The Forum

The Forum

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A world of ideas

Episodes

Joan of Arc: Making a Martyr  

Born six centuries ago, Joan of Arc is regarded as a French national heroine – a peasant girl who, inspired by saintly visions, battled to break the Siege of Orléans and see Charles VII finally crowned King of France in a grand cathedral. But in 1431, she was burned at the stake. In this programme, Bridget Kendall and guests discuss the life and death of this medieval teenage celebrity who helped to shape the course of the Hundred Years War with England. They also reflect on her status as an enduring symbol in popular culture through the ages, including on the stage and the big screen. Bridget is joined by film scholar Robin Blaetz, and historians Juliet Barker, Xavier Helary and Daniel Hobbins. Photo: Joan of Arc: Painting by J D Ingres in the Louvre. (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

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Up Close with Tango  

Tango is easy to recognise: those daring steps, the tight hold of the dancing partners, the intense yet melancholy music dominated by the plaintive sounds of the bandoneon. But if you ask what exactly tango is and where it came from, the answer may not be so immediately clear - because it's more than a genre of music, more than just a style of dance. To get insights into the roots, the culture and even the magic of tango, Rajan Datar is joined by leading tango historians Maria Susana Azzi, Christine Denniston and John Turci-Escobar. Photo: Argentine dancers on stage at the World Tango Championships in 2014 (Getty Images)

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Carl Linnaeus: Naming Nature  

Carl Linnaeus, today a largely unknown figure, is one of the giants of natural science. He devised the formal two-part naming system we use to classify all life forms. With Quentin Cooper is botanist Dr Sandra Knapp, from the Natural History Museum in London, life sciences expert Professor Staffan Müller-Wille from Exeter University in the UK and science writer and biographer of Linnaeus, Dr Lisbet Rausing. Photo: Carl Linnaeus painted by Per Krafft the Elder (Permission of The Linnean Society of London)

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Silk Routes: Two Thousand Years of Trading  

China, Iran, Afghanistan, Syria, Uzbekistan and India: if you went to any of these places a thousand years ago, you would find goods and produce from the others. But how did they get there and why? This week’s Forum explores the ancient pattern of trading networks which criss-crossed the plains, deserts and mountains of China, Central Asia and points further West, and which encouraged not just the exchange of commodities like silk, paper and horses but ideas and people too. Bridget Kendall talks to Valerie Hansen, professor of history at Yale University who has a particular interest in trade and exchanges across Eurasia; historian Dr. Susan Whitfield who is curator of the Central Asian collections at the British Library in London; and Tamara Chin, professor of comparative literature at Brown University whose work focuses on ancient China. Photo: A man rides a horse overlooking Band-e-Amir lake, through central Afghanistan, on the former Silk Road that once linked China with Central Asia and beyond. Credit: Getty Images

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Indian Princely States  

At the time of the Partition of India 70 years ago this year, there were more than 500 Princely States. These were states nominally ruled by Indian Princes but ultimately under the control of the British colonial powers. Many of these princes - male and female members of the Royal Family - had kingdoms dating back to the 8th and 9th Centuries. But after the British curbed their powers, was their role largely ceremonial or did they have a deeper impact on the Indian people? And how did these Princes survive after Partition? Joining Rajan Datar is the writer and historian William Dalrymple, the director of the King’s College London India institute Sunil Khilnani, and the Indian social scientist Nikita Sud from Oxford University. (Photo: A view of the Umaid Bhawan Palace, set high above the desert city of Jodhpur in Rajasthan. Credit: Getty Images)

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The Creation of Modern Canada  

150 years ago three British North American colonies came together to form what was to become the World’s second largest country. To explain how this union came about and who the key players were, Bridget Kendall talks to historians Margaret Macmillan, Phillip Buckner and Sean Kheraj. Photo: The Canadian flag at an ice-hockey game (GETTY IMAGES)

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Childhood: from Toddlers to Teenagers  

Why do humans have such a long period of immaturity? And how have our ideas about childhood changed through the ages and across the world? Bridget Kendall explores some of the key moments and figures in the history of childhood, including Confucian China, Victorian factories and the 'endless childhood' that some young people seem to be living today. Her guests are Alison Gopnik, Professor of Psychology and Philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley; Ping-chen Hsiung Professor of History at the Chinese University of Hong Kong; and Hugh Cunningham Professor of Social History at the University of Kent. Photo: a young girl walks through an entrance to a walled garden (BBC)

