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The Forum

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

Weekly hand curated podcast episodes for learning

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Andy Warhol: The prince of Pop Art

"In the future everybody will be world-famous for fifteen minutes” is probably the best known quote attributed to Andy Warhol. Warhol was an American artist who became a superstar in the visual art movement known as Pop Art. He crossed the boundaries between art and celebrity becoming famous for what we now call branding, but the private Warhol was a deeply religious man and to his close relatives was known simply as ‘Uncle Andy’. In a world where some of what he predicted has come true, we look back at the life and work of this iconic figure.With Bridget Kendall to explore Andy Warhol are Eric Shiner the former Director of the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh USA and New York Director of London’s White Cube, Professor Jean Wainwright the British art historian and curator and a leading expert on Warhol and Andy Warhol’s nephew, the artist and illustrator James Warhola.(Photo: Andy Warhol. Credit: Ullstein Bild/Getty Images)

39mins

15 Aug 2019

Rank #1

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Thomas More's Utopia

Five-hundred years ago, in what is now the Belgian city of Leuven, Thomas More published his vision for an ideal society which he called Utopia.To mark the anniversary, The Forum travels to Leuven University to debate More's book, its place in history and the politics it inspired.Presenter Bridget Kendall is joined by Leuven University rector Rik Torfs, culture studies professor Fátima Vieira who leads the Utopia 500 Project, historian of communism professor Erik van Ree from Amsterdam University, and Dilar Dirik, an expert on the Syrian-Kurdish ‘utopia’ of Rojava.

41mins

19 Dec 2016

Rank #2

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Goethe: The story of colour

The German polymath Johann Wolfgang von Goethe considered his monumental book known in English as The Theory of Colours to be his greatest achievement. The book is a record of hundreds of Goethe's observations about the way colour affects our mood, as well as a long and heated polemic with Isaac Newton's colour theory. Goethe's understanding of light and colour was scientifically flawed yet his book had a surprisingly strong influence on the fine and applied arts. To find out why, Bridget Kendall talks to art historian Alexandra Loske, colour writer Victoria Finlay and designer Odette Steele.Alexandra Loske is an art historian who teaches at the University of Sussex, Curator at the Royal Pavilion and Brighton Museums, editor of the book Languages of Colour and author of Palette (forthcoming);Victoria Finlay is a writer, former arts editor of the South China Morning Post and the author of Colour, Travels through the Paintbox and The Brilliant History of Color in Art;Odette Steele is a Zambian textile designer recent and a graduate from the London College of Fashion at the University of the Arts, London.Photo: Goethe’s colour wheel, 1809. (Credit: Freies Deutsches Hochstift / Frankfurter Goethe-Museum)

43mins

30 Jan 2017

Rank #3

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Taiwan: An Island History

Perhaps the island of Taiwan makes you think of those familiar "Made in Taiwan" labels on computer and electrical goods but it was nicknamed 'Ilha Formosa' or the 'beautiful island' by the Portuguese in the 1500s. Bridget Kendall explores its rich and surprising history with Emma Teng, Professor of Asian Civilisations at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Dr Jie Yu, Head of China Foresight, focused on Chinese foreign policy, at the London School of Economics and Dr Bi-yu Chang and Dr Dafydd Fell from SOAS (formerly known as the School of Oriental and African Studies) in London. Photo: people celebrate Taiwan' s annual Lantern Festival, which marks the end of the Lunar New Year festivities. (Getty Images)

40mins

15 May 2017

Rank #4

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What is the Best Way to Deal with Anxiety?

Anxiety is a universal human emotion that has been described as the price-tag on freedom. It is the price we pay for a brain that can anticipate the future. But when anxiety spirals out of control it can take over our lives as we battle against phobias, panic attacks, dread and debilitating fear. So how is anxiety triggered and constructed in the brain? Is the almond-shaped amygdala the seat of fear or are our anxieties constructed in other parts of the brain? And for those made miserable by anxiety, how best can it be treated? Bridget Kendall explores the biology of anxiety and some unexpected approaches to treatment, including friendship benches and therapy horses. She is joined by Joseph LeDoux, author of Anxiety and professor of Neuroscience and director of the Emotional Brain Institute, New York University; Dr Dixon Chibanda, a consultant Psychiatrist in Zimbabwe and pioneer of the Friendship Bench; Susanna Forrest, a British authority on the horse and author of The Age of Horse: An Equine Journey through Human History.(Photo: A young man holding his head in his hands)

