled into one. The Turkish novelist Elif Shafak and the historian Caroline Finkel help explore the power and meaning of this object. Producer: Anthony Denselow
2010-09-13
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Hoa Hakananai'a Easter Island statue

This week Neil MacGregor is exploring the sophisticated ways in which people connected to gods and ancestors in the Middle Ages. He is looking at religious images from India, France, Mexico and Turkey. Today - in the last programme of the second series - he is with one of the most instantly recognisable sculptures in the world: one of the giant stone heads that were made on Easter Island in the South Eastern Pacific Ocean. These deeply mysterious objects lead Neil to consider why they were made and why many were ultimately thrown down. What was the Easter Islanders understanding of their gods and their ancestors? Steve Hooper, an expert on the arts of the Pacific, and the internationally renowned sculptor Sir Anthony Caro both respond to this monumental work of devotion. Producer: Anthony Denselow
2010-07-09
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Statue of Huastec goddess

The history of humanity as told through one hundred objects from the British Museum in London is in Mexico. This week Neil MacGregor is meeting the Gods - exploring the sophistication of religious art in the 14th and 15th centuries as people around the world created physical expressions for devotion and for representing the divine. Today he is with a striking sandstone sculpture of a goddess made by the Huastec people of present day Mexico. This remarkable figure stands bare breasted with hands folded over her stomach and wearing a remarkable fan-shaped headdress. She has been associated with the later Aztec goddess of sexuality and fertility. The writer Marina Warner describes the power of the goddess figure in matters of fertility and sexuality while the art historian Kim Richter describes the particular nature of Huastec society and sculpture. Producer: Anthony Denselow
2010-07-08
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Shiva and Parvati sculpture

The history of humanity as told through one hundred objects from the British Museum in London is back in India. This week Neil MacGregor is with the gods - exploring the sophistication of religious art in the 14th and 15th centuries, as people around the world sought ways of finding physical expression for devotion and for representing the divine. Today Neil is with a magnificent stone sculpture showing the powerful deity Shiva with his consort Parvati seated on his knee - two of the most beloved and familiar figures of Hinduism. The vehicles of the deities, a bull and a lion, and their children sit at their feet, while a host of supporting musicians and attendants swirl around their heads. Neil considers how images like this help cement the relationship between deity and devotee. The writer Karen Armstrong considers the special relationship between male and female aspects in spiritual practice while the Hindu cleric Shaunaka Rishi Das explores the particular characteristics of Shiva and Parvati and considers the religious significance of their union. Producer: Anthony Denselow
2010-07-07
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Icon of the Triumph of Orthodoxy

This week Neil MacGregor's world history as told through objects is describing how people expressed devotion and connection with the divine in the 14th and 15th centuries. Today he is with an icon from Constantinople that looks back in history to celebrate the overthrow of iconoclasm and the restoration of holy images in AD 843 - a moment of triumph for the Orthodox branch of the Christian Church. This icon shows the annual festival of orthodoxy celebrated on the first Sunday of Lent, with historical figures of that time and a famous depiction of the Virgin Mary. The American artist Bill Viola responds to the icon and describes the special characteristics of religious painting. And the historian Diarmaid MacCulloch describes the often troubled relationship between the Church and the images it has produced. Producer: Anthony Denselow
2010-07-06
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Holy Thorn Reliquary

Neil MacGregor's world history as told through things. This week he is exploring the sophisticated ways that people expressed religious yearning in the 14th and 15th centuries. He is looking at the statues of gods and ancestors - in India, Mexico and on Easter Island - and he describes the importance of icon painting in the Orthodox Church. Today he is with an object designed to connect with Christ himself - a stunning Christian reliquary from medieval Europe made to house a thorn from the crown of thorns. Neil tells the story of this highly ornate reliquary while Sister Benedicta Ward and the Archbishop of Leeds, the Right Reverend Arthur Roche, help explain the background and meaning to the powerful tradition of relic worship. Producer: Anthony Denselow
2010-07-05
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Taino ritual seat

The history of humanity as told through one hundred objects from the British Museum. This week the Museum's director, Neil MacGregor, is exploring high status objects from across the world around 700 years ago. Today he tells the story of a beautifully carved ritual seat - an object which has survived the destruction of the Caribbean culture that produced. This four legged wooden stool, or duho, with its long shape and wide-eyed face probably belonged to a chief, or "cacique" of the Taino people of the Caribbean. Taino was a term used to describe a spectrum of peoples who originated in South America and who populated the whole region, including Cuba, Hispaniola, Puerto Rico and Jamaica. Neil tells the story of the Taino speaking people and their demise following the arrival of Europeans. The archaeologist Jose Oliver looks at how the Taino spread around the Caribbean while the Puerto Rican scholar Gabriel Haslip-Vieira explains their impact on the region today. Producer: Anthony Denselow
2010-07-02
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The David Vases

