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  • 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

  • Mugham: the sound of Azerbaijan

    Mugham: the sound of Azerbaijan

    24/12/2020 Duração: 39min

    Azerbaijan’s strategic location along the old Silk Road and its wealth of natural resources has made it a prime target for warring empires over centuries. The conquests and the invasions by Turkic and Persian peoples find echoes in the traditional art music of Azerbaijan known as mugham. The influence of the Russian and then Soviet empire also brought change for mugham, the effects of which are still debated today. Mugham is characterised by a large degree of improvisation, but musicians learn for years from mugham masters to acquire the skills which allow them to extemporise within a strict framework. It’s no surprise to learn that in the 20th century, mugham fused with that other great improvisatory music – jazz. With the help of musical examples, Rajan Datar and guests will explore how mugham works and the instruments such as the tar and the kamancha that give this music its unique sound. Joining Rajan will be ethnomusicologist and tar player Dr Polina Dessiatnitchenko who’s writing a book on mugham i

  • The Kingdom of Aksum: Africas trading empire

    The Kingdom of Aksum: Africa's trading empire

    17/12/2020 Duração: 39min

    At its height, the Aksumite Empire extended across the northern Ethiopian and Eritrean highlands, and even included parts of Sudan, Somalia and modern-day Yemen. From the first century BC to the seventh or eighth centuries AD it was one of the most important trading hubs in north-east Africa. It was also one of the earliest states in the world to adopt Christianity. In fact the Persian prophet Mani named the Aksumite Empire as one of the “four great kingdoms on Earth” together with Persia, Rome and China. But despite its power and reputation, we’re only now beginning to understand more about the lives of the people who lived there. Joining Bridget Kendall to discuss the Aksumite Empire and its legacy are Helina Solomon Woldekiros, Assistant Professor of Archaeology at Washington University in St Louis, Missouri; Felege-Selam Solomon Yirga, Assistant Professor of History at the University of Tennessee; and Dr. Niall Finneran, Reader in Historical Archaeology and Heritage Studies at the University of Wincheste

  • Umm Kulthum: Egypt’s singing superstar

    Umm Kulthum: Egypt’s singing superstar

    10/12/2020 Duração: 39min

    Umm Kulthum’s powerful voice and talent for communicating poetry was spotted early, when she accompanied her family to perform at weddings and special occasions. It wasn’t long before she was performing in the elite salons of early 20th-century Cairo, although her father dressed her as a boy to protect her from any unwelcome interactions with strangers. In the Egyptian capital she quickly associated herself with the most talented musicians of the day, and from then on she never looked back. She explored the major Arabic song forms of the period, collaborating with composers and poets. She dabbled in film, negotiated record deals, and when public service broadcasting began in the 1930s, she secured herself a monthly slot on national radio. In awe of her talent and mesmerising presence, the Arab world practically came to a standstill whenever she was heard on the airwaves. Joining Bridget Kendall to explore Umm Kulthum’s life are Virginia Danielson, author of The Voice of Egypt: Umm Kulthum, Arabic Song and

  • Alexandre Dumas: The man behind the Musketeers

    Alexandre Dumas: The man behind the Musketeers

    03/12/2020 Duração: 39min

    The word 'swashbuckling' is often used to describe the novels of Alexandre Dumas the Elder, the creator of D’Artagnan and the Three Musketeers, the Count of Monte Cristo and the Man in the Iron Mask. But Dumas himself led a life as colourful as many of his gallery of rogues, villains and heroes. Having grown up in poverty, he found employment in the household of a future king of France. He was prolific on the page and pretty active away from it. At first with a series of highly successful plays and then with serialised novels, his production house churned out hundreds of thousands of pages of gripping narrative. He had pet projects like building a mansion and theatre, he had countless mistresses and he frequently found himself in legal disputes and on the run from debt collectors. In the 150th anniversary year of Dumas’ death Rajan Datar explores the writer's life and work with Claudie Bernard, professor of French Literature, Thought and Culture at New York University; Daniel Desormeaux, professor of Arts a

  • Unlocking the mysteries of cuneiform tablets

    Unlocking the mysteries of cuneiform tablets

    26/11/2020 Duração: 36min

    Cuneiform is an ancient writing system distinguished by wedge-shaped marks made into clay. It developed over 5,000 years ago in Ancient Mesopotamia. At its height it was used to write languages across the ancient Middle East, from Iran to Syria to Anatolia in Turkey. But cuneiform writing fell out of use about 2,000 years ago in favour of alphabetic scripts. When scholars in the 19th century finally managed to redecipher it, they discovered fascinating insights into the culture and rituals of people living in the ancient Middle East, unlocking texts that have changed our understanding of history, including The Epic of Gilgamesh, the Code of Hammurabi and The Amarna Letters of Ancient Egypt. And cuneiform has even seen something of a revival in modern-day Iraqi visual culture. Joining Rajan Datar to discuss cuneiform script are Professor Eleanor Robson of University College London, Dr Mark Weeden of SOAS, University of London and Ahmed Naji, author of 'Under The Palm Trees: Modern Iraqi Art with Mohamed Maki