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Arthur Conan Doyle: The Man Behind Sherlock Holmes  

Since appearing in print in the late nineteenth century, Sherlock Holmes has become one of the world’s most famous detectives, known for solving crime and mystery in London and beyond. But who was the man that made this fictional super-sleuth? And what inspired him to write? Bridget Kendall explores the life and work of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - the doctor and literary superstar who embraced both science and the spiritual world - and who changed crime fiction forever. She’s joined by biographer Andrew Lycett and the scholars Catherine Wynne and Stefan Lampadius. Photo: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Getty Images)

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Telling the Time: From Sundials to Satnav  

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.)

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The Bittersweet Tale of Cocoa  

Do you like cocoa? You are in good company: in South and Central America people have been enjoying the fruit of the cacao tree - the source of cocoa, chocolate and much else - for thousands of years. Ancient empires fought battles for the control of the best trees, cacao beans were used as currency, and being able to make a tasty cacao drink could even save your life. To trace the history of cacao in Latin America, Bridget Kendall is joined by archaeologist Cameron McNeil, chef and food historian Maricel Presilla and geneticist and cacao researcher Juan Carlos Motamayor. Photo: A cropped cocoa pod lies over dried cacao beans (Getty Images)

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Taiwan: An Island History  

Perhaps the island of Taiwan makes you think of those familiar "Made in Taiwan" labels on computer and electrical goods but it was nicknamed 'Ilha Formosa' or the 'beautiful island' by the Portuguese in the 1500s. Bridget Kendall explores its rich and surprising history with Emma Teng, Professor of Asian Civilisations at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Dr Jie Yu, Head of China Foresight, focused on Chinese foreign policy, at the London School of Economics and Dr Bi-yu Chang and Dr Dafydd Fell from SOAS (formerly known as the School of Oriental and African Studies) in London. Photo: people celebrate Taiwan' s annual Lantern Festival, which marks the end of the Lunar New Year festivities. (Getty Images)

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Amelia Earhart – Trailblazer in the Skies  

This year is the 80th anniversary of the record-breaking attempt by the US aviator Amelia Earhart to circumnavigate the globe. It was a mission that cost her life, but helped to cement her place in history as one of the most inspirational and celebrated pilots of the 20th century. Bridget Kendall looks back at the life of a pioneering woman determined to break through barriers - with Susan Butler, author of ‘East to the Dawn: The Life of Amelia Earhart’; Dorothy Cochrane, Curator in the Aeronautics Division of the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum in Washington; and Susan Ware, author of ‘Still Missing: Amelia Earhart and the Search for Modern Feminism’. Photo: Amelia Earhart in June 1928 (Getty Images)

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How the Metre Changed the World  

Nowdays, if you want to find out how long one metre is, you can use a tape measure or, if you are a scientist, you can calculate the distance that light travels in a vacuum in 1/299 792 458 seconds. But how did we decide on what length a metre should be in the first place? To follow the far-from-straight story of the metre Quentin Cooper is joined by Professor Robert Crease, historian of science at Stonybrook University in the USA; Professor Marc Himbert, Scientific director of the Metrology Laboratory at CNAM in Paris; and Dr. Jahnavi Phalkey, historian of contemporary and twentieth century science and technology at King’s College in London. Photo: Lilian Bourgeat's art creation 'Tape Measure', France 2013 (Getty Images)

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Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland  

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is said to be one of the most quoted books in the world. It has been translated into 174 languages, from Catalan to Zulu, and its fantastical creatures, nonsense words and magical happenings have become part of our shared cultural landscape. Bridget Kendall investigates the story behind Lewis Carroll’s Victorian literary classic and its sequel with Angelika Zirker, Assistant Professor of English Literature at Tübingen University, Germany; Virginie Iché, Associate Professor of English Studies at Paul Valéry University in Montpellier, France, and currently a Visiting Scholar at the University of Texas at Austin; and Robert Douglas-Fairhurst, Professor of English Literature at Oxford University in the UK, and author of ‘The Story of Alice: Lewis Carroll and the Secret History of Wonderland’. Illustration by John Tenniel (Photo by Rischgitz/Getty Images)

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The Belle Epoque: A Golden Age?  

