Discover world history, culture and ideas with today’s leading experts
Ibn Sina: The Persian polymath
Over a thousand years ago in the city of Bukhara in modern-day Uzbekistan, a young man was gaining a reputation for his great medical knowledge. His name was Ibn Sina and he was to go on to become one of the most influential physicians and philosophers not just in the Islamic world, but also in the West, where his writings were translated into Latin under the name Avicenna. For over 500 years, his five-volume Canon of Medicine was the most important medical reference book in the world.
Joining Bridget Kendall to discuss Ibn Sina are: Nader El-Bizri, Professor of Philosophy and Civilisation Studies at the American University in Beirut; Peter E. Pormann, Professor of Classics and Graeco-Arabic Studies at the University of Manchester; and Emann Allebban, Assistant Professor in Philosophy at Providence College in Rhode Island in the US.
Image: 14th century illuminated portrait of Avicenna or Ibn Sina, Biblioteca Nazionale Florence, Italy
(Photo by Leemage/Corbis via Getty Images)
The Panama Canal: The real story behind the engineering triumph
Completed in 1914, the Panama Canal has long been regarded as a triumph of American ingenuity, a conquest over nature that helped secure the United States’ position as a world power. Taking ten years to build, it opened up new trading routes between East and West by providing a vital waterway between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. But what was the real story behind this challenging engineering project? How were the Panamanians affected? Who were the tens of thousands of workers who built the canal? And what was the environmental impact of work that literally cut through a mountain and redirected two oceans? And with climate change, will the Panama Canal be such a vital waterway in the future?
Joining Bridget Kendall, is the Panamanian academic Dr Marixa Lasso, author of “Erased: The Untold Story of the Panama Canal”, the first major book on the Canal from the Panamanian point of view; Julie Greene, Professor of History at the University of Maryland, and the author of “The Canal Builders: Making America’s Empire at the Panama Canal”, and Paul Sutter, Professor of Environmental History at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and author of a forthcoming book on the impact of US public health measures during the construction of the Panama Canal.
Producer: Anne Khazam
(Image: A painting depicting the S.S. Ancon, the first ship to pass through the Panama Canal on the opening day on 15 August,1914 in the Canal Zone, Panama. Credit: Illustration by Ed Vebell/Getty Images)
Ida Pfeiffer: 19th Century globetrotter
Ida Pfeiffer's desire to see the world was like many childhood fantasies - destined to remain just that. And yet at the age of 44 once her sons had reached adulthood, she set off from her home in Vienna on a series of journeys that no woman of her time or background had contemplated.
Beginning with a trip to the Middle East, Pfeiffer travelled mostly alone, documenting her voyages and collecting specimens that she later sold to help finance her adventures abroad. Budget travel was her mantra, as she was not a wealthy aristocrat like many travellers of that time. On her journeys Pfeiffer was attacked, kidnapped, robbed and almost drowned. She met head-hunters and endured extreme conditions to pursue her dream. Defying all convention, Pfeiffer became celebrated as the most travelled woman on the planet, circumnavigating the globe twice. But despite her trailblazing attitude, she was no feminist, believing that women should be either professionals or home-builders, not both.
Rajan Datar discusses the life of this most unlikely traveller with the social and cultural anthropologist Hiltgund Jehle; Ulrike Brisson, whose research has focused on 19th and early 20th-Century European women's travel writing; and John van Wyhe, senior lecturer in the department of biological sciences at Tembusu College in Singapore, and author of Wanderlust: The Amazing Ida Pfeiffer, the first female tourist.
Producer: Fiona Clampin
(Image: Portrait of the Austrian traveller Ida Pfeiffer (1797-1858), from Il Giro del mondo (World Tour), Journal of geography, travel and costumes, Volume XVII, Issue 8, February 23, 1873. Credit: DEA /Biblioteca Ambrosiana/Getty Images)
Rain or shine? A short history of the weather forecast
How did we get from not having any reliable way of predicting the weather just 150 years ago, to today's accurate, tailor-made forecasts for places as small as a village? Bridget Kendall and guests trace the history of meteorology, from its first steps as an aid to quicker trans-Atlantic shipping to the latest methods which can help anticipate weather events as short-lived as a tornado.
Bridget is joined by Kristine Harper, a former US Navy forecaster and now a history professor at Florida State University; Peter Gibbs who started out as a meteorologist with the British Antarctic Survey and the UK's Met Office before becoming one of the best known weather forecasters on BBC radio and television; and Peter Moore, a writer and historian with a particular interest in weather discoveries of the 19th century.
Photo: A hurricane is seen from the International Space Station. (Scott Kelly/NASA via Getty Images)
Emile Berliner, inventor of the gramophone
A young immigrant to the USA who started out working in a draper's shop, Emile Berliner ended up paving the way for the world of recordings and home entertainment that we delight in today. But even before he got to work on his recording machine - which he would later call the gramophone - Berliner made a major contribution to another piece of technology that's very familiar to us today: the telephone. And not content with all these achievements, he also promoted the pasteurisation of milk, financed a major scholarship for women to pursue academic research and tried to develop a working helicopter.
So how did Berliner come up with these ideas? Why was he at one point prevented from selling his gramophones and records? And why is his name less well known today than those of his contemporaries Nikola Tesla, Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell?
Bridget Kendall is joined by three Berliner experts: Dr. Anja Borck, director of the Musee des ondes Emile Berliner in Montreal; Sam Brylawski, former head of recorded sound at the Library of Congress in Washington which houses an extensive Berliner archive; and David Giovannoni, a historian of recorded sound and the co-author of E. Berliner's Gramophone - a study of the American disc industry from 1892 to 1900.
[Image: Berliner gramophone, 1890. Credit: Science & Society Picture Library/SSPL/Getty Images]
Tracing the roots of ancient trees
Have you ever sat against the trunk of a large old tree, looked up into its canopy and wondered what it’s seen in its lifetime? There are many species of tree that survive well beyond a human lifespan, for hundreds of years, and some that can live far longer than that, spanning millennia. What can we learn from large old trees around the world? How do they influence the environment? And how can we preserve them for future generations?
Joining Bridget Kendall to discuss ancient trees are Peter Crane, former director of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew in London; Valerie Trouet, Professor at the Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research at the University of Arizona in the US; and conservation biologist, Michael Gaige.
Produced by Jo Impey for BBC World Service
Image: A Bristlecone Pine, one of the oldest living organisms on earth
Image credit: Piriya Photography / Getty Images