One of my abiding delights of late is to listen to podcasts while I take my long walks. Beth-Anne has mentioned our obsession with NPR’s wildly popular and record-breaking Serial, and her love of the comic Grownups Read Stuff They Wrote as Kids. I get my science fix with the Quirks and Quarks podcast from the CBC, and I am so enamoured of interviews with authors that I have exhausted the archives of Eleanor Wachtel’s Writers and Company, as well as all of the archived episodes of the Guardian’s books podcasts and the BBC’s World Book Club.
What I love about all of these podcasts is their standard of excellence, and you really cannot do better than Neil MacGregor’s A History of the World in 100 Objects for podcast excellence. (You can download it here.) In this series, MacGregor, the Director of the British Museum, tells a history of the world through 100 of the objects housed there. I have not only listened to all 100 episodes, I have read the book that accompanies the podcast and gone back to listen to some episodes for a second time. In each episode, he considers one object, and that object becomes a prism through which to explore past worlds and the men and women who lived in them. The stories are, truly, mind-bending; I was so often startled by what I learned. It is so difficult to choose an illustrative example, because I really did love them all, but in the episode on the Gold Cape found in Mold, in north Wales, for instance, my sense of the isolation of the British Isles was thoroughly upturned. The cape, made in 1900-1600 BC, is a beautifully intricate object made of gold, extremely sophisticated in its execution, and it was buried with amber and bronze objects that point to a web of trade and exchange that reached not only from Wales to Scandinavia, but even as far as the Mediterranean. Nearly 2000 years before the common era, artisans were making and trading at levels of sophistication I knew nothing about.
MacGregor’s approach is decidedly not that of the Guns, Germs and Steel variety, in which history is told as a series of conflicts and conquests. Rather, his approach is to examine the globe’s common history, to look at synchronicity in the history of the world, to examine our commonalities. In his introduction to the series, MacGregor describes the “necessary poetry of things”:
It is, as we know, the victors who write the history, especially when only the victors know how to write. Those who are on the losing side, those whose societies are conquered or destroyed, often have only their things to tell their stories. The Caribbean Taino, the Australian Aboriginals, the African people of Benin and the Incas, all of whom appear in this book, can speak to us now of their past achievements most powerfully through the objects they made: a history told through things gives them back a voice.
Taking in our cue from MacGregor’s poetry of things, this week at 4Mothers, we will be telling a piece of our family history through a single object. We hope you will enjoy them.
In the mean time, be a podcast addict’s enabler! What are your favourite podcasts?