While conducting studies about heritage, ethnographic material can be a reliable source of inspiration and it allows reflecting about the practices used in the past for collecting objects from exotic and unknown places. Traditionally, collectors and researchers translated their founding into material for dedicated books or museums. On the other hand, looking at the present, as Affleck J., Kalay Y. and Kvan,T (2007) suggest, nowadays the web is replacing physical venues through the online collection of objects and historical material.
Interestingly the etymology of the word ‘heritage’ comes from a Latin root: aeredem which means ‘take possession of’; while the word ‘tradition’ comes from the verb tradere whit the translation of ‘deliever’. It is not surprising then, that curious and cultivate people have always tried to find ways to gather emblematic symbols of traditions in order to transmit them to the future generations.
British Museum director Neil MacGregor in 2012 realized an ambitious project of selecting 100 objects to illustrate the essence of humanity’s history, with a special emphasis on the idea that cultures are the heritage of the world, Holland, T.(2010).
MacGregor published a book, as well a series of podcast on BBC Radio 4, putting a special focus on the weakest societies that struggled to survive within the centuries, and he also raised the problem that power has often abused of art for political or business objectives.
More than one century before him, August Pitt-Rivers had a similar ambition, of ‘collecting the world’, with the focus on everyday objects as the key to understanding the past. According to Bruce, F.(2014), ‘Pitt-Rivers was fascinated by how different societies and countries solved common problems.’ With these premises the British collector gathered about 22,000 objects and opened a museum in Oxford that was revolutionary for the epoch due to its setup, arranged to show evolutionary trends in human artefacts.
Some could argue that both these projects were megalomaniac, attempting to concentrate the story of humanity in one place, on the other hand both characters found ways to translate and communicate their collections through efficient and valuable design, that is still possible to admire.
Affleck J., Kalay Y. and Kvan,T. (2007) New Heritage: New Media and Cultural Heritage. London: Routledge.
Macgregor, N.(2012) A History of the World in 100 Objects. London: Penguin Books Ltd.
Bruce, F.(2014) ‘Fiona Bruce’s Britain: The Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford. Published on Telegraph online. Available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/destinations/europe/united-kingdom/england/oxfordshire/oxford/articles/Fiona-Bruces-Britain-The-Pitt-Rivers-Museum-Oxford/
Holland, T.(2010) ‘A History of the World in 100 Objects by Neil MacGregor – review’. Published in The Guardian online. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2010/nov/07/history-of-world-100-objects-review