Episodes

  • Mohandas K Gandhi’s decades-long campaign against British rule was the driving force behind Indian independence in August 1947.

    The way he did it - through ‘satyagraha’, or non-violent resistance - made him one of the most famous and revered thinkers of the 20th century, and has inspired protest movements around the world.

    Rajan Datar explores the experiences, ideas and people that turned Gandhi from a timid schoolboy and failed lawyer into a man bold enough to take on the might of the British Empire.

    Plus, we ask whether he achieved the kind of Indian independence he really wanted, and find out why his legacy is the subject of intense debate in India to this day.

    Producer: Simon Tulett

    Contributors:

    Tridip Suhrud, a professor at CEPT university, in Ahmedabad, India, and a Gandhi scholar who has translated many of his works into English, including the first critical edition of Gandhi’s autobiography, ‘My Experiments with Truth’;
    Karuna Mantena, a professor of political science at Columbia University in the US, currently working on a book about Gandhi’s political thought;
    Anil Nauriya, a writer on freedom struggles in India and Africa and a lawyer based at the Supreme Court in New Delhi.

    (Picture: A photo of Gandhi taken around 1940. Credit: Dinodia Photos/Getty Images)

  • Throughout history, fragrance has been used to scent both the body and our surroundings. With just one drop, perfume has the potential to stir memories, awaken the senses and even influence how we feel about ourselves. But what’s the story behind this liquid luxury in a bottle, now found on the shelves of bathrooms and department stores worldwide?

    In this programme, Bridget Kendall and guests explore the modern history of perfume, including its flowering in France and the explosive chemical discoveries that helped to make fine fragrance what it is today. They also explore perfume’s ancient roots and ask: what’s in a name?

    Bridget is joined by scientist and critic Luca Turin, writer and curator Lizzie Ostrom and the perfumer Thomas Fontaine. Also featuring William Tullett and James McHugh.

    (Photo: Perfume bottle and flowers. Credit: Brian Hagiwara/Getty Images)

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  • Eleonora Duse was an actress ahead of her time. As a performer in the late 19th century when elaborate gestures, exotic costumes and lavish decors were the norm, Eleonora Duse stunned audiences with her truthfulness and intense absorption in the characters she played. She wore no make-up, you could see her blush or turn pale, she was a master of subtle body language and vocal modulation, and her aim was to eliminate the self and become her characters. Today she is often credited with having inspired modern acting, and the Russian theatre director Stanislavsky saw her as the perfect actress, and was greatly influenced by her when he created his acting method. Born in 1858 in what is now northern Italy, Eleonora Duse started acting at the age of four years old with her family’s touring theatre troupe. By her twenties, working as both a theatre manager and a performer, she began to achieve worldwide popularity, travelling all over the world, from South America to Russia to Egypt. She was soon acknowledged as one of the greatest actresses of her generation and her independent lifestyle turned her into an early feminist icon. So what was the secret of her genius and why is she largely forgotten today? And with no recordings of her voice, how do we know she was such a great performer?

    Joining Bridget Kendall is Dr Anna Sica, Professor of Theatre at the University of Palermo in Italy, author of The Murray Edwards Duse Collection, and D’Amore e D’Arte, the letters written to Duse from her Russian lover Alexander Wolkoff, soon to be published in English. Professor Paul Fryer, the co-editor of an essay collection on Eleonora Duse and Cenere (Cenere is the Italian word for Ashes, the title of the silent film Duse made in 1916, and the only record of Duse actually performing). Paul Fryer also directs the Stanislavsky research centre at the University of Leeds. And Dr Enza de Francisci, lecturer in Translation studies at the University of Glasgow, who specialises in the critical reception of Duse’s plays, and is the author of A 'New' Woman in Verga and Pirandello: From Page to Stage.

    The reader is Cecilia Gragnani.

    Produced by Anne Khazam for the BBC World Service.

    (Photo: Eleonora Duse in “Lady of the Camelias” by Alexandre Dumas Fils. Credit: ullstein bild/ullstein bild via Getty Images)

  • In Mexico the name La Malinche has become synonymous with treachery and betrayal - it even forms one of the country’s most vicious insults. Some have described its owner, an indigenous slave who became the interpreter and mistress of conquistador Hernán Cortés, as the most hated woman in Mexico’s history.

