A History of the World in 100 Objects
Today we unveiled details of the most ambitious and exciting factual project since I became Controller of Radio 4. It's 'A History of The World in 100 objects' presented and written by Neil MacGregor - the Director of the British Museum.
In 100 separate 15-minute programmes Neil talks about a single object in the British Museum Collection that can tell us about a host of different things. There will, of course, be a description of the object but most of each programme will focus on areas where Radio excels as a medium - on how the object was made, its political, economic and cultural significance, how the object came to be in the collection - and so on. There are a hatful of stories and ideas in every programme. I have heard those that have been made so far and they are wonderful.
The series will look at objects from all over the world - and will span tens of thousands of years of human struggle and achievement. Every object will have been man-made. That is what makes this different. Most histories are based on documents as sources. This takes as a starting point that the craft and inspiration involved in making things can reveal history in a different and complementary way.
We have changed the schedule to try and give the series a wider audience than if it had been placed at 1545 - which is where most of our other big narrative histories have been broadcast (Amanda Vickery's A History of Private Life and David Reynolds' Empire of Liberty series about America being the latest examples). These have been terrific and it is in part their success that has encouraged us to try something bolder for 'A History of The World.' (AHOW)
So for 20 weeks next year AHOW will broadcast at 0945 and repeated at 1945. It won't be in consecutive weeks. We will be running the series in three tranches during 2010. But when it is running - it will occupy the 'Book of The Week' slot in the morning and the repeat of the Woman's Hour drama in the evening - immediately after 'Front Row.'
'Book of The Week ' is a vital part of Radio 4 and frequently scintillates - and I have no doubt that some of the audience will feel its absence. But I think every now and then I need to adapt the schedule and I am sure that the series will be terrific. The Woman's Hour drama - currently wonderfully filled by 'Our Mutual Friend' - will still be broadcast at 1045.
There is a great deal more to say about AHOW. It is no longer simply about Radio 4 and the British Museum. The force of the idea has captured many other programme makers around the BBC - on BBC television, on CBBC, on the World Service and throughout the BBC's Nations and Regions. And it will be tied together by a special website - where you will be able to see the objects in splendid detail - and where we are creating opportunities for the public to contribute too.
One final word - it's not been a typical BBC project. We have worked from the outset in partnership with the British Museum. We and they have been working on it for over three-and-a-half years. We could not have done it without Neil MacGregor and the British Museum as a whole. It's been a vastly stimulating affair - and I hope you enjoy its fruits. It all begins on January 18th...
Mark Damazer is Controller of BBC Radio 4
- While the web site is under construction there's a simple holding page here. Bookmark the page: it'll become the focus for the digital part of the project.
- The launch this morning was picked up by the Evening Standard, The Telegraph and The Guardian.
- Here's the official BBC press release about A History of the World in 100 Objects.
- The green serpent picture is copyright The Trustees of the British Museum.