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Test 1 / 23

A History of the World in 100 Objects

In this book we travel back in time and across the globe, to see how we have shaped our world and been shaped by it over the last two million years. The book tries to tell a history of the world in a way that has not been attempted before, by deciphering the messages which objects communicate across time – messages about peoples and places, environments and interactions, about different moments in history and about our own time as we reflect upon it. These signals from the past – some reliable, some conjectural, many still to be retrieved – are unlike other evidence we are likely to encounter. They speak of whole societies and complex processes rather than individual events, and tell of the world for which they were made.

The history that emerges from these objects will seem unfamiliar to many. There are few well-known dates, famous battles or celebrated incidents. Canonical events – the making of the Roman Empire, the Mongol destruction of Baghdad, the European Renaissance – are not centre stage. They are, however, present, refracted through individual objects. Thus, in my chapter on the ancient inscribed tablet known as the Rosetta Stone, for example, I show that it has played a starring role in three fascinating stories: as a legal document in ancient Egyptian times; as a trophy during the rivalry between the French and the British; and finally as a key to the decipherment of the ancient Egyptian writing system at the end of the nineteenth century.

If you want to tell the history of the whole world, a history that does not unduly privilege one part of humanity, you cannot do it through texts alone, because only some of the world has ever had written records, while most of the world, for most of the time, has not. The clearest example of this asymmetry between literate and non-literate history is perhaps the first encounter between Europeans and Australian aboriginals. From the European side we have eye-witness accounts and scientific reports. From the Australian side, we have only a wooden shield dropped by a man in flight after his first experience of gunshot. If we want to reconstruct what was actually going on that day, the shield must be interrogated and interpreted as deeply and as rigorously as the written reports.

All so much easier said than done. Writing history from the study of texts is a familiar process, and we have centuries of critical apparatus to assist our assessment of written records. We have learnt how to judge their frankness, their distortions, their ploys. With objects, we do of course have structures of expertise – archaeological, scientific, anthropological – which allow us to ask critical questions. But we have to add to that a considerable leap of imagination, returning the artefact to its former life, engaging with it as generously, as poetically, as we can in the hope of winning the insights it may deliver.

One of the characteristics of things is that they change – or are changed – long after they have been created, taking on new meanings that could never have been imagined at the outset. A startlingly large number of our objects bear on them the marks of later events. Sometimes this is merely the damage that comes with time, or from clumsy excavation or forceful removal. But frequently, later interventions were designed deliberately to change meaning or to reflect the pride or pleasures of new ownership. The object becomes a document not just of the world for which it was made, but of the later periods which altered it.

History looks different depending on who you are and where you are looking from. So although all these objects in the book are now in museums, it deliberately includes many different voices and perspectives. It draws on the museums’ own experts, but it also presents research and analysis by leading scholars from all over the world, as well as comments by people who deal professionally with objects similar to those discussed. This book also includes voices from the communities or countries where the objects were made, as only they can explain what meanings these things still carry in their homeland. Countries and communities around the world are increasingly defining themselves through new readings of their history, and that history is frequently anchored in such things. So a museum is not just a collection of objects: it is an arena where such issues can be debated and contested on a global scale.

What claim does the author make about his book in the first paragraph?
The Rosetta Stone serves as an example of an object
The author believes that basing a history of the world on texts alone
The author says that compared to the interpretation of texts, the interpretation of objects calls for
What is the author’s attitude to the fact that objects often change over time?
Why does the author include comments from people who live in the area where the object was made?
Test 2 / 23

The Ghost

We were speaking of sequestration, alluding to a recent lawsuit. It was at the close of a friendly evening in a very old mansion in the Rue de Grenelle, and each of the guests had a story to tell, which he assured us was true. Then the old Marquis de la Tour-Samuel, eighty-two years of age, rose and came forward to lean on the mantelpiece. He told the following story in his slightly quavering voice:

I, also, have witnessed a strange thing, so strange that it has been the nightmare of my life. It happened fifty-six years ago, and yet there is not a month when I do not see it again in my dreams. From that day I have borne a mark, a stamp of fear, do you understand?