    But by helping the Spanish topple the Aztecs in the early sixteenth century was she really guilty of selling out her own people, or simply doing everything she could to survive? Might we credit her with limiting the lives lost in the bloody conflict – one she knew her people could not hope to win?

    Bridget Kendall explores the little-known life, and hotly-contested legacy of one of the most controversial figures in Latin American history, and the role she played in the meeting of the Old World and the New.

    We hear how La Malinche’s story, and motives, have been re-interpreted over the last 500 years, and learn why she remains important in discussions of national identity, gender, culture and politics in Mexico to this day.

    Producer: Simon Tulett

    Contributors:
    Camilla Townsend, distinguished professor of history at Rutgers University, USA, and author of ‘Malintzin’s Choices: An Indian Woman in the Conquest of Mexico’;
    Dr Fernando Cervantes, a historian of early modern Spain and Spanish America at the University of Bristol, UK, and author of ‘Conquistadores: A New History’;
    Sandra Messinger Cypess, professor emerita of Latin American literature at the University of Maryland, USA, and author of ‘La Malinche in Mexican Literature: From History to Myth’.

    (Picture: La Malinche – a Mexican engraving, 1885, from the library of Catalonia, Barcelona, Spain. Credit: Prisma/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

  • There are hundreds of monuments to the poet and painter Taras Shevchenko not just in Ukraine but all over the world. It is hard to overstate the importance of Shevchenko for most Ukrainians. For them he is not just the national poet who breathed new life into the Ukrainian language but a symbol of their country’s independence. His words kept the national spirit alive during the decades of forced Russification in the 19th Century and they found renewed resonance during the 2014 Maidan uprising. But Shevchenko's work is less well known beyond eastern Europe.

    To remedy this Bridget Kendall is joined by Ukrainian writers and literary scholars Olha Poliukhovych from the National University of Kyiv - Mohyla Academy and Mykhailo Nazarenko from Taras Shevchenko Kyiv National University, and by professor of Slavonic studies at Vienna University Michael Moser. The reader is Ivantiy Novak.

    (Photo: A monument to Taras Shevchenko by Igor Grechanyk in Kyiv, Ukraine. Credit: Sergii Kharchenko/NurPhoto/Corbis/Getty Images)

  • Oranges have long represented love, wealth and status - since they originated in South East Asia, around the 8th Century BCE. The orange tree's ability to carry fruit and blossom at the same time made it a symbol of fertility and purity in religious art and painting, and the intoxicating fragrance of the blossom, the perfect sphere of the mature fruit and its sensuously refreshing taste inspired writers and artists, as well as growers to produce ever more spectacular creations. With the advent of artificial refrigeration in the 19th Century, oranges then became big business and widely available to all. By the mid 1880’s it’s said more than 2.5 million cases of Italian citrus fruit arrived in New York every year. Today, while oranges are enjoyed by many, their production also has a bitter side – the sad plight of many of the orange pickers, and the impact of the orange juice industry affecting the diversity of orange trees and profit margins of the growers.

    Joining Bridget Kendall is Cristina Mazzoni, professor of Romance Languages and Cultures at the University of Vermont, and the author of Golden Fruit: A Cultural History of Oranges in Italy; the food and travel writer Clarissa Hyman, who has written Oranges: A Global History; and Dr Alissa Hamilton, the author of Squeezed: What You Don’t Know About Orange Juice.

