Neil MacGregor’s 2010 book A History of the World in 100 Objects has inspired a number of copycat works. What lessons does the book impart about the power of artifacts and how museums use them?
This article argues objects can and should be the stars of museum interpretation. Too often museums short change the power of artifacts by using them only to illustrate a predetermined historical narrative. A History of the World in 100 Objects clearly shows us the wonderful potential of using objects to understand the world.
Institutions should strive to harness the power of their collections to connect the past to the present. Finally, the article concludes with guidelines on how to use the lessons from A History of the World in 100 Objects to produce excellent object-centered interpretation.
- The book A History of the World in 100 Objects shows that objects can play a more important role in interpretation than simply illustrating historical events.
- Museums can and must do a better job of using objects to connect the past to the present while challenging and informing visitors.
- Guidelines included with the article provide a blueprint for putting artifacts in a starring role that can be used by any institution.
Questions for Readers:
- Does your institution possess objects that can tell emotional stories and resonate strongly with the present? If so, what percentage of your collections can be used in this manner?
- How can you work to ensure that you’re interpreting objects as the star of the show? How can you work to ensure that your museum is collecting the objects that can best realize this goal?
- Original BBC A History of the World in 100 Objects radio broadcasts