  • First impressions: The printing press

    First impressions: The printing press

    19/11/2020 Duração: 39min

    When the fifteenth century German entrepreneur Johannes Gutenberg pioneered the printing press, he made an indelible mark on the history of communication. Here was a way to print pages in high quality and high quantities, using methods more efficient than had ever been seen before. Rajan Datar and guests explore the story of how the printing press was born, and how it changed our world - from the birth of the modern book to the rise of the information society, and the transformation of fields including scholarship and religion. Rajan is joined by art historian Hala Auji, publisher Michael Bhaskar, scholar Cristina Dondi and the writer John Man. [Image: A bas-relief of Johannes Gutenberg checking his work while his assistant turns the press, c.1450. Credit: by Hulton Archive/Getty Images]

  • The woman whose cells changed medical history

    The woman whose cells changed medical history

    12/11/2020 Duração: 39min

    The story of a young mother who unwittingly left behind a vast medical legacy. Henrietta Lacks died of cancer in Baltimore in 1951 and though she never gave consent to her tissue being used for research, doctors at the time found that her unusually virulent tumour had extraordinary properties. As her cells multiplied in labs around the world, they helped make possible all sorts of medical breakthroughs, from the polio vaccine to cancer drugs and IVF treatment. But it took the Lacks family decades to discover what was going on, and the story raises questions for all of us – about medical ethics, institutional racism, and our right to privacy. Joining Bridget Kendall to discuss this remarkable story are: Henrietta Lacks' grandson David Lacks Jnr who's on the board of the HeLa Genome Access Working Group; the award-winning science writer, Rebecca Skloot, whose book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks brought the story to the world's attention a decade ago; and Sir John Burn, Professor of Clinical Genetics at N

  • Comenius, a pioneer of lifelong learning

    Comenius, a pioneer of lifelong learning

    05/11/2020 Duração: 39min

    Teaching not by rote but through play? That's credited to the 17th-century Czech pastor and thinker called Jan Amos Comenius. Splitting schoolchildren up into year groups? That's Comenius. Universal education for all, rich and poor? That's down to him too. Nearly four centuries ago, Comenius came up with principles of modern education but they were only implemented hundreds of years after his death. That these ideas are now so widely accepted obscures the fact that they were ground-breaking - indeed too radical - in his day. Comenius lived through turbulent times: the devastating Thirty Year served as the backdrop to much of his life. He was suffered personal tragedy during the bitter battles between Protestants and Catholics in Europe and spent most of his adult life in exile. Joining Rajan Datar to analyse the contribution to modern thinking made by Comenius in this, the 350th anniversary year of his death are Dr. Vladimir Urbanek, Head of the Department of Comenius' Studies and Early Modern Intellectual H

  • Dido of Carthage: A love story gone wrong

    Dido of Carthage: A love story gone wrong

    29/10/2020 Duração: 39min

    A Phoenician princess, who fled into exile to escape the cruel king of Tyre, sailed across the Mediterranean Sea to North Africa, where she founded the great city of Carthage in the ninth century BC. Well, that is one story about Dido, or Elissa, as she is known in today's Lebanon and Tunisia. Another, from the Roman poet Virgil, puts her at the centre of a tragic love story: first entranced, then abandoned by the wandering Trojan hero Aeneas, Dido curses him and takes her own life. So who was the real Dido? Was she a powerful independent queen, or a victim - a spurned lover? And did she exist at all? Bridget Kendall is joined by Josephine Quinn, professor of Ancient History at Oxford University, and the author of the book In Search of the Phoenicians; Helene Sader, professor of Archaeology at the American University of Beirut, and the author of The History and Archaeology of Phoenicia; Roald Docter, professor of Archaeology at Ghent University and the editor of Carthage Studies; and Boutheina Maraoui Te

  • Paul Robeson: Singer, actor and civil rights activist

    Paul Robeson: Singer, actor and civil rights activist

    22/10/2020 Duração: 39min

    The multi-talented Paul Robeson could have turned his hand to pretty much anything he set his mind to: lawyer, athlete and linguist were just some of the career paths he could have taken. But he chose to become an actor and singer, and in doing so reached into the lives of huge numbers of people as one of the most popular American entertainers of his time. Outspoken on the issues of racism, colonialism and the rights of workers, he used his popularity to campaign against the injustice he saw in many countries across the world – not just injustice suffered by his fellow African Americans. During the Cold War, his support for Soviet-style communism was deemed unacceptable by the American establishment, and some set out to destroy his career. Joining Bridget Kendall to examine Paul Robeson’s life are Dr Gerald Horne, the Moores Professor of History and African American Studies at the University of Houston and the author of Paul Robeson: The Artist as Revolutionary; Dr Shana L Redmond, Professor of Musicol