Yes, for ten minutes I was a prey to terror, in such a way that ever since a constant dread has remained in my soul. Unexpected sounds chill me to the heart; objects which I can ill distinguish in the evening shadows make me long to flee. I am afraid at night.

No! I would not have owned up to such a thing before reaching my present age. But now I may tell everything. One may fear imaginary dangers at eighty-two years old. But before actual danger I have never turned back, mesdames.

That affair so upset my mind, filled me with such a deep, mysterious unrest that I never could tell it. I kept it in that inmost part, that corner where we conceal our sad, our shameful secrets, all the weaknesses of our life which cannot be confessed.

I will tell you that strange happening just as it took place, with no attempt to explain it. Unless I went mad for one short hour it must be explainable, though. Yet I was not mad, and I will prove it to you. Imagine what you will. Here are the simple facts:

It was in 1827, in July. I was quartered with my regiment in Rouen. One day, as I was strolling on the quay, I came across a man I believed I recognized, though I could not place him with certainty. I instinctively went more slowly, ready to pause. The stranger saw my impulse, looked at me, and fell into my arms.

It was a friend of my younger days, of whom I had been very fond. He seemed to have become half a century older in the five years since I had seen him. His hair was white, and he stooped in his walk, as if he were exhausted. He understood my amazement and told me the story of his life. A terrible event had broken him down. He had fallen madly in love with a young girl and married her in a kind of dreamlike ecstasy. After a year of unalloyed bliss and unexhausted passion, she had died suddenly of heart disease, no doubt killed by love itself.

He had left the country on the very day of her funeral, and had come to live in his hotel at Rouen. He remained there, solitary and desperate, grief slowly mining him, so wretched that he constantly thought of suicide. ‘As I thus came across you again,’ he said, ‘I shall ask a great favor of you. I want you to go to my château and get some papers I urgently need. They are in the writing-desk of my room, of our room. I cannot send a servant or a lawyer, as the errand must be kept private. I want absolute silence.

‘I shall give you the key of the room, which I locked carefully myself before leaving, and the key to the writing-desk. I shall also give you a note for the gardener, who will let you in. ‘Come to breakfast with me to-morrow, and we’ll talk the matter over.’

I promised to render him that slight service. It would mean but a pleasant excursion for me, his home not being more than twenty-five miles from Rouen. I could go there in an hour on horseback. At ten o’clock the next day I was with him. We breakfasted alone together, yet he did not utter more than twenty words. He asked me to excuse him. The thought that I was going to visit the room where his happiness lay shattered, upset him, he said. Indeed, he seemed perturbed, worried, as if some mysterious struggle were taking place in his soul.

At last he explained exactly what I was to do. It was very simple. I was to take two packages of letters and some papers, locked in the first drawer on the right of the desk of which I had the key. He added: ‘I need not ask you not to glance at them.’

I was almost hurt by his words, and told him so, rather sharply. He stammered: ‘Forgive me. I suffer so much!’ And tears came to his eyes.

I left about one o’clock to accomplish my errand. The day was radiant, and I rushed through the meadows, listening to the song of the larks, and the rhythmical beat of my sword on my riding-boots. Then I entered the forest, and I set my horse to walking. Branches of the trees softly caressed my face, and now and then I would catch a leaf between my teeth and bite it with avidity, full of the joy of life, such as fills you without reason, with a tumultuous happiness almost indefinable, a kind of magical strength.

As I neared the house I took out the letter for the gardener, and noted with surprise that it was sealed. I was so amazed and so annoyed that I almost turned back without fulfilling my mission. Then I thought that I should thus display over-sensitiveness and bad taste. My friend might have sealed it unconsciously, worried as he was.

The manor looked as though it had been deserted the last twenty years. The gate, wide-open and rotten, held, one wondered how. Grass filled the paths; you could not tell the flower-beds from the lawn.

