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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.

On air, online and onsite: The British Museum and BBC’s A History of the World


A History of the World in 100 Objects was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in 100 15-minute programmes divided into 3 series in the Spring, Summer and Autumn of 2010. Presented by Neil McGregor, Director of the British Museum, each programme investigated in depth an object from the Museum’s collection and through the year formed a narrative that told a history of our world from man’s first artefact, the handaxe to the present day (the identity of the 100th object has not been made public at the time of writing).

This paper takes a brief look at the history of collaborations between museums and broadcasters, before going to present how the BBC and BM project team developed a digital offer (centred on that both supported and extended the core programmes, building on the central idea that objects have a unique power to tell stories and make connections across the globe.

The paper will discuss the arc of the project in the three spheres – on air, online and onsite at the British Museum and in museums across the UK – and show how the project was developed and sustained in the build-up to the first broadcast and throughout the year, on Radio 4 and other BBC radio and TV channels, the A History of the World and British Museum websites, the blog, mobile site, and social media sites. In addition to the core 100 British Museum objects, the project extended to include contributions from over 500 museums across the UK and several thousand individuals, who uploaded their object and its story to the site – both online, at schools and at events throughout the UK.

We will also discuss some of the issues encountered during the scoping of the digital components– particularly focusing on maintaining the centrality of the broadcast offer, while opening it out to wider contribution and ownership – both that of partner museums and the public. We will then conclude by assessing the reach and impact of this unique project, and look how it can be used as a model of future public service partnerships between broadcasters and cultural organisations in a digital era.


Paper - in formal session


matthewcock's picture
The web team is responsible for all public-facing digital media at the Museum, including the website and the multimedia guides. I am also Chair of the Jodi Mattes Trust, which gives the annual Jodi Awards ( for accessibility of digital content and services in the museum...
Andrew Caspari's picture
I am responsible for the presentation of speech radio and classical music on the BBC's web and other multimedia products. One of my big projects over the last year has been the development of our A History in the World project in collaboration with the British Museum and involving over 500 museums...
Katherine Campbell's picture
I am an online specialist currently working at the BBC specialising in digital participation projects. I am currently running the BBC's digital team for A History of the World, a project that examines how objects tell a history of our world, in partnership with the British Museum. My career has...