The Essay

The Essay

United Kingdom

Leading writers on arts, history, philosophy, science, religion and beyond, themed across a week - insight, opinion and intellectual surprise

Episodes

The Telephone  

Andrew Martin toasts five 'social phenomena' that are still with us - just. The author dislikes mobile phones. Because he hankers after the rituals and protocols of the old telephones. On a telephone you can be witty, louche, stylish. Try out the 700-series for instance, in a range of colours each suggesting a certain mood, quality. Producer Duncan Minshull.

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The Ventriloquist Doll  

Andrew Martin toasts five 'social phenomena' that are still with us - just. Starting in London's Hampstead Cemetery, the author pays homage to some amazing characters of the 'vent' world: Sailor Jim; Lord Charles; Shorty; Arthur Lager. All enjoyed varying degrees of success through the decades - just don't call them dummies. Producer Duncan Minshull.

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The Boating Pond  

Andrew Martin toasts five 'social phenomena' that are still with us - just. It starts amidst the elegance of the Jardin du Luxembourg, where the author's sons potter about with model boats on the ornamental lake. This is charmingly anachronistic and will spark off searches for more ponds and model boats in the UK. Places such as Hampstead, Clapham, Southwold, where it's a small but enthusiastic pastime still. Producer Duncan Minshull.

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Peace in the Levant  

The First World War did not end with the German Armistice in 1918, nor with the Treaty of Versailles with Germany in 1919. In fact, peace negotiations would not be finalised until 1923 when the Treaty of Lausanne with Turkey finally brought the War to a close. The peacemakers of 1919 had to deal with the fall-out from the collapse of four vast empires - German, Austro-Hungarian, Russian and Ottoman. This made the peace process particularly complex. Not only did the peacemakers have to redraw the national borders of countries that had fought in the War; they also had to create new states to accommodate the peoples of the empires that had collapsed. Aligning ethnicity with state frontiers was to prove an impossible task. Military historian Hew Strachan reflects on the long road to peace with the peoples of the former Ottoman Empire and the legacy of that peace settlement today. Sir Hew Strachan is Professor of International Relations at the University of St Andrews and an Emeritus Fellow of All Souls College, University of Oxford. Producer: Catriona Oliphant Executive Producer: Alan Hall A ChromeRadio production for BBC Radio 3.

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The World Comes to Paris  

In 1919, delegations from across the world gathered in Paris to negotiate an end to the First World War. Only an hour or two's drive away lay the shattered villages, devastated landscapes and multiple cemeteries of northern France. Many of those attending the Paris Peace Conference drove out to witness the destruction for themselves, as eventually did the American President Woodrow Wilson. For President Wilson, bringing the War to an end with the right kind of peace had become a personal crusade. It was Wilson's principles for peace - many of which had, in fact, originated in Britain - that were to be influential in shaping the terms of the Treaty of Versailles with Germany. Military historian Hew Strachan considers how Wilson's thinking shaped the terms of the Treaty of Versailles and disputes the notion that its treatment of Germany led directly to the Second World War. Sir Hew Strachan is Professor of International Relations at the University of St Andrews and an Emeritus Fellow of All Souls College, University of Oxford. Producer: Catriona Oliphant Executive Producer: Alan Hall A ChromeRadio production for BBC Radio 3.

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Armistice  

By the summer of 1918, the territory controlled by the German Empire stretched from France to Russia, and anticipated the reach of Hitler's Germany in 1941. Nobody looking at the map of Europe that July could have imagined that by mid-November 1918 Germany would be defeated. But peace with Russia in the East in March 1918 had fragmented the alliance of Central Powers, led by Germany. Germany's partners - Bulgaria, Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire - were not involved in the fighting on the Western Front and so had no reason to carry on hostilities, unless they wished to fight with each other over the division of the spoils. The war in the West was now Germany's alone. In the autumn of 1918, armistice followed armistice as, one after another, the Central Powers sought peace. Military historian Hew Strachan explores how a series of independently brokered agreements gradually achieved a fragile pause in hostilities. Sir Hew Strachan is Professor of International Relations at the University of St Andrews and an Emeritus Fellow of All Souls College, University of Oxford. Producer: Catriona Oliphant Executive Producer: Alan Hall A ChromeRadio production for BBC Radio 3.