    Producer: Anne Khazam

    (Photo: Orange cross section on top of a pile of oranges. Credit: Alexander Spatari/Getty Images)

  • Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose was a polymath: a physicist, biologist and early writer of science fiction. He pioneered the investigation of radio and microwave optics. He made significant contributions to plant science, designing ingenious devices to measure plant growth and responsiveness. He founded one of India’s oldest and most distinguished research institutes. During his life he was honoured at home and in Britain he was knighted for his achievements and made a Fellow of the Royal Society. So why, outside India and his native Bangladesh, is J C Bose not better known?Bridget Kendall asks four historians of science: Bose's biographer Subrata Dasgupta from Lafayette in the United States where he is emeritus professor at the University of Louisiana; Christin Hoene who is assistant professor at Maastricht University in the Netherlands where one of her research interests is the cultural history of radio in colonial India; author, film-maker and historian of science Jahnavi Phalkey who is the Founding Director of Science Gallery in Bangalore, India; and James Poskett who is associate professor at the University of Warwick and author of Horizons: A Global History of Science.The reader is Madhav Vasantha.[Photo: Sir JC Bose, c.1920. Credit: Science & Society Picture Library/Getty Images]

  • The reality behind the stereotypical image of Japan’s fearsome elite warriors is more nuanced than we are led to believe. It is thought the samurai developed as a social class in medieval Japan, when the term could encompass lowly foot soldiers or mercenaries, and often untrustworthy ones at that. A far cry from the skilled fighters who supposedly pledged undying loyalty to their lord, and followed a code of honour.

    In fact, it was during peacetime that the image of the samurai came to be defined when their role as warriors was no longer necessary. During Japan’s aggressive imperial expansion in the early 20th Century, the samurai ideal was once again manipulated for nationalistic purposes.

    Rajan Datar’s guests include Michael Wert, who has published several books on Japan’s warrior class, including Samurai: A Concise History. He is associate professor of East Asian History at Marquette University in Milwaukee; Marcia Yonemoto, professor and hair of the Department of History at the University of Colorado Boulder. She is the author of The Problem of Women in Early Modern Japan, which examines the role of women in Japan’s military-bureaucratic state; and Polina Serebriakova, whose doctoral thesis at the University of Cambridge in the UK focuses on warrior leaders in medieval Japan.

    Producer: Fiona Clampin

    (Image: Illustration portrait of Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Credit: Photo 12/Universal Images Group/Getty Images)

  • There are almost as many ice cream origin stories as there are flavours, but where did the frozen treat really come from, and who invented it?

    Rajan Datar explores the dessert’s murky history, from the harvesting and flavouring of snow in China and the Middle East thousands of years ago, to the experimental kitchens of the European aristocracy.

    Ice cream’s evolution has, of course, closely followed that of refrigeration – we learn why salt was crucial for keeping early versions cold, and hear about the daring entrepreneur who began the global ice trade. Plus, who really invented the ice cream cone?

    Producer: Simon Tulett

    Contributors:

    Robin Weir, author of ‘Ice Creams, Sorbets and Gelati: The Definitive Guide’;
    Najmieh Batmanglij, Iranian-American chef and cookbook author;
    Dr Melissa Calaresu, Cambridge University;
    Farid Rostami, co-founder of Silk Road ice cream.

    (Picture: A woman licking an ice cream. Credit: Getty images)

    To find out how to make ice cream yourself visit www.bbc.co.uk/food/ice_cream

  • Mythological sagas are often fantastical and push the imagination to the limit but the Popol Vuh, which originates in what is Guatemala today, has a gallery of extraordinary characters both good and bad. They get involved in a series of mind-boggling battles and challenges and this eventually leads to the creation of the human race. The Maya K’iche’ story of the Popol Vuh has come down to us in an 18th-Century transcription and Spanish translation by a priest called Francisco Ximenez, and as with many ancient stories, there are tantalising questions about the history of the manuscript and the origins of the tale itself.

    Rajan Datar traces the meanings and significance of the Popol Vuh with the help of Frauke Sachse who is director of Pre-Columbian Studies at the Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection in Washington DC; Iyaxel Cojti Ren, professor at the University of Texas; Allen Christenson who is professor at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah as well as an ethnographer and author of a new translation and critical edition of the Popol Vuh.
    The reader is Florencia Cordeu.

    (Image: A Mayan ball player at the Great Ball Court in Chichen-Itza. Credit: Independent Picture Service/Universal Images Group/Getty Images)

  • Today Korea is divided between North and South, but the founding of the Koryo Kingdom in the 10th Century was the first time the peninsula was truly united and when a sense of nationhood emerged. The Koryo Kingdom is remembered for some of the finest cultural achievements in the country’s history; it developed the world’s first printing press – 200 years before the German inventor Johannes Gutenberg came up with his own version, and it is also a period marked by beautiful ceramics and art. But what is less well known is how progressive its politics and society were; promotion was based on merit, women were given greater rights, and monarchs ruled through co-operation. It was also a turbulent time with personal intrigue and back stabbing at court, and constant threats of foreign invasion.