The history of the world as told through objects that time has left behind. This week Neil MacGregor, the director of the British Museum, has chosen some of the great status symbols of the world around 700 years ago - objects with quite surprising links across the globe. Today he is with a pair of porcelain vases from Yuan dynasty China. This instantly recognisable blue-and-white designed porcelain - that we usually associate with the Ming Dynasty - rapidly became influential and desirable around the world. Neil describes the history of porcelain and the use of these vases in a temple setting. The historian Craig Clunas talks about the volatile world of Yuan China while the writer Jenny Uglow tries to put her finger on just why we find Chinese porcelain so appealing. Producer: Anthony Denselow
2010-07-01
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Ife head

The history of humanity as told through one hundred objects from the British Museum is back in Africa. This week Neil MacGregor is exploring high status objects from across the world around 700 years ago. Today he has chosen a sculpture widely considered as one of the highest achievements of world art. It comes from Ife, a city now in South-Western Nigeria. It's a slightly less than life sized representation of a human head, made in brass at a time when metal casting had become a hugely sophisticated art. The head, with its deeply naturalistic features, was probably that of a great king or leader although its exact function remains uncertain. The head leads Neil to consider the political, economic and spiritual life of the Yoruba city state that produced it. The writer Ben Okri responds to the mood of the sculpture while the art historian Babatunde Lawal considers what role it might have played in traditional tribal life. Producer: Anthony Denselow
2010-06-30
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Hebrew astrolabe

Neil MacGregor's world history as told through objects at the British Museum. This week he is exploring high status objects from across the world around 700 years ago. Today he has chosen an astronomical instrument that could perform multiple tasks in the medieval age, from working out the time to preparing horoscopes. It is called an astrolabe and originates from Spain at a time when Christianity, Islam and Judaism coexisted and collaborated with relative ease - indeed this instrument carries symbols recognisable to all three religions. Neil considers who it was made for and how it was used. The astrolabe's curator, Silke Ackermann, describes the device and its markings, while the historian Sir John Elliott discusses the political and religious climate of 14th century Spain. Was it as tolerant as it seems? Producer: Anthony Denselow
2010-06-29
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Lewis Chessmen

This week Neil MacGregor, the director of the British Museum, has chosen some of the great status symbols of the world around 700 years ago - objects with quite surprising links across the globe. Today he is with one of the most familiar objects at the museum; a board game, found in the Outer Hebrides but probably made in Norway - the Lewis Chessmen. They are carved out of ivory and many of the figures are hugely detailed and wonderfully expressive. They take us to the world of Northern Europe at a time when Norway ruled parts of Scotland and Neil describes the medieval world of the chessmen and explains how the game evolved. The historian Miri Rubin considers the genesis of the pieces and the novelist Martin Amis celebrates the metaphorical power of the game of chess. Producer: Anthony Denselow
2010-06-28
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Kilwa pot sherds

This week Neil MacGregor has been looking at objects from Japan, Britain, Java and central Europe, exploring the great arcs of trade that connected Africa, Europe and Asia a thousand years ago. Today he sifts through a selection of broken pots, found on a beach in East Africa, to see what they might tell us. Smashed pottery, it seems, can be astonishingly durable and can offer powerful historical insights. These ceramic bits - in a variety of glazes and decorations - were found on the island of Kilwa Kisiwani off Tanzania. Neil uses the fragments to tell the story of a string of thriving communities along the East African coast with links across the Indian Ocean and beyond. The historian Bertram Mapunda and the writer Abdulrazak Gurnah describe the significance of these broken pieces and help piece together the great cross-cultural mix that produced the Swahili culture and language. Producer: Anthony Denselow
2010-06-25
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Borobudur Buddha head

A history of the World in one hundred objects arrives on the Indonesian island of Java. This is the series that offers a new history of humanity through the individual objects that time has left behind. These items are all in the British Museum and the series is presented by the museum's director, Neil MacGregor. Throughout this week Neil is tracing the great arcs of trade linking Asia, Europe and Africa around a thousand years ago. Today he has chosen a stone head of the Buddha that comes from one of the world's greatest monuments, the giant Buddhist stupa of Borobudur. Borobudur rises from a volcanic plain in the middle of Java, built from one and a half million blocks of stone and devised as an architectural aid to spiritual practice. Neil MacGregor reports from the various levels of Borobudur and describes the trade routes that brought Buddhism to South East Asia. He also explores the impact the discovery of Borobodur had on the founder of Singapore, Sir Stamford Raffles and his ideas about the importance of Javanese civilization. The anthropologist Nigel Barley celebrates the life and work of Stamford Raffles while the writer and Buddhist teacher Stephen Batchelor sums up the spiritual significance of Borobudur Producer: Anthony Denselow
2010-06-24
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Japanese bronze mirror

The history of humanity as told through one hundred objects from the British Museum in London. This week Neil MacGregor is looking at objects from Tanzania, Britain, Java and central Europe, exploring the great arcs of trade that connected Africa, Europe and Asia around a thousand years ago. Today he arrives in Japan with an object that offers a dramatic twist on the week's theme. This small mirror from the bottom of a sacred pond comes from a time when the Japanese suddenly cut themselves off from the outside world and stopped all official contact with China, a country it had frequently borrowed ideas from. Neil tells the story of the Heian period of Japanese history, a moment of great cultural awakening in Japan, especially in literature. The object is a small mirror that was found at the bottom of a sacred pond. The writer Ian Buruma and the archaeologist Harada Masayuki help describe the Japan of this time. Producer: Anthony Denselow
2010-06-23
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Hedwig glass beaker

