Friday, October 22, 2010

History of the World in 100 Objects

Randall Stephens

For those who missed it, check out BBC Radio 4's "History of the World in 100 Objects." (The series ends this week.) I read about it in the TLS a few weeks back. The reviewer praised the audio exhibit for its elegant, almost cinematic qualities, something that stretched the radio format in amazing ways. Yesterday, the Guardian lauded host Neil MacGregor, who "wears his knowledge lightly. He manages to both charm and enthuse at the same time, a hard trick that, but at the core of each bite-sized podcastable talk is an ardent and contemporaneous message: civilisations do not so much clash as learn and borrow from each other. One picks up from where the other leaves off."

The program might work well in the classroom. (How often do we listen to audio, rather than watch film, with students? Once in a blue moon, I'll find a segment on NPR that fits into what we are going over, but otherwise, it's rare.) Here are a few bits from the series:

035 Head of Augustus, 21 May 2010, Listen, Duration: 15 mins

Head of Augustus, the first Roman emperor. Neil MacGregor, Director of the British Museum, looks at one of the world’s most famous rulers, whose powerful, God-like status is brilliantly enshrined in a 2000-year-old bronze head with striking eyes. He explores how Augustus dramatically enlarged the Roman Empire, establishing his image as one of its most familiar objects. The historian Susan Walker and the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, help explain the power and methodology of Augustus.

057 Hedwig glass beaker, 22 Jun 2010, Listen, Duration: 15 mins

Glass beaker from central Europe probably made by a Muslim craftsman. Neil MacGregor, Director of the British Museum, examines a glass beaker made in Syria or Egypt at a time when Christians were warring with Muslims in the crusades. The glass became associated with the miracles of a Christian saint, Hedwig, who turned water into wine when it touched her lips. But how did Islamic glass reach Christian Europe during the Crusades?

088 North American buckskin map, 6 Oct 2010, Listen, Duration: 14 mins

Map of the area between the Mississippi and Ohio rivers. Neil MacGregor, Director of the British Museum, explores the differing attitudes towards land and living of Europeans and Native Americans in the 18th century. He looks at a buckskin map drawn up by a Native American as the British negotiated for land between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi. With contributions by cartographer Martin Lewis and historian David Edmunds.

1 comment:

Jeremy Bangs said...

At 7:50 in the third tape mentioned above, the narrator expresses a commonly held notion that reinforces the simple idea that all Natives formed a generally unified culture essentially different from that of the European settlers, and that more than a century of contact with French and English explorers had resulted in no expansion of conceptual range whatsoever, with regard to land. "But the Piankashaw had never encountered the concept of European-style land purchase. Settler ideas of land ownership were alien to Native Americans, who thought essentially in terms of residence and use." While this may be generally true for nomadic tribal groups on the move through large areas (although "terms of residence and use" is rather vague), and thus just might apply to the Piankashaw (although there had been encounters with Europeans for some time), this simplicism is inaccurate at least for the area of southeast Massachusetts (formerly Plymouth Colony), where land was held in delimited parcels by individuals and was transferred hereditarily and personally, or by gift. There was no commonly-held tribal land. That this was the case in pre-Contact times is evident from some disputes between Indians who argued among themselves about who had the right to negotiate sale of particular bounded parcels to the colonists' court. The resolution of the question was settled by the weighing of statements of personal hereditary claims going back several generations to pre-Contact times (i.e. I own this from my father, who had it from his father, from his father, etc. etc.) That this was demonstrably the case in an area of non-nomadic farmers who also carried on fishing and hunting suggests that the dichotomy expressed in this short explanation of the map suffers from unexamined neo-romantic notions of Indianness. In presenting this to students a teacher might want to point out the expansion from this case (Piankashaw) to a generalization for the entire continent with the broad term "Native Americans."

For documentation on Indian land ownership in Plymouth Colony, see my book, Indian Deeds, Land Transactions in Plymouth Colony, 1620-1691 (Boston: NEHGS, hardcover 2002; improved paperback edition 2008).