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Peace in the Land of the Soviets  

On 8 March 1917, striking workers took to the streets of Petrograd, today's St Petersburg. 'Give us bread', they shouted. Public outcry at the food shortages became a clamour for revolution, combined with a call for peace. The Russian revolution raised questions across Europe about the people's commitment to the First World War. States now faced a very real threat of revolution from within as well as the War from without. On 7 November 1917, the Bolsheviks seized power in Petrograd and the following day, Lenin demanded an immediate armistice. Peace would enable the Bolsheviks to deliver on their promise of bread. But Germany was to impose crippling peace terms. Military historian Hew Strachan reflects on how a people's revolution led to a victor's peace. Sir Hew Strachan is Professor of International Relations at the University of St Andrews and an Emeritus Fellow of All Souls College, University of Oxford. Producer: Catriona Oliphant Executive Producer: Alan Hall A ChromeRadio production for BBC Radio 3.

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Enter the Peace Broker  

The First World War broke out in Europe in the summer of 1914. But America did not enter the War until nearly three years later, in April 1917. America's President Woodrow Wilson, a former Professor of Politics at Princeton, was a committed advocate of peace and wanted to use his country's status as the leading neutral power to broker a peace between the belligerents. Throughout the First World War, statesmen and diplomats were seeking ways to end hostilities. But it was not until December 1916 that the serious push for peace began. By then the fighting on the Western Front had revealed the full horror of modern industrial warfare. But Wilson's peace initiative of 1916 did not succeed and he came to realise that America would have to join the war if it wished to shape the peace. Military historian Hew Strachan on Woodrow Wilson's personal journey from peace broker to belligerent. Sir Hew Strachan is Professor of International Relations at the University of St Andrews and an Emeritus Fellow of All Souls College, University of Oxford. Producer: Catriona Oliphant Executive Producer: Alan Hall A ChromeRadio production for BBC Radio 3.

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Killing Time in Imperial Japan  

Christopher Harding explores the Tokyo of a century ago, the bustling, cosmopolitan capital of a growing empire, where the meaning of 'time' was hotly contested. Critics attacked the relentless 'clock time' of new factories and businesses and the 'leisure time' of youngsters who favoured cafes or poetry rather than exerting themselves in empire-building. Buddhist thinkers and folklorists claimed that Japan must rediscover its natural sense of time as seasonal and cyclical, rather than mechanical. New Generation Thinker Christopher Harding contemplates the way these attempts at escape became useful fodder for Japan's militarist ideologues - working for the Emperor, his palace tucked away amongst the trees in central Tokyo, whose own sense of time stretched back into myth and from there into divinity. Recorded as part of Radio 3's Free Thinking Festival in front of an audience at Sage Gateshead. New Generation Thinkers is a scheme run by BBC Radio 3 and the Arts and Humanities Research Council to find academics who can turn their research into radio. Producer: Luke Mulhall.

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Creating Modern India  

New Generation Thinker Preti Taneja, Leverhulme Early Career Research Fellow at Warwick University, on the creation of modern India. How did a modernist style develop in India between the 1900s and the 1950s? Preti Taneja, who grew up in Letchworth Garden City, traces the way the Garden City Movement inspired the work of Edwin Lutyens in his reshaping of her parents' New Delhi. The first generation of post-Independence architects built on this legacy, drawing also from Le Corbusier, who designed India's first post-partition planned city, Chandigarh, with its famous 'open hand' sculpture; and from Frank Lloyd Wright and Walter Gropius, to create some of the most iconic public buildings across India today. In art, something similar was happening: painter MF Hussain and a group of fellow radicals wanting to break away from Indian traditions and make an international statement. They formed The Progressive Artists Group in December 1947, just months after Partition. Preti Taneja's essay explores this cultural re-imagining of the new nation, when architects and artists tried to come to terms with India's political and aesthetic history, looking forward to a future they could design, build and express themselves: one that was meant to shape human behaviour for the better. Recorded as part of Radio 3's Free Thinking Festival at Sage Gateshead. New Generation Thinkers is a scheme run by BBC Radio 3 and the Arts and Humanities Research Council to find academics who can turn their research into radio. Producer: Fiona McLean.

