The Forum



A world of ideas


  • Ukulele - a history of Hawaiis national instrument

    Ukulele - a history of Hawaii's national instrument

    13/05/2021 Duração: 39min

    Throughout its 130-year-old history, the ukulele has often been underrated – for many, this tiny four stringed instrument is a musical joke, a plastic toy or a cheap airport souvenir, but in fact, some of the world’s greatest musicians have played and admired it, and it has enduring associations with the struggle for Hawaiian independence since its arrival on the islands from Madeira in the late 19th century. The ukulele is also surprisingly versatile and musicians are forever involved in the challenge of expanding its repertoire, from Bach to ukulele concertos to jazz. Joining Bridget Kendall to find out more about this deceptively humble instrument is the award-winning musician Brittni Paiva, who’s been described as Hawaii’s pre-eminent ukulele artist; Jim Beloff, the co-founder of Flea Market Music, publishers of some of the first ukulele song books which played a key part in the modern ukulele revival, his forthcoming memoir is UKEtopia: Adventures in the Ukulele World; and Samantha Muir, a classical uku

  • Tadeusz Kosciuszko, groundbreaking fort builder

    Tadeusz Kosciuszko, groundbreaking fort builder

    06/05/2021 Duração: 39min

    The American president Thomas Jefferson called Tadeusz Kosciuszko ‘as pure a son of liberty as I have ever known’. Kosciuszko was born in what is today Belarus, trained as an engineer in Poland and France and went on to become one of the important military players in the American War of Independence. This was when he wasn’t pursuing his dream of a free Polish republic against the might of a conservative aristocracy and neighbouring Russian and Prussian armies. Or campaigning against slavery and feudalism. Testimonials like that of Jefferson’s lauding his humility, energy and high moral principles flowed from around the world. He was toasted as a celebrity in London by the likes of Keats and Coleridge. In the USA and Europe there are bridges, statues and monuments in his name. And yet today Kosciuszko is relatively unknown outside of Poland. Rajan Datar aims to change that with the aid of three Kosciuszko experts: Dr. Betsey Blakeslee, President of the Friends of the American Revolution at West Point, an org

  • The census: A snapshot of life

    The census: A snapshot of life

    29/04/2021 Duração: 39min

    Anyone who has ever researched their family tree will have most likely come across the census, the process by which every citizen or subject of a country is counted and classified. Data collected by the census, often carried out every ten years, has been invaluable to genealogists, both amateur and professional. And the census has also developed into an essential tool for governments and organisations to plan how and where they focus their investment in public services such as health care and schools. Inventories of people are known to stretch back to antiquity in places such as Egypt and China, and asked for very basic information for the purposes of tax collection or military service. The modern-day census, however, focuses on questions that touch far more on an individual’s identity and has often been controversial. Now that modern technology makes population data easily accessible in a variety of forms, some are questioning whether there is a need for censuses at all. Bridget Kendall is joined by Dr K

  • Unravelling the history of knitting

    Unravelling the history of knitting

    22/04/2021 Duração: 40min

    Like many traditional domestic crafts, knitting has experienced a huge surge in popularity in the 21st century, making it fashionable and even radical. But the history of hand knitting is still relatively obscure. The oldest knitted artefacts are Coptic socks found in Egypt dating from the fourth century AD, but although they look like modern-day knitting, they’re actually made using a technique called nalebinding or needle-binding. So what then are the real origins of knitting? How did it develop into so many different regional patterns, from the famous Fair Isle of Scotland to distinctive Nordic and South American variations? Joining Bridget Kendall to discuss the global history of knitting are Professor Sandy Black of the University of the Arts London, Norwegian textile designer, Annemor Sundbo, and an expert on South American knitting, Cynthia LeCount Samaké. Produced by Jo Impey for the BBC World Service. Image: Knitting on Taquile Island, Peru Image credit: Hadynyah / Getty Images