    Rajan Datar finds out more about the Koryo Kingdom. He is joined by Sang’ah Kim, the Korean Collections’ Curator at the British Museum in London; Dr Charlotte Horlyck, reader in Korean Art History at SOAS, University of London, who has written about the collecting of Koryo Art in the early 20th Century; Edward (Ned) Shultz, professor emeritus in Asian Studies at the University of Hawaii, and Dr Juhn Ahn, associate professor in Buddhism and Korean studies at the University of Michigan in the United States and author of Buddhas and Ancestors: Religion and Wealth in 14th Century Korea.

    Producer: Anne Khazam

    (Photo: Trinity, gilded bronze statues from Goryeo dynasty, 10th-11th Century, Korean civilisation. Credit: DeAgostini/Getty Images)

  • The story of the discovery and development of insulin is a tale full of twists and turns, Nobel prizes and fierce rivalries. Scientists in the late 19th Century established the connection between the pancreas and diabetes, isolated the hormone insulin, and even patented the extract that lowered blood sugar. But it was not until a Canadian team published results in 1922 of their attempts to inject insulin into a patient that diabetes was transformed from a fatal condition to a manageable one.

    Bridget Kendall is joined by science historian Dr Alison Li, who has studied the life of one of insulin's early pioneers in her book J.B. Collip and the development of medical research in Canada; Dr Viktor Joergens, a retired diabetologist who for more than two decades was the executive director of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes. He is also the co-author of Unveiling Diabetes: Milestones in Diabetology; and Dr Kersten Hall, visiting fellow in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Leeds, and the author of Insulin - The Crooked Timber: A History From Thick Brown Muck to Wall Street Gold.

    Producer: Fiona Clampin

    (Photo: Charles Herbert Best, Canadian physiologist who assisted Frederick Banting to isolate Insulin, in his laboratory. Credit: Universal History Archive/Getty Images)

  • Since ancient times the practice of castrating pre-pubescent boys, and sometimes men, was thought to make them loyal servants, suitable for roles at the heart of many imperial courts. Some historians believe this began with human slaves who were treated in the same way as animals – as lesser beings to be managed and controlled – with no free choice.

    The effects of castration on the male body – the loss of testosterone being the principal one – had a huge impact on how eunuchs have been viewed throughout history. Being unable to father children who could threaten lines of succession, certain eunuchs rose to power precisely because of their exclusive access to the inner workings of empires. Castrated men were also prized for their singing voices in 17th and 18th century Europe, as Dr Brianna Robertson-Kirkland explains.

    Bridget Kendall discusses this painful episode with Norman Kutcher, Professor in the Department of History at the Maxwell School at Syracuse University in the US. He specialises in imperial Chinese history, and he’s the author of Eunuch and Emperor in the Great Age of Qing Rule; Dr Kathryn Reusch, conservation technician at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, who's published widely on the topic of castration in relation to archaeological remains; and Shaun Tougher, Professor of Late Roman and Byzantine History at Cardiff University. He’s written many books and articles on eunuchs, including The Roman Castrati: Eunuchs in the Roman Empire.

    Produced by Fiona Clampin for the BBC World Service.

    (Photo: A group of court eunuchs in a Tang Dynasty mural from the tomb of Prince Zhanghuai (circa 618-907). Credit: Pictures From History/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

  • Vikings were addicted to silver; they collected it as coins, as ingots, arm-rings, jewellery. On one Swedish island alone archaeologists and metal detectorists found some 200,000 silver coins and there is a silver hoard there for almost every Viking farm. Why? What can the coins, many of which came from Asia, tell us not just about the huge Viking trading area but also about their society? And how did this influx of silver transform European economy and life in the early Middle Ages? These questions have occupied historians and archaeologists for a long time but now advanced scientific techniques such as DNA analysis and microscopic laser sampling are yielding new, more detailed and sometimes surprising answers.

