The Forum

The Forum

Germany

A world of ideas

Episodes

Yellow Fever: Man against Mosquito  

Outbreaks of yellow fever, such as the notorious 1878 'American plague' which swept through Memphis, Tennessee, used to kill thousands in a matter of weeks. So why was it so devastating? How did we manage to tame it in some parts of the world? And why does yellow fever still present a danger today for nearly a billion people living in tropical parts of Latin America and Africa? Bridget Kendall discusses the history and the future of yellow fever with American writer and journalist Molly Crosby, author of The American Plague; history professor from the University of Virginia, Christian McMillen who has a special interest in past and present epidemics; and Dr. Nick Beeching who teaches clinical infectious diseases at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine. Photo: Yellow Fever Virus (Credit: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Public Health Image Library)

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The Real Story of Frankenstein  

In the nearly 200 years since Mary Shelley wrote ‘Frankenstein’ the story has taken on a life of its own. But the original tale is much more psychologically complex than the horror film versions suggest – a disturbing and thought-provoking parable that roots itself in the basic human need for love. Bridget Kendall discusses the book’s origins, themes and continuing legacy with two scholars of English literature: Professor Karen O’Brien from Oxford University in the UK and Jessica Tiffin from the University of Cape Town in South Africa; and with the novelist and radio dramatist Jonathan Barnes. Photo: A statue of the Frankenstein Monster (Getty Images)

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The Birth of Hip Hop  

The story of early hip hop, from 1970s 'block parties' in the South Bronx to the next decade when some musicians used rap for harsh social critique while others looked to it for big commercial success. Trevor Nelson talks to Duke University hip hop historian Mark Anthony Neal, film maker and impresario Michael Holman, and one of the central figures in early hip hop, Grandmaster Caz. DJ and MC Grandmaster Caz is one of the most important and influential pioneers of old school rap. Mark Anthony Neal is Professor of African & African American Studies and the founding director of the Center for Arts, Digital Culture and Entrepreneurship at Duke University. Michael Holman is a leading New York hip-hop activist: musician, filmmaker, artist manager, club promoter, journalist and critic, television producer, archivist, visual artist, and educator. Photo: A breakdancer (Getty Images)

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Seven Samurai – A Japanese Masterpiece  

The 1954 Japanese epic Seven Samurai by Akira Kurosawa has been described as one of the most influential films in the history of cinema. Set in 16th century rural Japan it tells the story of a small village that hires seven masterless samurai to protect them from a group of bandits intent on stealing their harvest. Seven Samurai’s unique style and themes redefined the action movie genre and inspired filmmakers across the world. Bridget Kendall talks to Daisuke Miyao, Professor of Japanese film at the University of California, San Diego; David Desser, Emeritus Professor of Cinema Studies at the University of Illinois; and Dolores Martinez, Emeritus Reader in Anthropology specializing in Japanese popular culture at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. Photo: Actor Toshiro Mifune in the film Seven Samurai (Credit: AFP/ Getty Images)

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Goethe: the Story of Colour  

The German polymath Johann Wolfgang von Goethe considered his monumental book known in English as The Theory of Colours to be his greatest achievement. The book is a record of hundreds of Goethe's observations about the way colour affects our mood, as well as a long and heated polemic with Isaac Newton's colour theory. Goethe's understanding of light and colour was scientifically flawed yet his book had a surprisingly strong influence on the fine and applied arts. To find out why, Bridget Kendall talks to art historian Alexandra Loske, colour writer Victoria Finlay and designer Odette Steele. Alexandra Loske is an art historian who teaches at the University of Sussex, Curator at the Royal Pavilion and Brighton Museums and co-editor of the book Languages of Colour; Victoria Finlay is a writer, former arts editor of the South China Morning Post and the author of Colour, Travels through the Paintbox and The Brilliant History of Color in Art; Odette Steele is a Zambian textile designer recent and a graduate from the London College of Fashion at the University of the Arts, London. Photo: Goethe’s colour wheel, 1809. (Credit: Freies Deutsches Hochstift / Frankfurter Goethe-Museum)

