If you unfold the small black guide-book to the British Museum and look at the bottom of the page you will find a section called “A History of the World in 100 Objects“. From a mummy to a credit card you are guided through a detailed journey of life and man. Empires and nations are consolidated to pottery from Mesopotamia, coins of Croesus, Harem wall paintings, jade cups, and Victorian tea sets. The title, taken (and I believe inspired)from a BBC program of the same name, is a great way to draw those of us who are not as naturally enamored with history into the amazing events that mark the past and affect the future.
I am a present day person, preferring to wander through the local supermarket and delight at what people are eating and doing in the present day of a country with which I am unfamiliar. I notice herbal teas to shampoos that differ from mine and listen to conversations that will orient me to what others find of interest in this new setting. But this display at the museum caught my attention and moved me to a place of wonder and awe and terror. From the beginnings of literature and science to economies, religions, and wars – we are quite a group of people! A group constantly in need of checks and balances, displaying the human condition far more graphically through our past than anything Hollywood could ever create.
Given some of my recent posts on identity and the world of the third culture kid, I realize this is not the best display to walk through if one is having any kind of identity crisis. You could be reduced to a mere nanosecond in the bigger picture of time, left with a paralyzing sense of smallness. But for me it was the opposite. As I looked at several of these pieces, I was left with a far larger identity. Mummies are stared at, formerly human beings with lives and personalities, now laughed at by school children. Credit cards are denied or expire.Pottery may end up restored, or crumbled, depending on the excavator and importance of the empire. As one with a soul, I am comforted that I am far more than pottery in the hands of a Creator. A Creator who has been there since the beginning and hasn’t given up on us yet, far more interested in restoration and preservation than any museum could be – and for that I am eternally grateful.
Bloggers note: Soon after posting I received a comment from Jonathan Addleton – a great friend from Murree days and well beyond. He states that his wife “Fiona’s second cousin Neil McGregor is director of the British Museum and author of the best-selling book “One Hundred Objects” on which the section of that guide book you refer to must be based”. Indeed – yes! I saw the book at the museum and wanted to purchase. For those of you reading with a connection to Murree and Fiona and Jonathan it is a fun fact!
- What are Britain’s most interesting and innovative museums? (guardian.co.uk)
- As seen on screen: the UK’s hottest tourist spots (independent.co.uk)
- British Museum buys Assyrian treasures cleaned by Agatha Christie (guardian.co.uk)
- Art Fund Prize: British Museum nominated for £100,000 award for radio series (telegraph.co.uk)