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A History of the World arrives at 500 BC... and takes a break

Tuesday 23 February 2010, 16:14

Mark Damazer Mark Damazer

zeppelin fragment

So the first tranche of A History of The World has come to an end - and very, very good it has been. We leave part one with a Chinese Bell.

There won't be unanimous approval because too many people are listening to it for that - but the evidence is that those who do listen broadly love it.

I have written before about the displacement of Book of The Week - and that comes back next week with Patti Smith. Quite a contrast to Neil MacGregor. We have plenty of room for both.

The Radio 4 series is only part of the story of A History of The World (AHOW). The project - a full partnership between the British Museum and the BBC - encompasses a very significant website, hundreds of museums around the UK, scores of the BBC's local radio (and television) stations, thousands of schools, BBC children's TV (see the brilliant series 'Relic'), and the World Service.

Have a look at the web site. It has pictures of the Radio 4 objects from the series - but many more objects that belong to museums across the country that have global connections - and more from the audience too. Do join the fray.

We will be back with new objects for AHOW on Radio 4 in May. I want the memory of this series, and the entire project, to last decades. It deserves to.

We are going to run each of the six weeks of AHOW that have been transmitted thus far in six separate one-hour omnibus editions on Friday nights at 2100 - beginning on Friday March 5th. And over Easter BBC 1's 'Inside Out' will have stories about objects from your area.

Mark Damazer is Controller of BBC Radio 4

  • A History of the World has a very interesting blog of its own and a page on Facebook. Become a fan to add the daily object to your newsfeed.
  • If you're on Twitter, use the hashtag #AHOW when you're talking about A History of the World.
  • The AHOW podcast will be available online for a full year and you can download individual programmes in MP3 format from object pages like this one, for today's Chinese bell.
  • The picture shows a fragment from Zeppelin airship L33 which came down near Colchester in 1916. It was added to the collection by Michael Hunnable.
  • A History of the World was one of the topics discussed on Radio 4's Feedback today. Roger Bolton interviewed editor Robert Ketteridge about the decision to move Book of the Week, running the programme three times per day, the programme intros and the theme music (there's also a fascinating post on the AHOW blog about the theme music).


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  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    300 BC

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    All right, 500 BC(E) is probably closer to the Mark! Well done!


  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    I was listening to R4 Feedback last night and was sorry to hear so many people have complained about AHOW. I just want to say that I love it and think it's one of the most interesting things I've heard on the Radio.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    Both my wife and I have been enthralled and enchanted by this series, we are delighted by the way the objects are linked to the politics and life of the people as well as the span of the programme. I accept that much has to be interpreted and many comments represent a best guess. Equally the music and production approach also enhance our enjoyment. I am aware of the effort that has gone into the accompaning website, which is a great adjunct to the programe. Many thanks to all involved.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    This is an excellent series in my view, and two of my neighbours have remarked on its high quality.

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    I live 10,000 miles from the British Museum - I don't know what people have been complaining about. It must be an English thing.

    This series is an excellent use of the medium, and the website takes it to another level altogether. The sheer scale of the project is incredible, and use of social media to encourage participation is an inspiration to other content makers.

    Great work!

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    I am so sick of the BBC (R4) going on about this progrqmme - I guess because it is the controller's pet project. It really isn't that amazing or great radio - I find Mc Gregor's historical narratives extremely simplistic personally. Get over yourselves BBC - when you hype something as seriously as you are doing here it detracts from any real value the programme might have!

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    One of the best things about AHOW is the involvement of listeners and local museums. If you visit the web site you'll find all of the objects featured in the radio series plus hundreds more (like the bit of Zeppelin L33 in the picture) contributed by enthusiastic listeners and by local museums.

    The AHOW team have told me that some of the museums have reported some of their busiest days ever when they've opened their doors and invited local people to bring objects in to add to the collection (with the help of the BBC's local radio station). There will be further opportunities to join in and you can upload objects of your own at any time. Details on the web site. AHOW is much bigger than a radio series.

    Steve Bowbrick, editor, Radio 4 blog

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    According to Mark Thompson, writing in 'The Guardian', the BBC is uniquely placed to help other institutions reach the public, and to help the public find and get the most out of those institutions themselves.

    "Partnerships with other cultural and civic institutions should no longer be ad hoc, but strategic and central to the BBC. The recent collaboration between the BBC, the British Museum and hundreds of other museums across the UK to create 'A History of the World in 100 Objects' shows the way forward."

    My own impression, therefore, Steve, is that this particular series (AHOW) is a new model for future broadcasting (by the BBC) in the digital age. I can certainly confirm that the British Museum has been very busy (with people of all ages) on the few occasions we have managed to get there this year (2010), a couple of World Evenings (Thursdays) and a Sunday afternoon. Local museums around the country have also embraced the project (a bit like a museum-based Antiques Roadshow).


    So AHOW is not just the past; it is the future?

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    It was great to have Patti Smith this week instead of being force fed history. I have been really frustrated about what we had to lose to get AHOW and now I am beside myself with the discovery of the Omnibus, is there no escape from this stuff? On Friday night I want to be entertained after the cut and thrust of question time.

    The return of book of the week I now find is only a brief respite and now I am facing the bleakness of continuing AHOW when I had hoped I might find the rest of the year more fulfilling after it had finished. No such luck it seems

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    "A History of the World in a 100 Objects"
    A brilliant programme spoilt by the "listen with mother" female voice which introduces the objects, probably because it is "such a serious subject"and we need to be cosseted at the beginning with a comforting voice!

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    The programmes were mostly interesting and the series serves as good PR for the BM retaining its collection, and a good thing too. Though the presentation can be a touch precious.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    I agree with Jane McArthur (11) - the second introduction, one to two minutes into the programme, is particularly annoying, as we already know what the subject/object is! The portentous music is unnecessary, too - the same over-production that long ago spoiled Horizon now seems to be infecting BBC radio. Please stop it!

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    "All new members are pre-moderated initially"

    I've been a member for years. If you mean 'all new posts' then why not say so?


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