40mins

22 Aug 2016

Rank #5

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Rumi: Sufi poet of love

From East to West, Rumi is one of the most universally respected poets of all time. A 13th Century Islamic scholar, his encounter with a wandering dervish transformed him into a globally celebrated mystic and poet of love who has crossed borders of time, faith, language and geography.Rajan Datar discusses his life, work and legacy with scholars Fatemeh Keshavarz and Omid Safi, and biographer Brad Gooch.(Photo: Pray Mount Nemrut, Commagene. Credit: Getty Images/tugbahasbal)

39mins

9 Oct 2017

Rank #6

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Secrets of the Great Pyramid

The Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt is one of the greatest wonders of the ancient World. It is the largest pyramid ever built and even today, with advanced satellite and thermal imaging and other high tech science, we don’t know everything about the pyramid- exactly what’s inside or how it was built. To explore the history of The Great Pyramid - also known as the Pyramid of Khufu, after the Pharaoh who commissioned it as his tomb, Rajan Datar is joined by Professor Salima Ikram, Distinguished University Professor and Egyptology Unit Head at the American University in Cairo, space archaeologist Dr Sarah Parcak, a National Geographic fellow and associate Professor at Birmingham University Alabama in the USA and Dr Joyce Tyldesley, an archaeologist and Egyptologist from the University of Manchester in the UK.Photo: The Pyramids at Giza. (Getty Images)

39mins

11 Sep 2017

Rank #7

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Rasputin: The Siberian mystic who charmed the Tsar

Rasputin’s story is a familiar one – an illiterate Siberian peasant who managed to secure the confidence of the last Tsar and Tsarina of Russia, while indulging his legendary sexual appetite and love of hard drinking. Rasputin was so revered by his acolytes that they would collect his fingernail clippings, as if they were some kind of holy relic. When his extraordinary life was brought to an equally extraordinary end when he refused to die – murdered eventually in cold blood by a group of aristocrats – it unleashed the Russian revolution, and changed the geopolitical landscape in ways that still resonate today.That’s one version of events that’s held sway for more than one hundred years. And yet so much of the Rasputin legend has been pieced together by those looking to discredit him. Is it possible to peel away the layers of myth-making and get to the heart of who Rasputin really was and what he stood for?Joining Bridget Kendall on a truth-seeking mission is Russian imperial historian Helen Rappaport, author of The Race to Save the Romanovs; Russian literary translator and executive editor of the Los Angeles Review of Books, Boris Dralyuk; and historian Douglas Smith, author of the 2016 biography Rasputin: Faith, Power and the Twilight of the Romanovs.Photo: Grigori Rasputin. (Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images)

39mins

30 May 2019

Rank #8

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The Russian civil war: How the Soviets rose to power

The Russian Civil war was a struggle for power at every level – from the villages to the imperial centre, with more than 11 foreign powers involved as well as nationalists, from Ukraine, Poland and the Baltic states, fighting for independence. This conflict, which took place a hundred years ago, between a small group of revolutionaries known as the Bolsheviks and their enemies was one of the most brutal and tragic periods in Russian history, but it was also to shape the new Soviet state that was founded in 1922, and still characterises Russia today. But why did events of the Russian Civil war end up crushing hopes for democracy after the idealism of the October revolution? And how did a small extremist group like the Bolsheviks manage to take control, despite resistance - not just from the upper and middle classes- but also from peasants and workers? Joining Bridget Kendall to explore these themes further is Laura Engelstein, Professor Emerita of Russian history and author of “Russia in Flames”; Steve Smith, Professor of History at Oxford University who wrote “Russia in Revolution”, and Dr Katya Rogatchevskaia, lead curator of the Russian and East European collections at the British Library in London. Image: Cossack Throws General Wrangel in the Black Sea (Poster). Private Collection. (Photo by Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images)

39mins

21 Nov 2019

Rank #9

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Machu Picchu: The secrets of a forgotten city

The ancient Inca town Machu Picchu is now the most visited tourist attraction in Peru - and yet it lay nearly forgotten for over three centuries until American and Peruvian explorers drew the world's attention to it in the 1910s. And despite a century of excavations at the site, there are still many unanswered questions about Machu Picchu: why was it built in the first place, who were the immigrants that made up a large proportion of the town's population, and why was it abandoned so quickly.To find out more about Machu Picchu, Bridget Kendall is joined by leading archaeologists of the Inca civilisation Lucy Salazar and Michael Malpass, the celebrated mountaineer and explorer Johan Reinhard and by writer Mark Adams who retraced the steps of the 1911 expedition led by Hiram Bingham that put Machu Picchu back on the map.Photo: Machu Picchu, Peru. (Eitan Abramovich/Getty Images)