  • Telling the time: From sundials to satnav

    Telling the time: From sundials to satnav

    15/10/2020 Duração: 39min

    Many of us can find the time of day quickly and accurately but where did the idea of time keeping originate and how did our ancestors manage without the instant access we take for granted today? From ancient shadow and water clocks to the latest super accurate optical clocks, Bridget Kendal explores time keeping with the Curator of the Royal Observatory in London, Dr Louise Devoy; the Director of the Museum of the History of Science in Oxford, Dr Silke Ackermann; and watch and clock expert Grégory Gardinetti from the Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie in Geneva. Photo: World Clocks (Credit: EyeWire, Inc.)

  • Writer Jorge Luis Borges: Mixing the magical with the mundane

    Writer Jorge Luis Borges: Mixing the magical with the mundane

    08/10/2020 Duração: 39min

    ‘We accept reality so readily - perhaps because we sense that nothing is real.' A typically paradoxical quote from the Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges whose works have become classics and an influence not just on many Latin American novelists but on countless authors around the world. Yet although he is one of the most analysed figures in literature, even his greatest fans struggle fully to explain his writing. So who was Jorge Luis Borges? And what is it that makes his writing so compelling? To find out, Bridget Kendall talks to three Borges experts: Dr. Patricia Novillo-Corvalán, from the University of Kent, author of Borges and Joyce, An Infinite Conversation; Prof. Evelyn Fishburn, from University College London, author of Hidden Pleasures in Borges’s Fiction; and Edwin Williamson, Professor at Oxford University and editor of the Cambridge Companion to Jorge Luis Borges. (Image: Jorge Luis Borges in 1973 Photo: Horacio Villalobos/Corbis via Getty Images)

  • Elizabeth Fry: The angel of prisons

    Elizabeth Fry: 'The angel of prisons'

    01/10/2020 Duração: 39min

    Life behind bars in English prisons in the early nineteenth century was, to put it mildly, grim. Prisons at the time were often damp, dirty and over-crowded. Common punishments included shipping convicts to colonies like Australia - and many crimes carried the death penalty. And the poor suffered most of all, because they couldn’t buy privileges like extra food rations. Into all this walked a woman known as the "angel of prisons", Elizabeth Fry. She was one of the major driving forces behind a new way of thinking about prisons – one that stressed that improving conditions for prisoners and treating them with humanity would lead to better outcomes and lower re-offending rates. A Christian philanthropist from a large Quaker family, her ideas were taken up across much of Europe, and she became something of a celebrity in Victorian England. Joining Rajan Datar to discuss her work and legacy are: Averil Douglas Opperman, author of a biography of Elizabeth Fry called 'While It Is Yet Day'; Criminal barrister, Ha

  • The 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre

    The 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre

    24/09/2020 Duração: 39min

    Greenwood was an African American success story: a thriving, wealthy district of Tulsa. Over the course of two days at the end of May 1921 it was the scene of looting, rioting and murder. After 18 hours the area was razed to the ground by vigilantes. One eye witness said it looked like the world was coming to an end with bullets. Nobody to this day has been able to establish the true number of deaths. Some put the figure in the hundreds, with casualties on both sides. The community rebuilt itself however, and today it’s the focus of a multi-million dollar investment and education programme. Joining Rajan Datar to examine the events of 1921 are Carol Anderson, the Charles Howard Candler Professor of African American Studies at Emory University and the author of White Rage; Hannibal B Johnson, lawyer and author of numerous books on the city’s history including the forthcoming Black Wall Street 100: An American City Grapples With Its Historical Racial Trauma and John W Franklin, cultural historian and former s

  • Queen Tamar: The myth of a perfect ruler

    Queen Tamar: The myth of a perfect ruler

    17/09/2020 Duração: 39min

    Queen Tamar was one of Georgia’s most iconic and colourful rulers, a powerful medieval sovereign who controlled large parts of the Caucasus and the eastern side of the Black Sea and forged strong cultural links with both the Byzantine West and the Persian South. Her influence extended beyond the battlefield: she presided over the last phase of the Georgian ‘Golden Age’ which saw the building of classic Georgian churches and a flowering of the Arts that produced one of Georgia’s most important poets. So who was Queen Tamar? How did she rise to power and outmanoeuvre her enemies? And why do the myths about her rule publicised by her faithful chroniclers persist till today? Bridget Kendall is joined by Dr. Ekaterine Gedevanishvili, Senior Researcher at the National Centre for the History of Georgian Art in Tbilisi; Alexander Mikaberidze, Professor of History at Louisiana State University; Dr. Sandro Nikolaishvili, researcher at the University of Southern Denmark, who works on retracing connections between the By

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