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England's First European  

John Gallagher, New Generation Thinker, marks the 400th anniversary of the publication of what might be the greatest, but littlest-known, book of travels of early modern England. Fynes Moryson was a young fellow of a Cambridge college when he left on a journey to Jerusalem and back. His monumental book 'An Itinerary' is a colourful, funny and touching account of one man's curious journey, meeting bandits in northern Germany, disguising himself as a Catholic Italian in order to see Rome and burying his brother's body by the side of the road on his return. John Gallagher's Essay brings to life one of the great travel accounts of any period which includes detailed instructions to English travellers on how best to disguise themselves when travelling through Catholic Europe. Recorded as part of Radio 3's Free Thinking Festival in front of an audience at Sage Gateshead. New Generation Thinkers is a scheme run by BBC Radio 3 with the Arts and Humanities Research Council to find academics who can turn their research into radio. Producer: Fiona McLean.

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The Magic Years  

Matthew Smith, a New Generation Thinker, goes deep into the American Psychiatric Association archives, where lies an unpublished historical manuscript entitled The Magic Years. Written during the early 1970s, it eulogised the giant strides of post-war American psychiatry made in this period of hope and promise when even the complete eradication of mental illness was thought possible. As a medical historian Matthew argues that, while psychiatrists today might dismiss The Magic Years - and the science behind it - as misguided or naïve, it actually has much to teach us. New Generation Thinker Matthew Smith is from the University of Strathclyde. Recorded as part of Radio 3's Free Thinking Festival in front of an audience at Sage Gateshead. New Generation Thinkers is scheme run by BBC Radio 3 and the Arts and Humanities Research Council to find academics who can turn their research into radio programmes. Producer: Zahid Warley.

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Faith, Fire and the Family  

From 1941 to 1968 Catherine Fletcher's grandfather Donald Hudson was a missionary in India. Catherine tells his story during those turbulent years and reflects on the way British people with family history in India understand that past - in this the anniversary year of the end of colonial India. Originally from Yorkshire, Donald Hudson arrived in Dhaka, now in Bangladesh, to find a city in chaos amid communal riots. He stayed for two years and then moved to one of the most significant British missionary institutions in India, the Baptist Missionary College at Serampore, outside Kolkata, where he was based through famine and then Partition in 1948. Catherine Fletcher is a Radio 3 New Generation Thinker from Swansea University. Recorded as part of Radio 3's Free Thinking Festival at Sage Gateshead. New Generation Thinkers is a scheme run by BBC Radio 3 and the Arts and Humanities Research Council to select 10 academics each year who work with us to turn their research into radio. Producer: Luke Mulhall.

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Russia's Sacred Ruins  

New Generation Thinker Victoria Donovan from the University of St Andrews explores the dilemmas of post-war reconstruction in Soviet Russia and asks why the atheist Communist regime was prepared to spend millions on the restoration of religious architecture. On encountering the war-charred ruins of historic Novgorod in 1944, the Soviet historian Dmitry Likhachev mourned Russia's transformation into a 'graveyard without headstones'. Yet, just 20 years later, the town had risen from the ashes; even the onion-domed churches had been restored. How did this happen? Recorded as part of Radio 3's Free Thinking Festival in front of an audience at Sage Gateshead. New Generation Thinkers is a scheme run by BBC Radio 3 and the Arts and Humanities Research Council to select 10 academics each year who work with us to turn their research into radio. Producer: Luke Mulhall.