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Mata Hari: Dancer, Lover, Spy  

It is 100 years since the exotic dancer and legendary ‘femme fatale’ Mata Hari was executed by a French firing squad for passing secrets to the Germans during World War One. She was described at the time as the ‘greatest woman spy of the century’. But many now see Mata Hari as a convenient scapegoat, condemned merely for her unconventional lifestyle. Bridget Kendall discusses the myths and realities surrounding women in espionage with Julie Wheelwright, programme director of non-fiction writing at City, University of London, and author of ‘The Fatal Lover: Mata Hari and the Myth of Women in Espionage’; Tammy Proctor, Professor of History at Utah State University and author of ‘Female Intelligence. Women and Espionage in the First World War’; and Hanneke Boonstra, a Dutch journalist who is writing an official blog about Mata Hari as part of this year’s centenary commemorations in the Netherlands. (Photo: Mata Hari. Credit: Getty Images)

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The Silicon Chip: A Tech Revolution  

It’s forty five years since the commercial introduction of the first microcomputer chip set which evolved into the modern microprocessor, changing computers from tools for scientists into the engines which power today’s electronic consumer appliances. So how did the silicon chip evolve and where might this revolution be heading next? Bridget Kendal is joined by four distinguished computer and internet pioneers who helped spearhead some of the most important inventions of the computer age. Vinod Dham invented the first Pentium micro-processor and went on to become Vice-President at the world’s largest chip maker-Intel. His early work in this field earned him the nickname “The Father of the Pentium chip.” Sophie Wilson’s computer design was used to build the Acorn Micro-Computer. She also led the development of the ARM microprocessor, found in over half of the world’s consumer electronics. David Laws is a technology historian and a curator of the Computer History Museum in California. Dame Wendy Hall is a Professor of Computer Science at the University of Southampton in the UK. She worked alongside Sir Tim Berners Lee on an early version of the World Wide Web. Photo: A silicon chip (Getty Images)

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The Powers of the American President  

What powers does the American President have, and how have these changed over the years to reflect the demands of the modern world?

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Fela Kuti: King of Afrobeat  

Nigerian Afrobeat musician Fela Kuti was a maverick performer, a musical pioneer, and is a continuing inspiration across the world. But he was also a thorn in the side of the Nigeria’s successive military governments and a fearless activist for social justice. Twenty years after his death, Peter Okwoche is joined by three people who all had personal experience of Fela Kuti, to discuss his complex and extraordinary life, musical legacy, and revolutionary political ideals - Dele Sosimi is a former member of Fela Kuti's band and now an acclaimed Afrobeat musician; Carlos Moore wrote the only authorised biography of Fela Kuti, Fela: This Bitch of a Life; and Jahman Anikulapo is a Nigerian arts journalist who followed Fela's career closely. Photo: Fela Kuti, 1986, Credit: Associated Press

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Cali-topia: a New Vision of Thomas More's Utopia?  

Is Thomas More's vision of an ideal society becoming reality in modern-day California? The Forum travels to Singularity University at the heart of Silicon Valley to ask why California keeps attracting utopian thinkers who want to use advanced technology to solve humanity’s biggest challenges. Jack Stewart is joined by forecaster Paul Saffo, Chair of Future Studies at Singularity University, Ryan Mullenix, partner at NBBJ Architecture, Krista Donaldson, CEO of Silicon Valley healthcare start up D-Rev, and Colin Milburn, Chair in Science and the Humanities at University of California, Davis. Photo: NASA Hangar One at Moffett Field, California, Credit: Simon Dawson

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Utopia: Mr More’s Wondrous Islands  

Thomas More’s Utopia, published 500 years ago this month, is full of radical ideas and has provided food for thought to generations of people trying to find new ways to organise society. On his fictitious island More created a vivid mosaic of places, people and their customs and they have proven to be an inspiration not just for philosophers and politicians but also for writers. To mark the anniversary, BBC World Service and PEN International have asked three young authors, Rebecca F. John, Jose Pablo Salas and Lea Sauer, to take Utopia as a starting point for a new short story. Mr. More’s Wondrous Islands also includes a couple of intriguing passages from the original book. It is introduced by Jack Stewart, the readers are John Dougall, Bettrys Jones, Martina Laird and William Marquez and the producer is Radek Bosketty.