    Rajan Datar gets an update on Viking research from archaeologist Marianne Hem Eriksen from the University of Leicester; Anders Winroth, historian from the University of Oslo; Soren Sindbaek, archaeologist from Aarhus University; and sound archaeologist Rupert Till from Huddersfield University.

    (Photo: A horn of plenty from a Viking grave. Credit: Werner Forman/Universal Images Group/Getty Images)

  • German chemist Fritz Haber's discovery of how to turn atmospheric nitrogen into ammonia is seen as one of the most significant of 20th century science - it enabled the industrial manufacture of fertilisers, which now provide food for up to half the planet's people.

    But he was also responsible for the development and deployment of poison gas on the battlefields of World War One and is remembered by some as the 'father of chemical warfare'. His was also a life touched by personal tragedy and a struggle against a Jewish heritage that at first threatened to hold back his career, and would later send him into exile.

    Bridget Kendall examines a life that epitomises science’s capacity to create and to destroy.

    Contributors:

    Dan Charles, US journalist and author of ‘Master Mind: The Rise And Fall Of Fritz Haber, The Nobel Laureate Who Launched The Age Of Chemical Warfare’;
    Shulamit Volkov, professor emerita of European and especially German History at the University of Tel Aviv, Israel;
    Dr Anthony Travis, senior researcher in the history of technology at the Sidney M. Edelstein Centre for the History and Philosophy of Science, Technology and Medicine, at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and author of ‘Nitrogen Capture: The Growth of an International Industry’.

    (Image: A portrait photograph of Fritz Haber, dated around 1920. Credit: ullstein bild via Getty Images)

  • Nero fiddled while Rome burned, didn’t he? At least, that’s what the history books tell us. Nero’s image as a depraved tyrant has been handed down to us by three biased sources, written after the emperor’s suicide in 68AD. These sources have informed interpretations of Nero’s legacy ever since, so much so that his involvement in the Great Fire of Rome has become a meme.

    Recent scholarship has sought to rehabilitate Nero to a certain extent, to try to understand him in the context of his time. He was indeed a man who succeeded in shocking the Roman elite, but also someone who could strike a chord with the public and was well thought of outside the centre of political intrigue.

    Rajan Datar attempts to separate fact from fiction, with guests Dr Ginna Closs, Associate Professor of Classics at the University of Massachusetts Amherst in the US and author of While Rome Burned: Fire, Leadership, and Urban Disaster in the Roman Cultural Imagination which was published in 2020; and Dr Evan Jewell, Assistant Professor of History at Rutgers University, Camden. He’s writing a book entitled Youth and Power: Acting Your Age in the Roman Empire; and Dr Shushma Malik, Senior Lecturer in Classics at the University of Roehampton. She’s the author of The Nero-Antichrist: Founding and Fashioning a Paradigm.

    Produced by Fiona Clampin for BBC World Service.

    (Image: Nero and the burning of Rome, July 18-27, 64 A.D. Coloured woodcut by Conti. Credit: Fototeca Gilardi/Getty Images)

  • For the Ancient Egyptians they were seen as receptacles for the soul, for the Aztecs they were used to tell the future and for the early Christians, they were an aid for reaching self-knowledge. And mirrors’ key role in the reflection of light led to the development of high-powered telescopes to explore the universe. No human invention has been so closely tied with our sense of self and the world around us. And yet mirrors also have a capacity to deceive us – so how much attention should we give them in our lives, and are we overly obsessed with our image in the mirror?

    Joining Rajan Datar to find out more about the history of mirrors is Dr Elizabeth Baquedano, a specialist in the indigenous cultures of Mesoamerica and Senior Honorary Lecturer at the Institute of Archaeology, University College, London. Dr Franziska Kolt, a post-doctoral research fellow in the history of science at the University of York in England, who’s written Alice Through the Wonderglass: the Surprising Histories of a children's classic. And Mark Pendergrast, the author of Mirror Mirror: a history of the human love affair with reflection. With the contribution of Professor Serpil Bagci from Hacettepe university in Ankara in Turkey.