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The British Writer and the Refugee  

New Generation Thinker Katherine Cooper looks at literary refugees in the Second World War and tells the untold story of the work done by British writers to save their European colleagues. She shows how HG Wells, Rebecca West and JB Priestley became intertwined with the lives of writers fleeing persecution on the continent. Katherine peeps into drawing rooms, visits the archives of PEN, scrutinises the correspondence and draws on the fiction of key literary figures to explore crucial allegiances formed in wartime London. Why did these British writers believe that by saving Europe's literary voices they were saving Europe itself? Katherine Cooper is Senior Research Associate at the University of East Anglia, School of Literature, Drama and Creative Writing. Recorded as part of Radio 3's Free Thinking Festival in front of an audience at Sage Gateshead. New Generation Thinkers is a scheme run by BBC Radio 3 and the Arts and Humanities Research Council to select 10 academics each year and then work with them to turn their research into radio. Producer: Torquil MacLeod.

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In the Shadows of Biafra  

New Generation Thinker Louisa Egbunike from Manchester Metropolitan University considers images of war and ghosts of the past. News reports of the Biafran war (1967-1970), with their depictions of starving children, created images of Africa which have become imprinted. Biafra endured a campaign of heavy shelling, creating a constant stream of refugees out of fallen areas as territory was lost to Nigeria. Within Igbo culture specific rites and rituals need to be performed when a person dies. To die and be buried 'abroad', away from one's ancestral home or to not be buried properly, impedes the transition to the realm of the ancestors. Louisa Egbunike explores the legacy of the Biafran war and considers the image of those spirits unable to journey to the next realm, and left to roam the earth. Recorded in front of an audience as part of Radio 3's Free Thinking Festival at Sage Gateshead. New Generation Thinkers is a scheme run by BBC Radio 3 and the Arts and Humanities Research Council to select 10 academics each year who can turn their research into radio. Producer: Zahid Warley.

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Alexander the Great's Lost City  

New Generation Thinker Edmund Richardson with the story of Alexander the Great's lost city, buried beneath Bagram airbase, a CIA detention site and wrecked Soviet tanks. For centuries, it was a meeting point of East and West. Then it vanished. In 1832, it was discovered by the unlikeliest person imaginable: a ragged British con-man called Charles Masson, on the run from a death sentence. Today, Alexander's lost civilization is lost again. And Masson? For his next trick, he accidentally started the most disastrous war of the nineteenth century. Edmund Richardson's Essay tells the story of the liar and the lost city, of how the unlikeliest people can change history. Recorded in front of an audience as part of Radio 3's Free Thinking Festival at Sage Gateshead. New Generation Thinkers is a scheme run by BBC Radio 3 with the Arts and Humanities Research Council to find academics who can turn their research into radio. Producer: Jacqueline Smith.

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Monks, Models and Medieval Time  

The ruined priory of Tynemouth nestles on a Northumbrian clifftop, staring out at the fog and foam of the North Sea. In the 14th century it was a proving ground - and occasional prison camp - for monks from the wealthy mother monastery of St Albans. But the monks here didn't just isolate themselves, pray and complain about the food (though they did do those things). They also studied astronomy. Writing treatises, computing tables and designing new instruments, they contemplated the nature of a divinely-wound clockwork universe. New Generation Thinker Seb Falk from the University of Cambridge brings to life a world where science and religion went hand-in-hand, where monks loved their gadgets, and where a wooden disc, a brass ring and some silk threads were all you needed to model the motions of the stars. Recorded as part of Radio 3's Free Thinking Festival in front of an audience at Sage Gateshead. New Generation Thinkers is a scheme run by BBC Radio 3 in partnership with the Arts and Humanities Research Council to find academics who can turn their research into radio. Producer: Jacqueline Smith.

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Bette Davis  

Author and broadcaster Sarah Churchwell describes the spell that female stars of the 1930s and '40s have over her.. From Joan Crawford, the 'working girl', to someone regarded as 'the quintessential Diva'. Apart from appearing in some great films, this one had the eyes and the laugh, and could smoke like a dragon. It's Bette Davis, of course. Producer Duncan Minshull.

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Joan Crawford  

Author and broadcaster Sarah Churchwell describes the spell that female film stars of the 1930's and 40's have over her.. From Jean Harlow, the blonde bombshell, to someone the author came to admire later in life. Why? Because this star tried too hard, was unrelenting, was altogether frightening. She now thinks about Joan Crawford - the 'working girl'. Producer Duncan Minshull.

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