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Thomas More's Utopia  

Five-hundred years ago, in what is now the Belgian city of Leuven, Thomas More published his vision for an ideal society which he called Utopia.To mark the anniversary, The Forum travels to Leuven University to debate More's book, its place in history and the politics it inspired. Presenter Bridget Kendall is joined by Leuven University rector Rik Torfs, culture studies professor Fátima Vieira who leads the Utopia 500 Project, historian of communism professor Erik van Ree from Amsterdam University, and Dilar Dirik, an expert on the Syrian-Kurdish ‘utopia’ of Rojava.

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Winner or Cheat? Doping in Sport  

A battle is raging over the future of sport. Advances in retrospective testing have seen champions stripped of their medals years after they stood on the podium. Allegations of state-sponsored doping in Russia have rocked the sports world and new treatments such as gene-doping are constantly evolving. The drugs change but the questions remain the same – how effective and how dangerous are performance-enhancing drugs? How do doping competitors evade the testers? And can sports tarnished by doping ever be cleaned up? Sharing their knowledge with Bridget Kendall are four sport insiders: David Howman stepped down as Director of the World Anti-Doping Agency in 2016 after twelve years battling drug-taking in sport. David Millar is a British cyclist and former World Champion who has won stages at the Tour de France and rode in the professional peloton for over a decade. Banned for doping, he returned to the sport as an anti-drugs campaigner. He is the author of the memoirs ‘Racing Through The Dark’ and ‘ The Racer: Life on the Road as a Pro-Cyclist’. Professor Mario Thevis is a chemist who has tested competitors at seven Olympic Games and is Director of the Centre for Preventive Doping Research in Cologne, Germany. Dr Zhouxiang Lu has researched allegations of doping in China in the 1980s and 90s. He teaches at the National University of Ireland, Maynooth. Photo: Athletes in the starting block at a race. (Getty Images)

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The Iliad: Beauty, Brutes and Battles  

Nearly 3,000 years after it was written down, The Iliad is still one of the most influential and inspiring stories ever told. Homer’s epic poem is a tale of war, but puts human emotions centre-stage: wrath, grief, love, heroism and separation. With Bettany Hughes to discuss The Iliad’s origins, themes and continuing relevance to people across the world are: Stathis Livathinos, Director of the National Theatre of Greece; Antony Makrinos, a Greek classicist specialising in Homer who teaches at University College London; Professor Folake Onayemi, Head of the Classics Department at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria; and Edith Hall, Professor of Classics at King's College London. Photo: An engraving depicting the Trojan war. (Getty Images)

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Korea: Two Countries, One Past  

For over a thousand years the Korean Peninsula was one nation, with a unique identity and character. So what caused it to be divided into two countries that have become so radically different, culturally, economically and politically? Bridget Kendall is joined by Namhee Lee, associate professor of modern Korean history at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA); Eleanor Soo-ah Hyun, curator of the Korean Collections at the British Museum; and Dr James Hoare, a former diplomat who set up the first British Embassy in North Korea, and is now a Research Associate at the Centre of Korean Studies in the School of Oriental and African Studies in London (SOAS). Photo: Korean dancers perform a traditional dance. (Getty Images)