    Produced by Anne Khazam for the BBC World Service.

    (Photo: Mirror reflecting blue sky in digital landscape. Credit: Artur Debat via Getty Images)

  • Kwame Nkrumah was considered by some as a visionary hero who urged would-be leaders in Africa to embrace the idea of unity for the continent, and led Ghana to independence from British colonial rule in 1957.But in becoming Ghana’s first prime minister, and then president, he was criticised for his autocratic style of government and the way in which he pursued his Pan-African ideology seemingly at the expense of his own people. In 1966 Nkrumah was removed from power in a coup, and never returned to Ghana. Bridget Kendall’s guests include Ghanaian journalist-turned-historian, AB Assensoh, who interviewed Nkrumah in exile. Assensoh is emeritus professor of African American and African Diaspora Studies at Indiana University, Bloomington, and Courtesy Emeritus Professor in the History Department of University of Oregon. He’s the author of many books on Nkrumah, including a collaboration with his wife Yvette entitled Kwame Nkrumah’s Political Kingdom and Pan-Africanism Reinterpreted, 1909–1972. Joining them are Kwasi Konadu, Professor in Africana & Latin American Studies at Colgate University in the US. He’s published widely on African history, including The Ghana Reader: History, Culture and Politics; and Matteo Grilli, senior researcher at the University of the Free State in South Africa. He’s the author of Nkrumaism and African Nationalism: Ghana’s Pan-African Foreign Policy in the Age of Decolonization.Produced by Fiona Clampin for the BBC World Service. (Photo: Kwame Nkrumah addresses the General Assembly of the United Nations in New York, 1960. Credit: Underwood Archives via Getty Images)

  • President Harry Truman's address to the United States Congress, and the world, in March 1947 is seen by some historians as marking the start of the Cold War.

    In it, the President committed the USA to the role of defender of global democracy, and pledged to contain the expansion of the Soviet Union and the spread of communism. The Truman Doctrine, as it became known, led to the establishment of NATO and, later, US involvement in conflicts in Korea and Vietnam.

    But, as Bridget Kendall discovers, the speech and the policy it set out were by no means inevitable - both were shaped as much by misunderstandings and exaggerated fears as they were conflicting ideologies and the actions of the former World War Two allies.

    Producer: Simon Tulett

    Contributors:

    Melvyn Leffler, Edward Stettinius Professor of History Emeritus at the University of Virginia, USA;
    Vladislav Zubok, professor of international history at the London School of Economics, UK;
    Denise Bostdorff, professor of communication studies at The College of Wooster, in Ohio, USA.

    Credits:

    Recording of the The RT Hon Winston Churchill extracts from a speech made at Westminster College Fulton Missouri;
    Truman's address courtesy of the Harry S Truman Library and Columbia Broadcasting System.

    (Image: Close-up of President Harry Truman as he delivers a speech to Congress. Credit: Bettmann/Getty Images)

  • In in her 1843 essay The Great Lawsuit, the American journalist and early feminist Margaret Fuller forcefully argued for the rights of women to work, think and live on their own terms, not just as companions and foils for men. She was one of the first Americans to do so. Fuller was a pioneer in other respects too: a trail blazer for advocacy journalism and for unrestricted female education. In the 1840s she became the first paid US war correspondent, reporting from Rome besieged by the French army.

    Fuller packed a lot into a life of just 40 years; so much so that after her tragic death in a shipwreck, the men around her - some of them rather famous - did their best to diminish her memory. They exaggerated what they saw as her personal failings and in some instances even falsified her record. As a consequence, we are still discovering the true extent of her life and work.

    Bridget Kendall talks to three Fuller experts: Megan Marshall, Professor at Emerson College in Boston whose book Margaret Fuller: A New American Life won the Pulitzer Prize for Biography; Professor Katie Kornacki, Chair of the English department at Caldwell University in New Jersey and the founding editor of the Margaret Fuller Society's Conversations magazine; and the cultural critic Judith Thurman, staff writer for the New Yorker magazine and an award-winning biographer focusing on female authors.

    The reader is Ina Marie Smith.

    (Image: Margaret Fuller Credit: Stock Montage/Getty Images)