Neil MacGregor's world history as told through objects at the British Museum. This week he is looking at how objects moved around the medieval world in the context of war, trade and faith and the quite incredible degree of contact between Asia, Europe and Africa that existed around a thousand years ago. Today's object is a large glass beaker made at a time when Christians were warring with Muslims in the great crusades - a time, curiously enough, connected with a great flourishing of trade. This object was most likely made by Islamic glass workers but became associated with the miracles of a Christian saint, Hedwig. This glass container, or one of the few just like it, was what Hedwig famously used to turn water into wine! Neil describes the story of the Hedwig beaker with help from the economic historian David Abulafia and the historian of the Crusades Jonathan Riley-Smith. He also sees what happens when he pours water into this beautifully decorated vessel. Producer: Anthony Denselow
2010-06-22
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Vale of York Hoard

The history of the world as told through objects that history has left behind. This week Neil MacGregor, the director of the British Museum, has chosen objects that bring life to the traders, pilgrims and raiders who swept across the vast expanse of Europe and Asia between the 9th and 13th centuries. Today he is with a great Viking treasure hoard that was discovered by metal detectors in a field in North Yorkshire. This dramatic, recent discovery, consisting of over 600 coins buried in a silver cup, dates back to the 10th century and reveals the astonishing range of Viking activity. There are coins here minted as far away as Afghanistan and Iraq! Neil describes what the England of the early 900's was really like. He unravels the clichés that abound about the Vikings. The historian Michael Wood helps set the scene and the father and son team who found the hoard, David and Andrew Whelan, recall the excitement of the discovery. Producer: Anthony Denselow
2010-06-21
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Chinese Tang tomb figures

This week Neil MacGregor is exploring life in the great royal courts across the world during Europe's medieval period, from the heart of Europe to Mexico and Sri Lanka. Today he is in China of the Tang Dynasty around 700 AD. He tells how the elite of the time chose to leave their mark on the world by writing or commissioning their own obituaries. He is with a curious troupe of ceramic figures that were found in the tomb of a Tang general along with a stone tablet proclaiming his achievements. The China scholar Oliver Moore explains the growing ambitions of the dynasty and journalist Anthony Howard describes the enduring power of the obituary. Producer: Anthony Denselow
2010-06-18
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Statue of Tara

The history of the world as told through one hundred of the objects. The objects are selected from the collection of the British Museum by its director, Neil MacGregor. This week, Neil is exploring life in the great royal courts across the world during Europe's medieval period. It's easy to forget that the civilisations of Tang China, the Islamic Empire and the Maya in Mesoamerica were all at their peak during this time and today we discover what was happening in South Asia during this period. He tells the story through a beautiful statue of the female Buddhist deity, Tara, crafted for a powerful ruler in Sri Lanka 1,200 years ago. Richard Gombrich explains what Tara means to Buddhism and the historian Nira Wickramasinghe describes the powerful interaction between Hinduism and Buddhism, India and Sri Lanka at this time. Producer: Anthony Denselow
2010-06-17
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Lothair Crystal

This week, Neil MacGregor is exploring life in the great royal courts around the world during Europe's medieval period. It's easy to forget that the civilisations of Tang China, the Islamic Empire and the Maya in Mesoamerica were all at their peak during this time. He is describing the life of these courts through individual objects in the British Museum's collection. In the last programme he was with the Abbasid court North of Baghdad and an exotic wall painting; today's object is an engraved rock crystal connecting a biblical tale to a real life story of royal intrigue at the heart of Europe. The Lothair Crystal was made in the mid-ninth century and offers scenes in miniature from the biblical story of Susanna, the wife of a rich merchant who is falsely accused of adultery. The crystal was intended to exemplify the proper functioning of justice but, intriguingly, the king for whom the piece was made was himself trying to have his marriage annulled so he could marry his mistress! The historian Rosamond McKitterick explains what we know of the court of King Lothair and former senior law lord, Lord Bingham, describes the role of justice as portrayed in this exquisite work of art. Producer: Anthony Denselow
2010-06-16
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Harem wall painting fragments

Neil MacGregor's world history as told through objects at the British Museum. This week, he is exploring life and intrigue in the great courts of the world at the same time as the European medieval period. Today he is with the women of Samarra in Iraq. This ancient city, north of Baghdad, was once home to the Abbasid court and was one of the great Muslim capitals of the world. Portraits from a mural in the palace harem offer a vivid insight into the lives of the rulers and the slave women whose job was to entertain them. What was life really like in this great court? The historian Robert Irwin, an expert on the tales of the Arabian Nights, looks at how the reality of life in the harem matches the sensual fantasy that has become associated with the period. And Amira Bennison, of Cambridge University, explains what conditions were like for the women of the harem and the qualifications they needed just to get there. Producer: Anthony Denselow
2010-06-15
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