  • One Hundred Years of Solitude: The story of Latin America

    One Hundred Years of Solitude: The story of Latin America

    15/04/2021 Duração: 39min

    Considered to be one of literature’s supreme achievements, One Hundred Years of Solitude by the Colombian novelist Gabriel García Márquez is reported to be the most popular work of Spanish-language fiction since Don Quixote in the 17th century. Written in 1967, it tells the story of seven generations of the Buendía family, whose patriarch is the founder of a fictional Colombian village called Macondo. But why is it said this novel – which fuses the fantastical and the real – tells the story of Latin America and has given an entire continent its voice? Joining Bridget Kendall are Ilan Stavans, Professor in Latin American and Latino Culture at Amherst College in Massachusetts, in the United States, and the biographer of Gabriel García Márquez; María del Pilar Blanco, Associate Professor in Spanish American literature at Oxford University, and Parvati Nair, Professor of Hispanic, Cultural and Migration studies at Queen Mary, University of London. Produced: Anne Khazam (Photo: Partial view of a mural painti

  • Rabindranath Tagore: The Bard of Bengal

    Rabindranath Tagore: The Bard of Bengal

    08/04/2021 Duração: 39min

    So prodigious was the polymath Rabindranath Tagore, there’s a saying in Bengal that one lifetime is not enough to consume all of his work. Poet, playwright, thinker, activist, educator, social reformer, composer, artist… the list of his talents is long. Today his name is known all over India and Bangladesh; children recite his poetry at school and his legacy lives on in many different ways. When he became the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913, Tagore was feted for a time by American and European literary figures who saw in him someone who embodied Western preconceptions of a mystic Oriental sage. As a result of his newfound fame outside India, Tagore travelled widely and exchanged ideas with many celebrated world leaders and thinkers from Einstein to Gandhi. Today Tagore’s thoughts on education and his stance vis-à-vis the natural world and our relationship to the environment are seen as remarkably forward-looking. Rajan Datar is joined by Kathleen O’Connell, retired lecturer

  • Pauline Viardot: 19th-Century diva

    Pauline Viardot: 19th-Century diva

    01/04/2021 Duração: 38min

    While the name of Pauline Viardot may be unfamiliar to many, in her lifetime she was one of the most celebrated performers in Europe. Her interpretation of Orpheus in a revival of Gluck’s opera made the writer Charles Dickens weep, and the novelist George Sand said that whenever she heard Pauline Viardot sing, nothing else mattered. In addition to her vocal talents, Pauline Viardot dazzled in high society. She knew almost everybody who came to define 19th Century European culture, thanks to the regular salon she held with her husband in their Parisian townhouse. Acclaimed poets, musicians, composers, artists and even royalty would come to take tea, listen to music, network, perform and share ideas. Alas there are no recordings of her magnificent voice, even though her later years coincided with the beginning of the recording industry. But today Pauline Viardot’s legacy is being rediscovered as a composer, with works that were performed at her salons reaching new audiences. Bridget Kendall is joined by Hilar

  • The One Thousand and One Nights

    The One Thousand and One Nights

    25/03/2021 Duração: 40min

    The One Thousand and One Nights are a collection of fantastical stories of flying carpets, magic and genies whose ancient origins go back to the 7th century or earlier. The tales are told by Scheherazade who uses the power of storytelling night after night to stop her Sultan husband from beheading her. These highly influential stories were brought to the West in the 18th century, when more tales like Aladdin and Ali Baba were said to have been added by the French translator, and it has continued to evolve over the centuries. Rajan Datar and guests explore why these stories became so popular around the world and what they mean to us today. Joining Rajan is Wen Chin Ouyang, Professor of Arabic at SOAS in London; Dr Sandra Naddaff, senior lecturer in Comparative Literature at Harvard University; and the Iranian TV producer Shabnam Rezaei. [Photo: Sand Sculpture depicting 1001 Nights of Sheherazade. Credit: Getty Images]

