The writer and presenter of the BBC Radio 4 series "A History of the World in 100 Objects" and the accompanying book.
Established by Act of Parliament in 1753 as a museum for the world (and free to enter, down to this day), the British Museum has built a near-encyclopedic collection of art and artifacts representing the sweep of human history across 2 million years. In his 2010 radio series A History of the World in 100 Objects (accompanied by a splendid book with the same title), director Neil MacGregor showed how the artifacts and items we collect are a powerful tool for sharing our shared human narrative.
MacGregor has long been fascinated with the way museums can tell the world's story. At the British Museum, he's negotiated his way to mounting shows full of Chinese and Persian treasures, helping sometimes-prickly governments to share his mission of cultural togetherness. He was named Briton of the Year in 2008 by the Sunday Times, who said, "He is a committed idealist who, in a world in which culture is increasingly presented as the acceptable face of politics, has pioneered a broader, more open, more peaceable way forward."
He says: "That’s what the museum is about: giving people their place in things.”
“[The Persian Empire] left a dream of the Middle East as a unit, and a unit where people of different faiths could live together.”
“In the world of the Middle East at the moment, the debates are shrill. But … the wisest voice of all of them may well be the voice of this mute thing, the Cyrus cylinder.”