Discover world history, culture and ideas with today’s leading experts
Copper: From mining to microprocessors
Copper is a metal that has been with us since the dawn of civilisation. The Romans used it to build their empire, and its high thermal and electrical conductivity led to the 19th century discovery of how to generate electricity and a revolution in telecommunications. Copper was even used to build the Statue of Liberty in New York, and it’s because of copper’s tendency to oxidise that the statue is no longer shiny brown but green. Today we still depend on this 'eternal metal', so called because it doesn’t decay or rust, and it has become a staple and necessary component in new green technologies like solar power and electric cars. But extracting copper has always been very damaging to human health and the environment - so how has our relationship with copper changed over the centuries?
Joining Rajan Datar to find out more about copper past and present is Nikita Sud, Professor of Development studies at Oxford University and the author of The Making of Land and The Making of India; the archaeologist Dr William Parkinson, who is a curator at the Field Museum, and Professor of Anthropology at the University of Illinois at Chicago; and Andrea Sella, Professor of Chemistry at University College, London.
Produced by Anne Khazam for the BBC World Service.
(Image: Stripped copper cables. Credit: Christoph Burgstedt/Science Photo Library via Getty Images)
Writer Agatha Christie: Murder and mystery
Agatha Christie put her decision to become a writer down to a lack of education and a capacity for day-dreaming. Her murder mysteries, full of ingenious plot twists, are still regarded by many as the finest examples of crime fiction and have sold in their billions in the English language and in translation.
Although the world she depicts is considered by some to be cosy and genteel, and her plots formulaic, a new generation of screenwriters is bringing out the darker side of Christie’s imagination. So what accounts for her continuing global success, when today’s crime fiction tends to be grittier and more realist?
Bridget Kendall is joined by Dr Michelle Kazmer, Professor in the School of Information at Florida State University, who’s combined a lifelong passion for crime fiction with study into how we use information – such as clues or evidence; Dr Mark Aldridge, Associate Professor of Film and Television at Solent University and the author of Agatha Christie on Screen and Poirot: The Greatest Detective in the World; and James Prichard, Agatha Christie’s great-grandson. Award-winning crime writer Ragnar Jónasson also explains how Agatha Christie's novels influenced his own work.
Produced by Fiona Clampin for BBC World Service.
Boudica, warrior queen
Boudica, also known as Boadicea, was a member of Iron Age aristocracy in Roman occupied England and her husband was the ruler of the Iceni people. When he died in around 60AD, Boudica, driven by Roman brutality, led a rebellion against the Roman army and marched on London. It was a ferocious attack that nearly drove the Romans out of Britain before Boudica was finally defeated. Today, she is an iconic and sometimes controversial figure. To explore Boudica, Bridget Kendall is joined by professors Richard Hingley and Miranda Aldhouse-Green and Dr. Jane Webster.
(Image: Detail from Boadicea Haranguing the Britons by William Sharp, after John Opie, line engraving, published 1793. Credit: by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Harry Houdini: Escape artist and showman
Harry Houdini’s story is the classic American tale of an immigrant who from impoverished beginnings made it big in the United States. Perhaps it is this early hand to mouth existence in a large family which explains his extraordinary drive to succeed. Captivated by magic shows, he began performing tricks on stage with one of his brothers, and then with his wife.
Houdini’s decision to make escape the focus of his act was well-timed, chiming with the public mood for sensational trickery. Whether it was escaping from handcuffs, a straitjacket or from a box filled with water, Houdini wowed audiences with his seemingly death-defying performance. So what motivated this complex man who spent a lifetime ‘deluding’ the public with his illusions, and how did he reconcile that with his campaign against the Spiritualist movement which he regarded as a racket?
Rajan Datar charts the life and career of the legendary Houdini, with writer and biographer Adam Begley, whose book Houdini: The Elusive American was published in 2020; Dr Matthew Solomon, Associate Professor at the University of Michigan and the author of Disappearing Tricks: Silent Film, Houdini, and the New Magic of the Twentieth Century; and Dr Katharina Rein from the University of Potsdam in Germany, who’s published widely on stage magic in the 19th and early 20th centuries, including Techniques of Illusion which will be available in 2022.
Produced by Fiona Clampin for the BBC World Service.
(Photo: Harry Houdini chained up ready to jump into Charles River, Boston, Massachusetts in 1906. Credit: Bettmann via Getty Images)
Antarctic Treaty: Protecting the icy continent
It’s widely regarded as the most successful treaty in the world, and it was the first arms control agreement established during the Cold War. The Antarctic Treaty, which came into force in 1961, protects what is one of the most unspoilt places on earth, from mining, from military activity and allows only scientific exploration and peaceful pursuits. It was thanks to the treaty and research carried out in Antarctica that scientists identified a hole in the ozone layer in the 1980s, but it’s been most powerful as a symbol of what can be achieved to create peace between nations and give wilderness protection. So what has made this treaty so effective, and can it still hold up today in a world which is hungry for minerals and where an increasing number of states are seeking to project their technological and scientific prowess in Antarctica?
Joining Bridget Kendall is Birgit Njaastad, the Chair of the Committee for the Environmental Protection of the Antarctic, and for more than 25 years a Norwegian Polar Institute environmental expert; Professor Alan Hemmings, a specialist on the geopolitics of the Antarctic from the University of Canterbury New Zealand; and Dr Jessica O’Reilly, Associate Professor of International Studies at Indiana University in Bloomington in the United States, and the author of The Technocratic Antarctic. With poetry and song about the Antarctic by the New Zealand poet Bill Manhire.
Produced by Anne Khazam for the BBC World Service.
(Photo: Chinstrap Penguins on Half Moon Island, South Shetlands, Antarctica. Credit: V Stokes/ iStock/ Getty Images Plus)
Don Quixote: Spanish masterpiece
With its multiple narrators, superb and complex characterisation, the influence of Don Quixote de la Mancha has been acknowledged by great writers through the ages as a masterpiece, and hailed as one of the most important novels in the history of literature.
On the surface the novel appears to be a comedy – of situation, of language and of character – but its author Cervantes succeeds in making Don Quixote so much more than a series of slapstick episodes. It was written during a particularly turbulent time in Spanish politics, when both Jews and Muslims were expelled from the Iberian peninsula, and this finds its way into the novel.
Bridget Kendall explores the tale of the self-styled knight Don Quixote and his sidekick Sancho Panza with Cervantes experts Ruth Fine, the Salomon and Victoria Cohen Professor in Iberian and Latin American Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem; Carolyn Nadeau, the Byron S. Tucci Professor of Hispanic Studies at Illinois Wesleyan University; and Edwin Williamson, the King Alfonso XIII Professor Emeritus of Spanish Studies at the University of Oxford.
(Photo: Cervantes Monument in Madrid, Spain showing Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. Credit: Sylvain Sonnet via Getty Images)
Found this show fascinating. So we’ll explained. Many Thanks
Very informative and interesting - thank you!
Perfect to listen to when running
Really eclectic and global experts. Very informative and enjoyable