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History of the World: Birmingham
The Sultanganj Buddha
History of the World will create a digital database of local and global history

BBC WM and Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery have revealed a list of 10 objects chosen to tell a history of Birmingham.

They include the Sultanganj Buddha and a piece of the first transatlantic telegraph cable.

Each object has a special connection to and tells a story about Birmingham.

The 10 objects are part of a wider project A History of the World, a partnership between the BBC, the British Museum and 350 other museums.

Shaping Birmingham's history

Birmingham's museums and collections are internationally renowned. They help tell the story of the city's role in world history and how it helped shape the place we live in today.

Martin Ellis, Curator of Fine Arts, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, was given the task of deciding which 10 objects would be chosen for Birmingham.

Video: Martin Ellis discusses Birmingham's History of the World objects

"We, as museum curators, tend to be driven by beauty or it's particular manifestation, but for this project it's got to be a really good story that the object can tell," explained Martin.

"It's got to be a story that will capture people's imagination, that will give people a sense of excitement and belonging and understanding.

"There are lots of objects in Birmingham Museum that have got incredible stories attached to them, about how they were found, how they survived, and how they arrived in the museum's collections."

Sultanganj Buddha

Objects telling a history of Birmingham
Steam Engine Clock Barometer
A Section of the Transatlantic Cable
Steam Engine Clock Barometer
The Sultanganj Buddha
The Glascote Torc
The Luckock Shield of Buttons Collection
Fijian Ancestor Figure
Prayers in the Desert
William Murdock's Locomotive
Pattern Penny
The Last of England (Painting)

"The Sultanganj Buddha is a great example," continued Martin. "It's a fantastic object. The first object to ever enter the museum's collections and many people would say it's the single most important object in Birmingham Museum."

"It tells us so much. It tells us this incredible history of ancient art and Buddhism, the story of the building of the Indian Railway system, and the impact of British colonialism. The fact that this amazing piece of sculpture was snatched away and brought to Birmingham, to a museum that wasn't even built at the time.

"It was considered it would be a great starting object for the people of Birmingham to have.

"It's been on show in Birmingham ever since it was acquired in 1864, and been on show in the museum ever since the museum opened in 1885, and so that gives it part of Birmingham's own history."

Some of the items chosen have great monetary value, others have little or none, but all are priceless in how they bring to life moments from history.

Not so pretty

Just as the Buddha was an obvious choice to be nominated, so too was a piece of the first transatlantic telegraph cable.

Video: Transatlantic telegraph cable

This stubby little piece of cable was part of the original cable that was laid under the Atlantic.

Martin was captivated by the revolution caused by the invention of this item: "The achievement that it was in terms of manufacturing, in terms of the skill of the company Webster & Horsfall who invented and made it. You also have the other side of it, the absolute revolution in world communication that the successful laying of the cable brought.

"People didn't have to wait three days while a ship ploughed across the Atlantic, they could communicate with each other in minutes. That was absolutely revolutionary, the equivalent of putting satellites up into space in the 1950s."

• See a full list of all 10 Birmingham items chosen, from the Steam Engine Clock Barometer to The Luckock Shield of Buttons Collection.

Your involvement

Listeners and viewers will be asked to suggest further objects. You'll be able to actively participate by uploading photographs of your own objects that have a local or global appeal.

It is hoped that this will lead to a People's 10 Objects, telling the history of Birmingham and its global connections.

The Museums in Birmingham will be holding an event on 7 March to celebrate A History of the World, giving you a chance to see the objects for real, as well as discovering more about objects in Birmingham's museums.

TV and radio

BBC WM and Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery invite you to spend a Sunday afternoon celebrating the History of the World on 7 March.

BBC WM's Carl Chinn has explored the significance of the steel pen nib and its huge and vital place in the history of both the Midlands. This was shown on BBC Inside Out West Midlands on 18 January. You can see that again here.

BBC WM will also be telling the story of each of the 10 objects on Carl Chinn's show, every Sunday from 10am-1pm on 95.6FM.

History of the World: Birmingham




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