  • Adventures with dentures: The story of dentistry

    Adventures with dentures: The story of dentistry

    18/03/2021 Duração: 39min

    Until the eighteenth century there were no professional dentists. The only way to deal with a serious case of toothache was to call on the services of blacksmiths, travelling showmen or so-called barber-surgeons, all of whom had a sideline in tooth extraction. But in 1728, French physician Pierre Fauchard published the first complete scientific description of dentistry and he is credited as being “the father of modern dentistry”. His book, Le Chirurgien Dentiste or The Surgeon Dentist, was translated into several languages. Joining Rajan Datar to discuss the painful and sometimes gruesome history of humans and their teeth are Dr. Scott Swank of the National Museum of Dentistry in Baltimore, US; Rachel Bairsto, Head of Museum Services at the British Dental Association and Professor Dominik Gross of RWTH Aachen University in Germany. [Image: Detail from Tearer of Teeth or The Tooth Puller by David Ryjckaert III (1612-1661). Credit: David Dyjckaert III / Buyenlarge / Getty Images]

  • BR Ambedkar: The Dalit hero of India

    BR Ambedkar: The Dalit hero of India

    11/03/2021 Duração: 39min

    Educate, Agitate, Organise. This was the motto of the Indian scholar BR Ambedkar who led an extraordinary life of activism and achievement. It put him in conflict with many other political forces in his native country, such as the Indian National Congress and Mahatma Gandhi. In India itself, Ambedkar's legacy is widely respected but in other countries he is not so well known. And yet, Ambedkar was not only a leading intellectual of his day, brilliant orator, lawyer, successful politician and an unmatched champion of those suffering the harshest discrimination: he was also someone who rose from a Dalit background to being put in charge of writing the first constitution of independent India. The Dalits are the lowest of the low in the Indian social hierarchy, often considered as being below the lowest caste. To tell Ambedkar's story Rajan Datar is joined by three distinguished Ambedkar scholars: Sunil Khilnani, professor of politics and history at Ashoka University and author of Incarnations: India in Fifty Li

  • Making waves: the history of swimming

    Making waves: the history of swimming

    04/03/2021 Duração: 40min

    Common to many cultures across the world, swimming appears on the surface to be a benign leisure activity. But in fact it has much to tell us about such things as the development of societies, our bodies and minds, and our relationship to our ancestors and the natural world. For the Ancient Greeks and Romans, swimming was essential for instilling discipline, as a necessary skill for warriors, and to promote wellbeing. In West Africa where water had spiritual significance, communities there placed great importance on learning to swim from an early age. Their aquatic skills surprised the early colonialists, who then targeted divers to help them plunder shipwrecks when they were trafficked to the New World. Today however African American children are almost six times more likely to drown than their white counterparts as a consequence of historic racial segregation, according to research by the US Centers for Disease Control. Rajan Datar is joined Professor Kevin Dawson from the University of California Merced,

  • Abraham Maslow’s psychology of human needs

    Abraham Maslow’s psychology of human needs

    25/02/2021 Duração: 39min

    Many students of psychology, business, nursing and other disciplines are taught about "Maslow's pyramid of human needs", a diagram that shows a progression from our basic needs, such as food and shelter, to higher, social needs and, eventually, to striving for often intangible life goals and fulfilment. The pyramid is an iconic image, yet Abraham Maslow, a leading humanistic psychologist of the 20th century, didn't actually create it. Moreover, his writings are much more sophisticated and perceptive than the diagram suggests. So where did this confusion come from and why didn't Maslow disown the pyramid? How should we understand Maslow's hierarchy of human needs? Why has it proved so useful in so many different disciplines? And in what way is it relevant to how we live today? These are some of the questions that Bridget Kendall explores with Jessica Grogan from University of Texas at Austin, author of Encountering America, a history of humanistic psychology; David Baker, emeritus professor of psychology and

