Our museum holds many thousands of objects, but only a small proportion can be displayed. Space is always short, and even those things which are “out” can easily be missed by visitors. We cannot explain all the details of each item’s story in the small number of words available on a label or graphics panel.
In 2010 the Director of the British Museum, Neil McGregor, began a 20 part series on Radio 4 which told the story of the world in 100 objects from the British Museum’s collections. This ground-breaking series demonstrated how individual, sometimes small and inconspicuous museum objects can be the catalyst for an exploration of our world. The radio programmes, and the book which followed, spawned many imitations, for example in Cornwall where the museums banded together to demonstrate the history of their county through their collections.
In 2016 our Museum Development Trust started selecting and publishing stories about some of our objects in the North Devon Journal. The very first to be selected was a First World War prayer book that had saved the life of a Devonshire Regiment soldier by stopping a bullet. Our Trust Chair, the late David Butt, wrote a compelling account of how significant this object was to him.
Since then, over 30 objects have been selected – when the museum reopens we will highlight the selected 100 objects in the galleries and we hope to publish a small book that will both tell the story of North Devon through our objects and provide a kind of trail around the museum. Some are self-selecting – like the fragments of Barnstaple elephant which has become part of the museum’s identity – but others are personal choices. If you have a favourite object then please do write us a story about it!
You can see most of the published stories at the Trust’s blog https://mbndtrust.org/one-hundred-objects/