202 episodios

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

The Forum BBC

    • Cultura y sociedad

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

    The amazing Dr Darwin

    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 least 14 children and his love of food meant that his dining table had to have a chunk sawn out of it to accommodate his considerable waistline.

    Joining Rajan Datar to explore the life and work of this remarkable man are Dr Patricia Fara, Emeritus Fellow of Clare College, Cambridge, and biographer of Erasmus Darwin; Dr Malcolm Dick, director of the Centre for West Midlands History at the University of Birmingham; and Maurizio Valsania, professor at the University of Turin in Italy who specialises in 18th Century intellectual history.

    (Picture: Portrait of Erasmus Darwin by Joseph Wright of Derby. Credit: Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group/Getty Images)

    • 39 min
    A history of honey

    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 of honey are Dr Lucy Long - author of Honey: A Global History and director of the nonprofit Center for Food and Culture in Ohio, USA; Sarah Wyndham-Lewis - writer, Honey Sommelier and co-founder of Bermondsey Street Bees in London, UK; and the Australian microbiologist Dr Shona Blair from Imperial College London who has conducted detailed research into the antimicrobial activity and wound healing properties of honey.

    Photo: A Yemeni beekeeper checks a honeycomb from a beehive at his apiary in the country's northern Hajjah province in 2019.
    Credit: ESSA AHMED / AFP

    • 39 min
    Highlife: The sound of Ghana

    Highlife: The sound of Ghana

    The name Highlife is thought to have been coined in the early 20th Century when people on the streets outside clubs reserved for the Gold Coast elite observed the elegant clothes and dancing of the customers inside. Dance band Highlife is just one element of the music which has soaked up all manner of cultural traffic that has marked this part of West Africa. Military bands, gospel, calypso, folk music, ragtime, jazz, reggae, hip hop have all left their imprint on Highlife in a dizzying back-and-forth between Africa and the New World.

    When the Gold Coast became the independent state of Ghana in 1957, the music became associated with the search for a national identity. Ghana's first president, Kwame Nkrumah, made Highlife the national dance music, a move that was copied by other emerging nations of West Africa. But from its heyday in the 1960s and '70s, Highlife fell on hard times when a military regime came to power and imposed a curfew. Many musicians left the country to pursue their careers elsewhere. But Highlife proved once more that it could take on new influences, even in exile, and today it is the backdrop to the popular Highlife genre.

    With the help of musical examples, Rajan Datar and guests will explore how Highlife works, and discuss how it has grown from its origins in the towns of the Gold Coast to become a commercial success the world over.

    Joining Rajan will be guitarist and singer Kari Bannerman, percussionist Oheneba Kofi Adu, producer of the long-running American radio show Afropop Worldwide, Banning Eyre, and Dr Nana Amoah-Ramey, author of Female Highlife Performers in Ghana: Expression, Resistance and Advocacy.

    (Phoito: Osibisa performing live in The Front Room of the Queen Elizabeth Hall, London)

    • 39 min
    Yiddish: A story of survival

    Yiddish: A story of survival

    At its height, Yiddish, the language of the European Jews, was spoken by more than ten million people, from Russia in the east to the Netherlands in the West. But by the mid -20th century, these numbers were severely depleted following the Holocaust, and then the creation of the modern-day state of Israel where the speaking of Yiddish was discouraged.

    So what does the future hold for this endangered culture with its great tradition of writers and thinkers? Joining Rajan Datar are Aaron Lansky, the director of the Yiddish book centre in the US, who helped save more than a million Yiddish books from destruction; the Jewish-Russian composer and singer Polina Skovoroda Shepherd who writes new songs that still remain within the Yiddish tradition, and Dr Lily Kahn from the Hebrew and Jewish studies department at University College, London, who’s also the author of “Colloquial Yiddish”.

    Image: A portrait of the Russian-Yiddish performer Polina Skovoroda Shepherd. Photo "All Snow" by Adela Nurullina.

    • 40 min
    A history of the restaurant

    A history of the restaurant

    The practice of having your food prepared by strangers in a public place goes back millennia but what makes a restaurant different from the many other dining options is that you can choose from a list of dishes, you can eat at a time of your rather than the cook’s choosing and are usually served by a professional waiter in pleasant surroundings. There were fully-fledged restaurants in 12th-century China catering to a wide range of tastes and budgets. Six centuries later, the first European restaurants in Paris advertised themselves as places that offered good health, rather than just good food. The fashion for French-style dining quickly spread to other countries but it took over a century for the waiters, waitresses and kitchen staff – the very people who are crucial to the success of any restaurant - to be given half-decent working conditions and a modicum of recognition.

    Bridget Kendall discusses the development of the restaurant with historians Rebecca L. Spang, Patricia Van den Eeckhout, Luke Barr, Nawal Nasrallah and Christian de Pee.

    Photo: A waiter with a serving platter and dome. Credit: RTimages/Getty Images

    • 39 min
    Eleanor Roosevelt: Redefining the First Lady

    Eleanor Roosevelt: Redefining the First Lady

    A First Lady who broke the mould: Eleanor Roosevelt was not just a hostess at her husband’s side, but a spokeswoman for the disadvantaged, a journalist, and an early civil rights campaigner, who placed herself at the heart of American politics, acting as a prominent adviser and representative for her husband, Franklin Roosevelt, the longest-serving president of the United States. But she was also in office in ‘no ordinary time’ as she put it – a period which encompassed the challenges of the Great Depression and World War Two. So who was Eleanor Roosevelt? What shaped her? How transformative was she? And how should we assess her legacy?

    Joining Bridget Kendall to discuss how Eleanor Roosevelt transformed the office of First Lady are Blanche Wiesen Cook, Professor of History at The Graduate Center of the City University of New York and author of a seminal three-volume biography of Eleanor Roosevelt; Maurine Beasley, former Professor of Journalism History at the University of Maryland; and Amy Bloom, Professor of Creative Writing at Wesleyan University and author of White Houses, a novel which explores a secret love affair in the Roosevelt White House.

    (Photo: Eleanor Roosevelt Credit: BBC)

    • 40 min

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