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Museums and the Web

An annual conference exploring the social, cultural, design, technological, economic, and organizational issues of culture, science and heritage on-line.

A History of the World

People's Choice:
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British Museum and BBC


Designed in-house, built by GT (Good Technology), now known as VML




A History of the World object page (Swimming reindeer)A History of the World object page (Swimming reindeer).

At heart, the A History of the World website features the objects from the British Museum in the  100-part radio series A History of the World in 100 objects, narrated by Neil MacGregor, the Director of the British Museum, and broadcast on BBC Radio 4 between January and October 2010. With access to the audio, zoomable annotated images, video, and background information, the site supported engagement with the series online. However, it also features around 1700 objects uploaded to the site by 551 museums/historic sites and 4,000 objects uploaded by members of the public during the course of the project.

All the objects share a common editorial thread: they allow us to tell stories about ourselves, our town, or nation and their place in the wider world.

A History of the World extended from the being the vision of the British Museum’s Director, into a publicly curated online exhibition, an exercise in ‘citizen curation’. In a virtuous circle’ across media, some of the objects uploaded to the website were featured on BBC Radio 4, in short pieces produced by the team that created the core radio series, and narrated by the contributors themselves describing their objects (

A History of the World Explorer interfaceA History of the World Explorer interface

The main interface to the museum objects on the website is a Flash-based ‘Explorer’ (with an HTML complement). This allows the user to browse the objects by time, theme, material, culture, origin, size and colour. Thus, as well as following the narrative set by the British Museum’s 100 objects, the site visitor can initiate their own journeys, find objects related to their own historical interests, and view objects from museums and individual contributors side by side.

 The site was also designed to support the wider project aim of encouraging museum visits, an ‘In your Area’ section (now closed) allowed the UK visitor to find what AHOW objects and events were local to them. All the objects on the site were on display in 2010, and around 120 events took place across the country to draw people to visit the objects in the participating museums and contribute their own objects online.

The site was a hub for the community of interest in the project. For example, in the build-up to the announcement of the identity of the 100th object in the radio series, there was a lot of activity on the website, blog, Facebook and Twitter (using the hashtag #objectoftoday) and on air. The public were invited to suggest an object that they considered represented life in 2010. Over 800 suggestions were received ( and there was a lot of debate about the contenders (

A History of the World 100th object audience suggestionsA History of the World 100th object audience suggestions