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Discover world history, culture and ideas with today’s leading experts.

Discover world history, culture and ideas with today’s leading experts.


London, United Kingdom




Discover world history, culture and ideas with today’s leading experts.




Aesop and the Fables

Aesop, with his tales of tortoises and hares, foxes and grapes, and wolves in sheep's clothing has been a part of world literature for over two thousand years. Since the time of the Ancient Greeks successive generations have drawn moral lessons from his fables, and over history his animals' exploits have been used to support differing ideals. Malcolm X was a fan, as was Imperial Britain, the Nazis had their version and the Trade Union movement published the fables too. There are over 700...


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...


The California Gold Rush

From 1849, hundreds of thousands of prospectors from across the USA headed for California in the hope of finding gold. Some made great fortunes, and there was a new Californian dream for these 49ers, willing to risk everything and, if they failed, to try again. California was to become the engine house of the US economy, while expanding so rapidly that it unbalanced the free and slave-owning states and hastened the USA towards civil war. Yet the new arrivals also drove out competing miners...


Hazel Scott: Jazz star and barrier breaker

A child prodigy on the piano, then a glamorous jazz and popular music entertainer, a civil rights campaigner and the first black American woman to host her own TV show: for the first three decades of her life, Hazel Scott’s rise to fame was vertiginous. Born in Trinidad in 1920, Scott was the headliner in some of New York’s most fashionable clubs by the time she was 20. A couple of years later she became one of Hollywood’s highest paid entertainers and then married one of the most...


The 1918 Spanish Flu: The mother of all pandemics

A century ago a deadly flu virus swept the planet, uniting the world in a disaster on a par with World War One.Over 50 million people died. Social distancing was put in place but drugs were ineffective, there was no vaccine, and in many places medicine could not cope. The world recovered but was never the same again. What can the last great pandemic teach us about how to combat Covid-19 today? Three world experts join Bridget Kendall: Laura Spinney, science journalist and author of Pale...


Gerard Mercator: The man who revolutionised mapmaking

It’s the map of the world we all recognise today, but until Gerard Mercator came up with his elegant solution in 1569, the question of how to turn the earth’s three dimensional sphere into a flat image had long flummoxed mapmakers. Nearly 500 years later, Mercator’s model is still the standard for modern mapmaking. What makes it so enduring? Joining Rajan Datar to discuss the man who defined the way we see the world are geographer and explorer Nicholas Crane, philosopher Emily Thomas and...


Gretta Cousins: champion of Irish and Indian women

How many people can lay claim to playing a key role in three different 20th century protest movements across the world, each of which largely succeeded in their aims? Margaret ‘Gretta’ Cousins, the daughter of a minor court official from Boyle in Ireland and a musician by profession certainly can. The common thread in all of these battles for this driven, feisty activist was the demand for equality for women: Gretta Cousins spent time in jails in Ireland, England and India for her beliefs...


Natsume Soseki: Japan’s great novelist

Natsume Soseki is one of the greatest writers in the history of Japan. The backdrop to his work is the disorientation and social anxiety of the early 20th Century as Japan undertook rapid modernization after centuries of being closed to the world. Soseki has had a huge influence on generations of Japanese authors and has obsessed some international artists. His work is taught to generations of school children in Japan and greatly admired by scholars but remains obscure to much of the rest of...


In search of the good life: Epicurus and his philosophy

The popular view of an Epicurean is that of somebody who focuses on pleasure as our guiding principle, indulging in the finer things of life to achieve happiness. And yet what the Ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus understood by pleasure was far more nuanced. In fact, Epicurus and his followers advocated a simple lifestyle, withdrawn from society, where we are content with little. What is perhaps less known is how Epicurean writings on physics foreshadowed some of the most significant...