  • The Kalevala: the Finnish epic that inspired a nation

    The Kalevala: the Finnish epic that inspired a nation

    18/02/2021 Duração: 39min

    When the Kalevala was published in 1835, Finland had a distinct cultural and linguistic identity but it had always been part of either the Swedish or the Russian empire. Neither did Finland have much of a literary tradition, but as the 19th-century progressed the Kalevala took on a symbolic role as the representation of a Finnish identity that fed into the movement for Finnish independence. Rooted in the folk culture of the Karelia region, a travelling doctor shaped the song texts into a story in a way which is still being debated today. Joining Bridget Kendall to discuss how the Kalevala underscored the search for Finnish national identity are Dr Niina Hämäläinen, executive director of the Kalevala Society in Helsinki; Professor Tom DuBois from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the author of Finnish Folk Poetry and the Kalevala; and the award-winning British musician, playwright and storyteller, Nick Hennessey. Produced by Fiona Clampin for the BBC World Service. [Image: The Defense of the Sampo, 1

  • Sister Juana, a great mind of Mexico

    Sister Juana, a great mind of Mexico

    11/02/2021 Duração: 39min

    Sister Juana Ines de la Cruz is celebrated today as one of the finest poets in the history of Mexico. She was not just a creative and intellectual force but also a campaigner for women’s education and someone not afraid to challenge male hypocrisy. The colonial 17th-century society in which she lived was very patriarchal so, not surprisingly, her views brought her into conflict with the men in power. Rajan Datar looks at key episodes in Sister Juana’s life and examines the passion and ingenuity in her poetry and plays with the help of Alicia Gaspar de Alba, Professor at University of California Los Angeles and a writer whose novels include Sor Juana’s Second Dream; Dr. Amy Fuller, Senior Lecturer at Nottingham Trent University, specialist in early modern Spain and Mexico and author of Between Two Worlds, a monograph on Sister Juana's plays; and Rosa Perelmuter, Professor of Romance Studies at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The reader is Pepa Duarte. [Image: A painting of Sister Juana by the M

  • Mermaids: Tales from the deep

    Mermaids: Tales from the deep

    04/02/2021 Duração: 38min

    We delve into the watery depths of sea creature folklore, with a round-the-world tour of different variations on the concept of mermaids – from the Sirens of Greek mythology to the Selkies or Seal Folk of Scottish legend, and water spirits known as Mami Water, which are venerated in parts of Africa and the Americas. Not forgetting the famous fairy tale, The Little Mermaid, which has captivated the imagination ever since its publication in 1837 and was popularised by Disney in the 1980s. Joining Bridget Kendall to discuss what these ancient stories can tell us are Cristina Bacchilega of the University of Hawaii, co-editor of The Penguin Book of Mermaids; British writer, Marcelle Mateki Akita, who has written a book for children called Fatama and Mami Wata's Secret; and Lynn Barbour, founder and Arts Director of the Orkney Folklore and Storytelling Centre in the Orkney Islands in Scotland. Produced by Jo Impey for the BBC World Service. [Image: Detail from Fisherman and Mermaids in the Blue Grotto on Capri b

  • Eleusinian Mysteries: Secret ceremonies promising happiness

    Eleusinian Mysteries: Secret ceremonies promising happiness

    28/01/2021 Duração: 39min

    In ancient Greece, thousands of people flocked each year to join the religious rites known as the Eleusinian Mysteries. Based on the cult of the goddess of fertility Demeter and her daughter Persephone, the Mysteries were for many a profoundly moving and life-changing experience. People from all over the Greek world and beyond travelled to Eleusis for at least 800 years and the ceremonies remained a highlight of the Athenian calendar throughout that time. But what really went on in the great hall of the sanctuary at Eleusis? Why did the organisers deem it necessary to issue a strict injunction against divulging what actually took place - and what happened to some of those who broke that rule? These are some of the questions Bridget Kendall discusses with Christy Constantakopoulou, professor in ancient history and classics at Birkbeck College, London; Esther Eidinow, professor of ancient history at Bristol University; Dr. Philippe Michel Matthey who lectures about ancient religions at Geneva University; and

