206 episodes

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

The Forum BBC

    • Society & Culture

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

    Man v mosquito

    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 History Museum in London; Dr. Timothy Winegard, historian and author of The Mosquito: A Human History of our Deadliest Predator; and Dr. Clifford Mutero of the International Centre for Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE) in Nairobi, Kenya, and author of Mosquito Hunter: Chronicles of an African Insect Scientist.

    Image: Health workers tackling the spread of the Zika virus in Brazil, 2016
    Credit: Mario Tama / Getty Images

    • 39 min
    The magic of bronze

    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 in Cambridge who specialises in ancient metallurgy; and David Ekserdjian, Professor of Art and Film History at Leicester University.

    Also in the programme: Dutch sound artist Floris van Manen follows the key stages of making a bronze bell at Eijsbouts, one of Europe's leading foundries.

    Photo: Cellini's statue of Perseus holding the head of Medusa (Getty Images)

    • 39 min
    Li Bai: The revered Chinese poet

    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 languages? These are some of the issues that Bridget Kendall discusses with Li Bai scholars Paula Varsano and Wilt Idema, and writer and Li Bai biographer Ha Jin.

    (Picture: Li Bai sitting on a tree branch. Detail of the decoration on a large ceramic plate from China, 17th-18th century. Credit: DeAgostini/Getty Images)

    • 41 min
    Nefertiti: The beguiling Egyptian Queen

    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 former Director General of the Grand Egyptian Museum Project; Christian Loeben, curator of the Egyptian and Islamic Collections at the Museum August Kestner in Hannover, Germany; And Joyce Tyldesley, Reader in Egyptology at the University of Manchester, and author of Nefertiti’s Face: The Creation of an Icon.

    (Image Credit: Oliver Lang / DDP / AFP / Getty Images)

    • 38 min
    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

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