As part of my recuperation I spent a morning out walking in the hills, enjoying the bleak beauty of the Langdon ridge in winter. As I tramped I listened to Radio 4 – a regular vice.
One of the programmes advertised was A History of the World in 100 Objects. Narrated by Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum, it does as it says on the tin – tell our human history through the objects we have made. The reason it caught my ear was that the item being discussed was a Braille-related device, the operator explaining that it was virtually unchanged since the 1920s and offering the sentiment that it was unlikely that many people were using objects of such an age today.
An hour and a half earlier I had been speaking to a relative who had been working with machinery from the 19th Century – in an industry unchanged for hundreds of years (he produces the shallots for pipe organs – if you are lost as to what a shallot is, this page in Understanding the Pipe Organ might help!).
Both experiences prompted the (unoriginal!) thought that so much of our history is told in small, everyday ways. We’ve all got defining memories of ordinary objects, large and small, that have been part of our life story. The BBC’s programme, recounting our global history in such objects, is genius. Each programme is just fourteen minutes long. If you’ve missed them so far, you can catch up by listening to the podcasts on the BBC.
If you go to the page A History of the World, you can join in their project to tell a history of our world in objects, submitting your own entries.