The BBC, History and Politics

One of the fields in which the BBC excels is the making of history programmes and perhaps one of its more ambitious projects was the Radio 4 one hundred-part series “The History of the World in 100 Objects” which was produced as a joint project with the British Museum in 2010. 

The series has an equally impressive  accompanying website where it is possible to view the objects from the British Museum selected to represent world history, as well as additional objects submitted by the public. 

One of the items contributed by the British Museum is the Lachish Reliefs, although readers would have a hard time identifying the people depicted in the reliefs from the website alone, and even the accompanying broadcast contributes only partly and obliquely to rectifying that, whilst volunteering no information as to in which country Lachish is situated today. 

Another object which appears on the website is a Canaanite bottle from around 2,000 BCE. It is described as coming from “Jericho, Palestine”, but of course the term Palestine did not come into use for a further two millennia until it was introduced by Hadrian in 135 CE. 

So is the intention to state the bottle’s place of origin in terms of modern countries? Some of the exhibits on the site are indeed presented in that manner, whilst others retain the names of kingdoms gone by such as “Judah” – as referenced in the Lachish Reliefs section. 

The accompanying description of the object reads: 

“This ancient bottle came from Jericho, Palestine, at the time of the Canaanites c. 2000 BC. These kind of bottles were used for storing scented oils or medicine, showing how advanced these people were at the time. The bottle came from the 1931-2 excavations in Jericho led by Professor John Garstang (1876-1956). 

This object was chosen by Amer Khattab who visited National Museum Cardiff via the British Museum’s International Training Programme. He is a student at Birzeit University, Palestine.

‘It is not clear exactly how the specimens from Jericho came into the possession of Gwendoline and Margaret Davies (who bequeathed them to Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales in 1952). In 2007, a Dr Edwards wrote to the Museum suggesting that his grandfather, Mr Joseph Davies-Bryan, gave pieces to the Davies sisters. Mr Davies-Bryan was born in Wales in 1860, knew the Davies family and also subscribed towards the cost of the Garstang excavations. 

‘I chose this small bottle because it was the only piece displayed in National Museum Cardiff that came from Palestine. Although it is a small piece, it shows how advanced Canaan’s culture was.’ “

Whether one is of the opinion that it should or should not, will or will not, come into being, Palestine is not currently universally  recognised by the international community as a country and therefore its presentation as such is a political statement, just as would be the case if a reader described an archaeological find as coming from Malvinas. Indeed, in its ‘Country Profile‘ section of its Middle East page, the BBC itself does not define Palestine as a country, but as a territory and so an accurate description of the location of Jericho would be ‘Palestinian National Authority Administered Territories’. 

The BBC, however, has a disclaimer posted on the website:

“Most of the content on A History of the World is created by the contributors, who are the museums and members of the public. The views expressed are theirs and unless specifically stated are not those of the BBC or the British Museum.”

It is, all the same, a pity that the BBC allows itself to be party to the promotion of political propaganda on a website which purports to inform its audience about the history of the world and belongs to an organization charged with “promoting education and learning”.