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The Language of Science
Physicist Jim Al-Khalili travels through Syria, Iran, Tunisia and Spain to tell the story of the great leap in scientific knowledge that took place in the Islamic world between the 8th and 14th centuries. Its legacy is tangible, with terms like algebra, algorithm and alkali all being Arabic in origin and at the very heart of modern science - there would be no modern mathematics or physics without algebra, no computers without algorithms and no chemistry without alkalis. For Baghdad-born Al-Khalili, this is also a personal journey, and on his travels he uncovers a diverse and outward-looking culture, fascinated by learning and obsessed with science. From the great mathematician Al-Khwarizmi, who did much to establish the mathematical tradition we now know as algebra, to Ibn Sina, a pioneer of early medicine whose Canon of Medicine was still in use as recently as the 19th century, Al-Khalili pieces together a remarkable story of the often-overlooked achievements of the early medieval Islamic scientists.
Science and Islam
The Empire of Reason
Al-Khalili travels to northern Syria to discover how, a thousand years ago, the great astronomer and mathematician Al-Biruni estimated the size of the earth to within a few hundred miles of the correct figure. He discovers how medieval Islamic scholars helped turn the magical and occult practice of alchemy into modern chemistry. In Cairo, he tells the story of the extraordinary physicist Ibn al-Haytham, who helped establish the modern science of optics and proved one of the most fundamental principles in physics - that light travels in straight lines. Prof Al-Khalili argues that these scholars are among the first people to insist that all scientific theories are backed up by careful experimental observation, bringing a rigour to science that didn't really exist before.
Science and Islam
Silk Roads and China Ships
Michael Wood tells the tale of China's first great international age under the Tang Dynasty (618-907). From the picturesque old city of Luoyang, he travels along the Silk Road to the bazaars of central Asia and into India on the track of the Chinese monk who brought Buddhism back to China. This tale is still loved by the Chinese today and is brought to life by storytellers, films and shadow puppet plays. Then in the backstreets and markets of Xi'an, Michael meets descendants of the traders from central Asia and Persia who came into China on the Silk Road. He talks to Chinese Muslims in the Great Mosque and across town hears the amazing story of the first reception of Christianity in 635. Moving south, Michael sees the beginnings of China as an economic giant. On the Grand Canal, a lock built in 605 still handles 800 barges every day! The film tracks the rise of the silk industry and the world's favourite drink - tea. Michael looks too at the spread of Chinese script, language and culture across east Asia. 'China's influence on the East was as profound as Rome on the Latin West', he says, 'and still is today'. Finally, the film tells the intense drama of the fall of the Tang. Among the eyewitnesses were China's greatest poets. In a secondary school in a dusty village, where the Chinese Shakespeare - Du Fu - is buried in the grounds, the pupils take Michael through one famous poem about loss and longing as the dynasty falls. And in that ordinary classroom, there is a sense of the amazing drama and the deep-rooted continuities of Chinese culture.
The Story of China
The Golden Age
This episode tells the tale of what's broadly considered China's most creative dynasty - the Song (960-1279). Michael Wood heads to the city of Kaifeng, the greatest city in the world before the 19th century. Here in Twin Dragon Alley, locals tell him the legend of the baby boys who became emperors.
He explores the ideas and inventions that made the Song one of greatest eras in world culture, helped by China's most famous work of art, the Kaifeng scroll, which shows the life of the city in around 1120. A chef makes Michael a recipe from a Song cookbook, while a guide to 'how to live happy, healthy lives for old people', published in 1085 and still in print, is discussed with local women doing their morning exercises. The Song was also a great era for scientific advance in China. Michael steers a huge working replica of an astronomical clock, made by China's Leonardo da Vinci.
Then at a crunch Chinese Premier League match, Michael tells us the Chinese invented football! The golden age of the northern Song ended in 1127, when invaders sacked Kaifeng, but they survived in the south. At their new capital, Hangzhou, Wood joins locals dancing by the West Lake, while in the countryside he meets Mr Xie with his records of 40 generations of ancestors. The final defeat of the Song took place in a naval battle in the estuary of the Pearl River in 1279. When all was lost, rather than surrender to the Mongols, a loyal minister jumped into the sea with the young boy emperor in his arms. 'So ended the glory of the Song', Wood concludes, 'but a new age would arise... as in China, it always has!'.
The Story of China
The tale of one of China's most famous dynasties begins with the amazing story of Hongwu, a peasant rebel who founded one of greatest eras in Chinese history. The film takes us to his great capital Nanjing, with its 21 miles of walls, each brick stamped with the name of the village that made it. Following the trail, we go to the Bao family village and see the villagers act a Ming murder story.
Like many authoritarian states, the Ming were obsessive about architecture. We see the giant fortifications of the Great Wall, the ritual enclaves of the Forbidden City in Beijing and travel with bargeman Mr Hu down the Grand Canal, China's great artery of commerce right up to the present day. We then hear about Admiral Zheng He's voyages to Africa and the Gulf decades before Columbus, watch the construction of an ocean-going wooden boat 250ft long, and hitch a ride on a replica Ming junk in the South China Sea.
As state prosperity grew, so did a rising middle class. Wood looks at Ming culture in Suzhou, the 'Venice of China'. Staying in a merchant's house, he discovers the silk, ceramic and lacquer-making industries, and visits one of the most beautiful gardens in the city. Then on to Macao and the arrival of Jesuit missionary Matteo Ricci, who hoped to convert China to Christianity. In the cathedral in Beijing, we learn more about these fateful exchanges with the west. Finally in Shaoxing, we visit the house of the 'Ming Proust' and at grassroots the Zhao family in Fujian where the film ends in an elegiac mood with the fall of the Ming in 1644.
The Story of China
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