Monday, 8 December 2014

wunderkammer or department of antiquities

Though I had been hearing the series cited and praised by several sources, I have only just now begun to indulge BBC Radio 4 and the British Museum’s co-production of A History of the World in One Hundred Objects—which is brilliantly and joyously highbrow and erudite listening, though has since expanded to other media and ambitiously invites the audience to tell their own stories through the collected artefacts of affiliated treasuries. The series is really well constructed and does not presume to present an authoritative lesson but rather thoughtfully present a series of items that represent the various aspects that have contributed to our understanding of the human condition: not all curators or visitors would pick the same assortment or think of them in the same ways, necessarily, but all narratives coming out of the galleries eventually cross have story arcs in common.
There are quite a lot of these homages to humility—important when it comes to such an undertaking, for instance in dispelling the idea that museums, either by turns musty old places or serene repositories, are anything but static—artefacts forever revising the stories that they can share, thanks to our enhanced understanding about different historical contexts and thanks to advancing methods for researching and unlocking those secrets. Certainly some lovely old bones or pottery shards were intriguing enough finds at first, but under a new light (of cultural understanding or more precise dating) give up even more and the yield is yet unexhausted. Listen to a few episodes and I am sure you’ll be engaged as well.