How does the Marquis look back on what happened to him?
Why hasn't the Marquis ever told the story before now?
Why did the narrator's friend look so much older?
Why did the narrator's friend ask him to go to his chateau?
Why was the narrator offended during his breakfast with his friend?
Which word is closest in meaning to 'avidity' in the third to last paragraph?
Test 3 / 23

Soft City: Picador Classic

In the city, we are barraged with images of the people we might become. Identity is presented as plastic, a matter of possessions and appearances; and a very large proportion of the urban landscape is taken up by slogans, advertisements, flatly photographed images of folk heroes -the man who turned into a sophisticated dandy overnight by drinking a particular brand of drink, the girl who transformed herself into a femme fatale with a squirt of cheap scent. The tone of the wording of these advertisements is usually pert and facetious, comically drowning in its own hyperbole. But the pictures are brutally exact: they reproduce every detail of a style of life, down to the brand of cigarette-lighter, the stone in the ring, and the economic row of books on the shelf.

Yet, if one studies a line of ads across from where one is sitting on a tube train, these images radically conflict with each other. Swap the details about between the pictures, and they are instantly made illegible. If the characters they represent really are heroes, then they clearly have no individual claim to speak for society as a whole. The clean-cut and the shaggy, rakes, innocents, brutes, home-lovers, adventurers, clowns all compete for our attention and invite emulation. As a gallery, they do provide a glossy mirror of the aspirations of a representative city crowd; but it is exceedingly hard to discern a single dominant style, an image of how most people would like to see themselves.

Even in the business of the mass-production of images of identity, this shift from the general to the diverse and particular is quite recent. Consider another line of stills: the back-lit, soft-focus portraits of the first and second generations of great movie stars. There is a degree of romantic unparticularity in the face of each one, as if they were communal dream-projections of society at large. Only in the specialised genres of westerns, farces and gangster movies were stars allowed to have odd, knobbly cadaverous faces. The hero as loner belonged to history or the underworld: he spoke from the perimeter of society, reminding us of its dangerous edges.

The stars of the last decade have looked quite different. Soft-focus photography has gone, to be replaced by a style which searches out warts and bumps, emphasises the uniqueness not the generality of the face. Voices, too, are strenuously idiosyncratic; whines, stammers and low rumbles are exploited as features of ‘star quality’. Instead of romantic heroes and heroines, we have a brutalist, hard-edged style in which isolation and egotism are assumed as natural social conditions.

In the movies, as in the city, the sense of stable hierarchy has become increasingly exhausted; we no longer live in a world where we can all share the same values, the same heroes. (It is doubtful whether this world, so beloved of nostalgia moralists, ever existed; but lip-service was paid to it, the pretence, at least, was kept up.) The isolate and the eccentric push towards the centre of the stage; their fashions and mannerisms are presented as having as good a claim to the limelight and the future as those of anyone else. In the crowd on the underground platform, one may observe a honeycomb of fully-worked-out worlds, each private, exclusive, bearing little comparison with its nearest neighbour. What is prized in one is despised in another. There are no clear rules about how one is supposed to manage one’s body, dress, talk, or think. Though there are elaborate protocols and etiquettes among particular cults and groups within the city, they subscribe to no common standard.

For the new arrival, this disordered abundance is the city’s most evident and alarming quality. He feels as if he has parachuted into a funfair of contradictory imperatives. There are so many people he might become, and a suit of clothes, a make of car, a brand of cigarettes, will go some way towards turning him into apersonage even before he has discovered who that personage is. Personal identity has always been deeply rooted in property, but hitherto the relationship has been a simple one – a question of buying what you could afford, and leaving your wealth to announce your status. In the modern city, there are so many things to buy, such a quantity of different kinds of status, that the choice and its attendant anxieties have created a new pornography of taste.

The leisure pages of the Sunday newspapers, fashion magazines, TV plays, popular novels, cookbooks, window displays all nag at the nerve of our uncertainty and snobbery. Should we like American cars, hard-rock hamburger joints, Bauhaus chairs … ? Literature and art are promoted as personal accessories: the paintings of Mondrian or the novels of Samuel Beckett ‘go’ with certain styles like matching handbags. There is in the city a creeping imperialism of taste, in which more and more commodities are made over to being mere expressions of personal identity. The piece of furniture, the pair of shoes, the book, the film, are important not so much in themselves but for what they communicate about their owners; and ownership is stretched to include what one likes or believes in as well as what one can buy.