  • Toussaint L’Ouverture: Hero of the Haitian slave rebellion

    Toussaint L’Ouverture: Hero of the Haitian slave rebellion

    21/01/2021 Duração: 39min

    Late 18th-Century Saint Domingue in the Caribbean – now known as Haiti – was one of the richest countries in the world. Known as ‘the pearl of the Antilles’, its wealth was built almost entirely on slavery. Around half a million enslaved Africans were transported to the French colony to work on the sugar plantations. Toussaint L’Ouverture was destined to see out his days within this brutal system, but his skills as a negotiator and communicator saw him rise to the forefront of the resistance movement on the island. A wily and charismatic operator, he galvanised his fellow countrymen and women to lead history’s first and only successful slave uprising. Diverging from French colonial rule brought him to the attention of Napoleon Bonaparte, who sent a large fleet to re-establish slavery on Saint Domingue. The expedition ended with Toussaint’s capture and exile to France, where he died in a cold prison cell in 1803. But his generals meanwhile carried on the struggle to uphold Toussaint’s opposition to slave

  • Olympe de Gouges: France’s forgotten revolutionary heroine

    Olympe de Gouges: France’s forgotten revolutionary heroine

    14/01/2021 Duração: 40min

    She fought to give women the right to divorce and campaigned on behalf of children born out of wedlock. But in late 18th century France, her radical thinking proved too much for her contemporaries in the French revolution. She insisted women should be allowed to speak out, and she was executed at the guillotine for doing just that. For nearly two centuries her story was largely forgotten, until she was championed by modern-day French feminists, who called for her to be given pride of place in the pantheon of France’s national heroes. Joining Bridget Kendall to discuss the life of the French political activist and playwright Olympe de Gouges are: French philosopher of feminist thought, Geneviève Fraisse; Professor Catriona Seth of the University of Oxford; and British-French playwright and translator, Clarissa Palmer. Produced by Jo Impey for the BBC World Service. Image: Portrait of Olympe de Gouges (1748-1793) by Anonymous Image credit: Christophel Fine Art/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

  • Alexandre Yersin and the race to fight the plague

    Alexandre Yersin and the race to fight the plague

    07/01/2021 Duração: 39min

    When Alexandre Yersin discovered one of the most lethal bacteria in human history, the tiny bacillus of the plague that over the centuries had killed tens of millions of people, he earned his place in the history books. Working in a straw hut in Hong Kong, armed with just a microscope, Yersin’s methodical mind worked out within just a few days where in human body to look for the plague bacteria. A much bigger and better-equipped Japanese team, competing with Yersin, came away empty-handed. So who was Alexandre Yersin? Why did this pioneering Swiss scientist spend most of his life in Vietnam? And why did it take decades fully to credit Yersin with the discovery of the microorganism that now bears his name, Yersinia pestis? These are some of the questions Bridget Kendall discusses with film director Stephane Kleeb, who made a documentary about Yersin; Professor Maxime Schwartz, medical historian and former director of the Pasteur Institute in France; and Dr. Mary Augusta Brazelton from Cambridge University who

  • Famous hats in history

    Famous hats in history

    31/12/2020 Duração: 39min

    There have been so many, probably hundreds, different styles and types of hat in history that a question inevitably arises: why? Why did something that began as a simple protection against inclement weather take on such varied forms and social meanings? Bridget Kendall and guests explore not just how hats were made, and by whom, but also how their function has evolved over centuries and across cultures. By focusing on just five distinct hat types, they sketch out a brief social history of headwear. Bridget is joined by Dr. Drake Stutesman, an adjunct professor at New York University, and the author of the book Hat: Origins, Language, Style; Dr. Ulinka Rublack, professor of Early Modern European History at Cambridge University with a particular interest in Renaissance fashion; and Dr. Kirill Babaev, a cultural anthropologist and writer from the Russian Academy of Sciences and founder of the World of Hat museum in Riga, Latvia. [Image: Model Carre Otis wearing a wide-brimmed black straw hat with a print of

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