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Unpicking the UN  

What is the United Nations for, what brought it about, and has it lived up to expectations? As a new Secretary-General takes over, Bridget Kendall and guests give all you need to know about the world’s most ambitious public body. With Jussi M. Hanhimäki, Professor of International History at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva. Heidi Tworek, Fellow at the Transatlantic Academy and Assistant Professor of International History at the University of British Columbia. Carolyn Medel-Anonuevo, Head of the Education Unit at UNESCO’s Southern Africa regional office in Zimbabwe. Lord Mark Malloch-Brown, who served as Deputy Secretary-General and Chief of Staff of the UN under Kofi Annan. Photo: The United Nations building in New York. (Getty Images)

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Drones and their Impact on the World  

Drones have been hailed as the most important technological development in aviation since the invention of the jet engine. They have changed the nature of modern warfare and they are also catalysing developments in fields as diverse as law enforcement, film production, disaster management, newsgathering and agriculture. The availability and prevalence of drones in everyday life is increasing and creating enormous challenges in the fields of ethics, law and regulation – not least managing the flight paths of a potentially enormous number of small planes. With Bridget Kendall to explore the history, present and future of drones are: Marke "Hoot" Gibson, the Federal Aviation Administration’s Senior Advisor on Unmanned Aerial Systems Integration. Sarah Kreps, Associate Professor of Government at Cornell University in the USA and an expert on the ethical, legal and political dimensions of drones. Michael Nautu who designs and builds drones for purposes ranging from agriculture and aerial mapping to “next-generation conservation” in Namibia. Photo: A drone flying above the New York City skyline. (Getty Images)

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DNA: the Code for Making Life  

Bridget Kendall and guests explore the current understanding of how DNA works, why it needs constant repair in every living organism and how new DNA-altering techniques can help cure some medical conditions. Joining Bridget are Swedish Nobel Laureate and Francis Crick Institute Emeritus Group Leader Tomas Lindahl who pioneered DNA repair studies, medical researcher Niels Geijsen from the Hubrecht Institute who works on curing diseases caused by faulty inherited genes, evolutionary biologist T Ryan Gregory from Guelph University who asks why an onion has 5 times as much DNA as a human, and Oxford University’s bio-archaeologist Greger Larson whose research suggests that dogs were independently domesticated twice, on different continents. Photo Credit: Thinkstock Photos

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The New Curators: Who Decides What’s Culturally Important?  

Some of us live in an age of super abundance – more things are being made and more information and goods are offered online than ever before. Yet the internet also means that we no longer have to leave our selections to other people. If we want, we can sift through options to make our own choices, personalise our preferences, and even enlist the help of machine recommendations to highlight what we might like. So in this brave new world, what is the role of a curator? Indeed, what does curation actually mean? With Bridget Kendall to explore the role of the modern curator, digital publisher Michael Bhaskar, the artistic director of the Serpentine Gallery in London, Hans Ulrich Obrist and Tasneem Zakaria Mehta, the director of one of India’s most iconic museums, the Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Mumbai City Museum in Mumbai. Photo: Early 20th century, ornate porcelain vases on display at an exhibition. (Getty Images)

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Do we Need Artificial Intelligence?  

Look out of the window and you won’t see many robots – but the AI revolution is here. The relentless encroachment of machine-thinking into every aspect of our lives is transforming the way we think and act. Machine-learning algorithms drive our smartphones and social media - and they are increasingly present in our homes, offices, schools and hospitals. Whether driving cars, diagnosing disease or marking essays, artificial intelligence is everywhere. But how does machine-thinking compare to human thought and what are the limitations of AI? From biased training data to impenetrable black-box algorithms, Quentin Cooper and guests explore the strengths and limitations of AI. To discuss whether we need AI are - Zoubin Ghahramani, professor of Information Engineering at the University of Cambridge and deputy director of the Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence; Lydia Nicholas, senior researcher at the British innovation foundation Nesta; Professor Kentaro Toyama of the University of Michigan, co-founder of Microsoft Research India and author of Geek Heresy: Rescuing Social Change from the Cult of Technology. (Photo: A woman uses a mobile phone as she walks in front of an autonomous self-driving vehicle as it is tested in a pedestrianised zone. Credit: Getty Images)

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