100 objects to explain the world

Ending today, was a fantastic series from BBC Radio 4 titled ‘A History of the World in 100 objects’. In conjunction with the British Museum; this programme explored objects which gave an account of human history through the objects we use. From objects such as the Olduvai axe, we see objects as enablers. While objects enable, innocation also broadens the scope of potential experiences. Beyond mere survival humanity becomes far more sophisticated; rituals and values emerge around sexuality, or the nature of our contact with others and our relationship with nature.

One thing I found particularly interesting is the Rhind Mathematical Papyrus, which is also referenced in Hawking’s latest book ‘The Grand Design’; is that early mathematics came about as a system for administering resources such as paying workers or distributing and storing grain. Perhaps a contradiction in the human condition is the drive to consistency and organisation; against the ‘freeness’ of creativity by breaking said rules.

Creating systems, not just of theories, but of how we organise ourselves; is really a great human endeavour; whether one needs to keep the technology infrastructures working, or the support infrastructures or even the economy; the strive for consistency is one of the vital human impulses that allows for human survival, and things as mundane as keeping warm during colder months, or organising travel.

The objects towards the end of the series were particularly emotive and powerful. While most of the objects speak about the human past. Many reflected some of the battles ongoing against sexual and gender prejudice. The last two objects, a credit card, and solar panel; truly hit at the heart of the present day. The issues of scarcity and sustainability will likely be
objects that will define the immediate and distant future (if there is to be any of the latter) of humanity. It was a fascinating programe. 



One thought on “100 objects to explain the world

  1. I only caught half a dozen, but I really enjoyed the ones I caught – especially this week’s Sharia-compliant credit card, which was a remarkable choice of object, one which was the locus of a lot of cultural forces right now. Great stuff.

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