Discover world history, culture and ideas with today’s leading experts
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.)
Writer Jorge Luis Borges: Mixing the magical with the mundane
‘We accept reality so readily - perhaps because we sense that nothing is real.' A typically paradoxical quote from the Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges whose works have become classics and an influence not just on many Latin American novelists but on countless authors around the world. Yet although he is one of the most analysed figures in literature, even his greatest fans struggle fully to explain his writing. So who was Jorge Luis Borges? And what is it that makes his writing so compelling?
To find out, Bridget Kendall talks to three Borges experts: Dr. Patricia Novillo-Corvalán, from the University of Kent, author of Borges and Joyce, An Infinite Conversation; Prof. Evelyn Fishburn, from University College London, author of Hidden Pleasures in Borges’s Fiction; and Edwin Williamson, Professor at Oxford University and editor of the Cambridge Companion to Jorge Luis Borges.
(Image: Jorge Luis Borges in 1973 Photo: Horacio Villalobos/Corbis via Getty Images)
Elizabeth Fry: 'The angel of prisons'
Life behind bars in English prisons in the early nineteenth century was, to put it mildly, grim. Prisons at the time were often damp, dirty and over-crowded. Common punishments included shipping convicts to colonies like Australia - and many crimes carried the death penalty. And the poor suffered most of all, because they couldn’t buy privileges like extra food rations. Into all this walked a woman known as the "angel of prisons", Elizabeth Fry. She was one of the major driving forces behind a new way of thinking about prisons – one that stressed that improving conditions for prisoners and treating them with humanity would lead to better outcomes and lower re-offending rates. A Christian philanthropist from a large Quaker family, her ideas were taken up across much of Europe, and she became something of a celebrity in Victorian England.
Joining Rajan Datar to discuss her work and legacy are:
Averil Douglas Opperman, author of a biography of Elizabeth Fry called 'While It Is Yet Day'; Criminal barrister, Harry Potter, author of 'Shades of the Prison House – A History of Incarceration in the British Isles'; And Rosalind Crone, historian and author of 'The Guide to the Criminal Prisons of Nineteenth-Century England'.
Produced by Jo Impey for the World Service.
Image: Painting by Jerry Barrett depicting Elizabeth Fry reading to prisoners at Newgate, 1816
Image credit: Henry Guttmann / Hulton Archive / Getty Images
The 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre
Greenwood was an African American success story: a thriving, wealthy district of Tulsa. Over the course of two days at the end of May 1921 it was the scene of looting, rioting and murder. After 18 hours the area was razed to the ground by vigilantes. One eye witness said it looked like the world was coming to an end with bullets.
Nobody to this day has been able to establish the true number of deaths. Some put the figure in the hundreds, with casualties on both sides. The community rebuilt itself however, and today it’s the focus of a multi-million dollar investment and education programme.
Joining Rajan Datar to examine the events of 1921 are Carol Anderson, the Charles Howard Candler Professor of African American Studies at Emory University and the author of White Rage; Hannibal B Johnson, lawyer and author of numerous books on the city’s history including the forthcoming Black Wall Street 100: An American City Grapples With Its Historical Racial Trauma and John W Franklin, cultural historian and former senior manager at the Smithsonian National Museum for African American History and Culture in Washington DC. He’s also the grandson of Buck Colbert Franklin, a lawyer and leading community figure who survived the massacre.
There is language in the programme which reflects the historical records and accounts recorded at the time of the events in Tulsa, which some listeners may find offensive.
(Image: The aftermath of the Tulsa Race Massacre at east corner of Greenwood Avenue and East Archer Street. Credit: Bettmann Archive/Getty Images)
Queen Tamar: The myth of a perfect ruler
Queen Tamar was one of Georgia’s most iconic and colourful rulers, a powerful medieval sovereign who controlled large parts of the Caucasus and the eastern side of the Black Sea and forged strong cultural links with both the Byzantine West and the Persian South. Her influence extended beyond the battlefield: she presided over the last phase of the Georgian ‘Golden Age’ which saw the building of classic Georgian churches and a flowering of the Arts that produced one of Georgia’s most important poets.
So who was Queen Tamar? How did she rise to power and outmanoeuvre her enemies? And why do the myths about her rule publicised by her faithful chroniclers persist till today?
Bridget Kendall is joined by Dr. Ekaterine Gedevanishvili, Senior Researcher at the National Centre for the History of Georgian Art in Tbilisi; Alexander Mikaberidze, Professor of History at Louisiana State University; Dr. Sandro Nikolaishvili, researcher at the University of Southern Denmark, who works on retracing connections between the Byzantine and Georgian worlds; and Donald Rayfield, Emeritus Professor of Russian and Georgian at Queen Mary, University of London.
(Image: Queen Tamar, detail of a mural in Vardzia monastery, Georgia, c. 12th century. Credit: G. Chubinashvili National Research Centre for Georgian Art History and Heritage Preservation, Tbilisi)
Who were the Huguenots?
The Huguenots gave the word 'refugee' to the English language - they were French protestants escaping religious persecution, who fled from France to neighbouring states between the 16th and 18th centuries. Despite their early experience of violence and religious upheaval, they are widely celebrated for their contribution as migrants, famously as silk weavers and silversmiths, traders and teachers.
Joining Bridget Kendall to discuss the Huguenots and their global legacy are three experts: Owen Stanwood is Associate Professor of History at Boston College in the United States and is the author of 'The Global Refuge: Huguenots in an Age of Empire'; Ruth Whelan is Professor of French at Maynooth University in Ireland, where she researches the religious and intellectual culture of French Protestants between 1680 and 1730; and Kathy Chater is a London-based historian and genealogist. She’s the author of 'Tracing Your Huguenot Ancestors'.
Produced by Jo Impey for BBC World Service
Image: Engraving depicting French Huguenot refugees as they landed in Dover
Image Credit: adoc-photos / Getty Images
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Falling in Love With Learning (again)
A fantastic podcast that is engaging, thought provoking and chicken soup for the brain. I really did fall in love with learning all over again! You’ll soon be listening to episode after episode while making breakfast, doing the ironing or walking the dog!