39mins

5 May 2018

Rank #10

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The KGB: Secrets and Spies

2017 is the centenary of the Cheka – the Bolshevik secret police organisation from which the KGB eventually emerged in 1954. The KGB was not just an intelligence agency like its adversaries in the west, but an all-encompassing organisation that covered every aspect of promoting and protecting the Soviet one party state. From its headquarters in Moscow’s infamous Lubyanka, the KGB’s influence spread across the world. To explore the KGB and its legacy, Bridget Kendall is joined by the Cambridge historian, Professor Christopher Andrew, the Anglo American intelligence and policy expert, Dr Calder Walton and the Russian historian, Dr Svetlana Chervonnaya.Photo: Badge logo of the KGB (Photo credit: KGB)

39mins

27 Mar 2017

Rank #11

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Cambodia's ancient Khmer Empire

Around the twelfth and thirteenth century CE Angkor was thought to be one of the world's biggest cities. Its massive temple complex at Angkor Wat covered hundreds of acres adorned with majestic towers, terraces and waterways: symbols of the might of the Khmer kings who ruled the region. Angkor Wat attracts millions of tourists every year and has pride of place on the Cambodian national flag but there's much more to Angkor and the Khmer civilisation than its temples.Bridget Kendall talks about Khmer history with David Chandler, Emeritus Professor of history at Monash University in Melbourne; architectural historian Dr. Swati Chemburkar from the Jnanapravaha Arts Centre in Mumbai; anthropologist Dr. Kyle Latinis from the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore and former Dean of the University of Cambodia; and art historian Dr. Peter Sharrock from the School of Oriental and African Studies in London.Photo: Angkor Wat temple complex. (SERENA/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)

39mins

27 Oct 2018

Rank #12

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Indigo: the bluest blue

Indigo: not only one of the seven colours of the rainbow and the dye that makes your jeans look like they do but and a highly valued pigment which is naturally found in some plants and whose use can be traced back at least six thousand years to Peru. Such was the desirability of indigo that along with sugar, cotton, coffee and tobacco it became a major driver for globalised trade and the horrors of slavery. In India it was the source of so much exploitation that a lawyer called Gandhi rose to fame standing up for indigo farmers. Rajan Datar explores the rich history of the dye with Jenny Balfour-Paul, an Honorary Research Fellow at Exeter University and author of Indigo: Egyptian Mummies to Blue Jeans; Lucille Junkere, an artist and textile researcher with a particular interest in the history of indigo in Nigeria and the Caribbean; and Andrea Sella, a professor of chemistry at University College London who delights his students with all kinds of colourful experiments with indigo.Photo: Detail of adire indigo cloth from Nigeria. Credit: Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

39mins

24 Oct 2019

Rank #13

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Haile Selassie: The last Emperor of Ethiopia

Emperor Haile Selassie was the last in the line of Ethiopia’s ancient monarchy. During his long rule he was revered as an international statesman and reformer, demonised as a dictator, and even worshipped as a God incarnate by the Rastafarians of Jamaica. He was without doubt a controversial figure, but achieved a status in the global arena previously unheard of for an African ruler.Bridget Kendall discusses Haile Selassie’s life and legacy with Prince Asfa-Wossen Asserate, political analyst and author of ‘King of Kings: The Triumph and Tragedy of Emperor Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia’, who is also the great-nephew of Haile Selassie; Gerard Prunier, Independent Consultant on Eastern and Central African affairs, and former Director of the French Centre for Ethiopian Studies in Addis-Ababa; and Laura Hammond, an anthropologist specialising in Ethiopia at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.Image: Haile Selassie Credit: Henry Guttmann/Getty Images

39mins

3 Apr 2017

Rank #14

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Vincent van Gogh: The struggling artist

The Dutch post-Impressionist painter Vincent van Gogh is one of the most influential painters in western art. His series of still life sunflowers are known around the world today, but during his lifetime in the 1800s he lived in poverty, selling incredibly little of his work, some say just one painting, and suffered several serious breakdowns. One of his most famous paintings - The Starry Night - is said to be the view from his room in a French psychiatric hospital where he’d admitted himself shortly after severing his own left ear. This programme looks at the man behind these iconic paintings, explores how and why he became a painter and picks apart the various theories around his death from a gunshot wound at the age of just 37.Joining Bridget Kendall to discuss van Gogh’s life and work are Louis van Tilborgh, Senior Researcher at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and Professor of Art History at the University of Amsterdam, van Gogh biographer and co-author of van Gogh: The Life, Steven Naifeh, and British art historian Lucrezia Walker.Photo: Self-Portrait by Vincent van Gogh (Getty Images)