Artemisia Gentileschi: The painter who took on the men

One of the most celebrated female painters of the 17th century, Artemisia Gentileschi was the first woman to become a member of the Academy of the Arts of Drawing in Florence. Through her talent and determination - and despite massive obstacles - she forged a 40-year career, and was collected by the likes of Charles I of England and Philip IV of Spain. But after her death, it wasn’t until the 20th century that people began to reinterpret her work in the light of her remarkable life story,...


Guide dogs for the blind: A history

We are now familiar with dogs helping people with sight loss but where did the idea come from? And how have the ways of selecting, training and using guide dogs changed over time? Bridget Kendall explores the history of guide dogs with Pieter van Niekerk, Head of Public Relations for the South African Guide-Dogs Association and with Karin Floesser, one of the guide dog leaders of the German Federation for the Blind and Partially Sighted. Bridget is also joined by journalist and educator...


Oscar Niemeyer: Brazil's king of curves

Best known for his curvaceous buildings and his design of Brasilia, Oscar Niemeyer was one of Brazil’s greatest architects and a leading pioneer of modernism. During his seven- decade career, Niemeyer designed hundreds of remarkable buildings not just in his native Brazil but also in Europe and as far afield as Algeria. His experimentation with reinforced concrete produced organic curved shapes that were a significant departure from the austere style of European modernism. An ardent...


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...


Emilie du Chatelet: a free-spirited physicist

Emilie du Chatelet was esteemed in 18th-century France as a brilliant physicist, mathematician, thinker and linguist whose pioneering ideas and formidable translations were known all across Europe. And yet, after her death in childbirth in her mid-40s she was nearly forgotten, and if she was remembered at all, then as a companion and collaborator of the famous writer Voltaire. Du Chatelet’s insights into kinetic energy foreshadowed Einstein’s famous equation and her suggestions for...


Man v mosquito

Mosquitos are a fast-adapting, elusive enemy which humans have been trying to combat for thousands of years. As vectors of dangerous diseases, these tiny insects have killed more people in human history than any other animal. So what impact has the mosquito had on our lives? How have humans tried to halt its spread? And who is winning the battle? Joining Bridget Kendall to discuss the history of man and the mosquito are Dr. Erica McAlister, Senior Curator of Diptera - Flies - at the Natural...


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 did we first discover it and why have so many precious bronze art works 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...


Li Bai: The revered Chinese poet

A nomadic wanderer and free-spirited romantic, Li Bai 李白, also known as Li Po, lived some 1300 years ago and yet his poems are still cherished for their wild imagination and effortless artistry. There are many colourful stories about his life but how much can we really know about someone who not only lived so long ago but was also very good at projecting an image of himself as a rebel? And how much of Li Bai's intricate, allusion-rich poetry can be translated successfully into other...


Nefertiti: The beguiling Egyptian Queen

A mysterious Egyptian Queen who lived more than 3,000 years ago, Nefertiti still dazzles the modern imagination. Once the wife of a Pharaoh, she might have faded into obscurity, but for the 1912 discovery of an extraordinary bust of her wearing a distinctive flat-topped crown, which captured her very modern beauty and made her into a global celebrity. Joining Bridget Kendall to discuss the story of Queen Nefertiti are Tarek Tawfik, Associate Professor of Egyptology at Cairo University and...


The amazing Dr Darwin

Erasmus Darwin was a man of many talents; not only was he a successful physician, a popular poet, an ardent abolitionist and a pioneering botanist, he also worked out how organisms evolve, some 70 years before his grandson Charles’s theories about this revolutionised science. He is credited with many inventions and discoveries including the steering mechanism used in modern cars, the gas laws of clouds and a document copying machine. And he knew how to live life to the full; he fathered at...


A history of honey

It takes twelve honey bees their entire lifetimes to make one spoonful of honey. From sweetening and preserving food, to treating wounds and sore throats, this sweet, viscous substance has played an important role in nearly every society around the world. In the ancient world, it held religious significance while in the 21st century, scientists are researching how honey could combat lethal diseases and finding ways to identify so-called fake honey. Joining Rajan Datar to discuss the history...