The Moulin Rouge in Paris is the risqué cabaret venue that encapsulates for many the 'Belle Epoque', a period of French and especially Parisian history around the turn of the 19th Century, where permissiveness mixed with political, commercial and creative optimism and when an extraordinary vitality and innovation seemed almost boundless. To explore the Belle Epoque, Dr Janina Ramirez is in Paris with the Director of Le Petit Palais art gallery and museum Christophe Leribault, The Associate Artistic Director of the Moulin Rouge Janet Pharaoh and Professor of French history from Leeds University in the UK, Diana Holmes. Photo: An 1891 lithograph by French artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (Photo credit Honda /Getty Images)

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Machiavelli - Master of Power  

Over five hundred years ago, dismissed diplomat Niccolò Machiavelli produced his most famous work, ‘The Prince’. Written on the fringes of the Italian city of Florence, the book has long been read as a priceless guide to power and what holding it truly involves. But who was the man behind the work? Why did he claim that a leader must be prepared to act immorally? And why did the name of this one-time political insider become a byword for cunning and sinister strategy? Rajan Datar explores the life and impact of Machiavelli’s ‘The Prince’, with writer and scholar Erica Benner, historian Professor Quentin Skinner and journalist David Ignatius. Image:Circa 1499, Niccolò Machiavelli (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

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Haile Selassie: The last Emperor of Ethiopia  

Emperor Haile Selassie was the last in the line of Ethiopia’s ancient monarchy. During his long rule he was revered as an international statesman and reformer, demonised as a dictator, and even worshipped as a God incarnate by the Rastafarians of Jamaica. He was without doubt a controversial figure, but achieved a status in the global arena previously unheard of for an African ruler. Bridget Kendall discusses Haile Selassie’s life and legacy with Prince Asfa-Wossen Asserate, political analyst and author of ‘King of Kings: The Triumph and Tragedy of Emperor Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia’, who is also the great-nephew of Haile Selassie; Gerard Prunier, Independent Consultant on Eastern and Central African affairs, and former Director of the French Centre for Ethiopian Studies in Addis-Ababa; and Laura Hammond, an anthropologist specialising in Ethiopia at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. Image: Haile Selassie Credit: Henry Guttmann/Getty Images

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The KGB: Secrets and Spies  

2017 is the centenary of the Cheka – the Bolshevik secret police organisation from which the KGB eventually emerged in 1954. The KGB was not just an intelligence agency like its adversaries in the west, but an all-encompassing organisation that covered every aspect of promoting and protecting the Soviet one party state. From its headquarters in Moscow’s infamous Lubyanka, the KGB’s influence spread across the world. To explore the KGB and its legacy, Bridget Kendall is joined by the Cambridge historian, Professor Christopher Andrew, the Anglo American intelligence and policy expert, Dr Calder Walton and the Russian historian, Dr Svetlana Chervonnaya. Photo: Badge logo of the KGB (Photo credit: KGB)

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The Magic of Bronze  

From Cellini's magnificent Perseus statue to the humblest of tools, people have been using bronze for at least five thousand years. So what makes bronze such a versatile material, how we first discovered it, and why is it that so many precious bronze art works have failed to survive? Bridget Kendall is joined by Carol Mattusch, Professor Emerita of Art History at George Mason University, Professor Jianjun Mei, from the University of Science and Technology, Beijing and Director of the Needham Institute in Cambridge who specialises in ancient metallurgy, and David Ekserdjian, Professor of Art and Film History at Leicester University. Also in the programme: Dutch sound artist Floris van Manen follows the key stages of making a bronze bell at Eijsbouts, one of Europe's leading foundries. Photo: Cellini's statue of Perseus holding the head of Medusa (Getty Images)

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Marie Curie – A Pioneering Life  

The Polish physicist and chemist Marie Curie was the first woman to receive a Nobel Prize, and the first person to be awarded twice in two different fields. Her discoveries in the field of radioactivity – adding polonium and radium to the table of elements – changed the course of scientific history and led to huge advances in the treatment of cancer. 150 years after her birth to a poor family in occupied Poland, Quentin Cooper traces Marie Curie’s extraordinary life story with Patricia Fara, President of the British Society for the History of Science; Maciej Dunajski, Mathematician and Theoretical Physicist at Cambridge University; and Susan Quinn, author of Marie Curie: A Life. Photo: Marie Curie (Credit: Hulton Archive/ Getty Images)

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