38mins

21 Jul 2018

Rank #15

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The Iliad: Beauty, brutes and battles

Nearly 3,000 years after it was written down, The Iliad is still one of the most influential and inspiring stories ever told. Homer’s epic poem is a tale of war, but puts human emotions centre-stage: wrath, grief, love, heroism and separation. With Bettany Hughes to discuss The Iliad’s origins, themes and continuing relevance to people across the world are: Stathis Livathinos, Director of the National Theatre of Greece; Antony Makrinos, a Greek classicist specialising in Homer who teaches at University College London; Professor Folake Onayemi, Head of the Classics Department at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria; and Edith Hall, Professor of Classics at King's College London.Photo: An engraving depicting the Trojan war. (Getty Images)

39mins

5 Dec 2016

Rank #16

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Image overload: Coping with the modern world's visual clutter

Our lives are increasingly cluttered by images, not just in the world around us, but on advertising bill-boards, television screens, and even on our mobile phones. So how are we to process this barrage of information and make sense of the visual world?How can today’s designers help us and how are we to avoid image-overload? Bridget Kendall talks to three people who help us navigate the increasingly crowded world of visual imagery: Alan Kitching, one of the world’s foremost practitioners of letterpress typographic design and printmaking, Aowen Jin, a Chinese-born artist who leads museum tours in the dark and Roma Agrawal, a structural engineer who spent six years designing London’s skyscraper The Shard.(Image: Edition Print, 2012 by Alan Kitching)

40mins

15 Aug 2016

Rank #17

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Napoleon: From empire to exile

The story of how an average-sized artillery officer from a small Mediterranean island came to dominate revolutionary France and become the international celebrity of his age is an extraordinary one. Born on Corsica in 1769, Napoleon Bonaparte appeared to avoid engaging with the military career for which he was destined. And yet within a decade, his ambition, ego and enormous talent for self-promotion propelled him to the rank of general and eventually the highest office in France.At the beginning of the 19th century Napoleon’s rise appeared unstoppable. He was declared First Consul for life, then crowned himself Emperor of the French. He brought a period of much-needed stability to France and codified laws and systems which exist to this day. When his wife Joséphine was unable to give him a child, he divorced her and cemented an alliance with Austria’s imperial family. At its height, the Napoleonic empire stretched across most of Western Europe and numbered 40 million people. But his continuing thirst for power also sowed the seeds of his downfall.Bridget Kendall delves into the life and legacy of one of history’s most divisive figures. With guests Rafe Blaufarb, Professor of History at Florida State University in the US; Kate Astbury, Professor of French Studies at the University of Warwick, UK and the co-curator of www.100days.eu ; and Professor Annie Jourdan from the University of Amsterdam, Holland.Photo: Jacques-Louis David painting 'The Emperor Napoleon in His Study at the Tuileries', 1812 (VCG Wilson/Corbis via Getty Images)

39mins

28 Mar 2019

Rank #18

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The Making of Modern Japan

In the mid-19th century Japan transformed itself from feudal state to economic powerhouse at breakneck speed. Taking their cue from Western imperial powers, the rebel samurai who seized power in 1868 implemented an astonishing programme of reform.By removing an entire ruling elite, introducing national conscription and compulsory education, the Meiji rulers set about building a brand new society. Even the measurement of time was changed, which led to considerable confusion between generations.Rajan Datar and guests will unpack the origins of this dynamic transformation, and examine how it led Japan to a period of drastic imperial expansion and the subsequent atrocities of World War II.Joining Rajan will be historians Naoko Shimazu from Yale NUS College in Singapore, Mark Ravina from Emory University in Atlanta, USA, and Barak Kushner from the University of Cambridge in the UK.Photo: Meiji Shrine In Tokyo, Japan. (Junko Kimura/Getty Images)

39mins

8 Sep 2018

Rank #19

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Lawrence of Arabia

T.E Lawrence was a British scholar and adventurer whose involvement with the Arab Revolt during the World War One inspired one of the most celebrated films in cinema history. So how did a man who was offered a knighthood and became an international celebrity end his days in near obscurity? Bridget Kendall is joined by historians James Barr and Juliette Desplat, and writer Scott Anderson to discuss his life and legacy.Photo: T. E. Lawrence.Photo by Hulton Archive / Getty Images.

39mins

24 Mar 2018

Rank #20