What does the writer say about advertisements in the first paragraph?
The writer says that if you look at a line of advertisements on a tube train, it is clear that
What does the writer imply about portraits of old movie stars?
What does the writer suggest about the stars of the last decade?
The writer uses the crowd on an underground platform to exemplify his belief that
The writer implies that new arrivals in a city may
Test 4 / 23

Tarzan Of The Apes

I had this story from one who had no business to tell it to me, or to any other. I may credit the seductive influence of an old vintage upon the narrator for the beginning of it, and my own sceptical incredulity during the days that followed for the balance of the strange tale.

When my convivial host discovered that he had told me so much, and that I was prone to doubtfulness, his foolish pride assumed the task the old vintage had commenced, and so he unearthed written evidence in the form of a musty manuscript, and dry official records of the British Colonial Office to support many of the salient features of his remarkable narrative.

I do not say the story is true, for I did not witness the happenings which it portrays, but the fact that in the telling of it to you I have taken fictitious names for the principal characters quite sufficiently evidences the sincerity of my own belief that it MAY be true.

The yellow, mildewed pages of the diary of a man long dead, and the records of the Colonial Office dovetail perfectly with the narrative of my convivial host, and so I give you the story as I painstakingly pieced it out from these several various agencies.

If you do not find it credible you will at least be as one with me in acknowledging that it is unique, remarkable, and interesting.

From the records of the Colonial Office and from the dead man’s diary we learn that a certain young English nobleman, whom we shall call John Clayton, Lord Greystoke, was commissioned to make a peculiarly delicate investigation of conditions in a British West Coast African Colony from whose simple native inhabitants another European power was known to be recruiting soldiers for its native army, which it used solely for the forcible collection of rubber and ivory from the savage tribes along the Congo and the Aruwimi. The natives of the British Colony complained that many of their young men were enticed away through the medium of fair and glowing promises, but that few if any ever returned to their families.

The Englishmen in Africa went even further, saying that these poor blacks were held in virtual slavery, since after their terms of enlistment expired their ignorance was imposed upon by their white officers, and they were told that they had yet several years to serve.

And so the Colonial Office appointed John Clayton to a new post in British West Africa, but his confidential instructions centered on a thorough investigation of the unfair treatment of black British subjects by the officers of a friendly European power. Why he was sent, is, however, of little moment to this story, for he never made an investigation, nor, in fact, did he ever reach his destination.

Clayton was the type of Englishman that one likes best to associate with the noblest monuments of historic achievement upon a thousand victorious battlefields: a strong, virile man, mentally, morally, and physically.

In stature he was above the average height; his eyes were gray, his features regular and strong; his carriage that of perfect, robust health influenced by his years of army training.

Political ambition had caused him to seek transference from the army to the Colonial Office and so we find him, still young, entrusted with a delicate and important commission in the service of the Queen.

When he received this appointment he was both elated and appalled. The preferment seemed to him in the nature of a well-merited reward for painstaking and intelligent service, and as a stepping stone to posts of greater importance and responsibility; but, on the other hand, he had been married to the Hon. Alice Rutherford for scarce three months, and it was the thought of taking this fair young girl into the dangers and isolation of tropical Africa that appalled him.

For her sake he would have refused the appointment, but she would not have it so. Instead, she insisted that he accept, and, indeed, take her with him.

There were mothers and brothers and sisters, and aunts and cousins to express various opinions on the subject, but as to what they severally advised history is silent.

We know only that on a bright May morning in 1888, John, Lord Greystoke, and Lady Alice sailed from Dover on their way to Africa.

A month later they arrived at Freetown where they chartered a small sailing vessel, the Fuwalda, which was to bear them to their final destination.

Who found the paperwork that supported the story?
What is the gist of the narrator's message to the reader about the credibility of the story?
What was the nature of John Clayton's investigation?
How did John Clayton's investigation go?
Why had John Clayton left the army?
Why was John Clayton torn between accepting and rejecting his new job?