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What a King Should Know

   2012    History
Dr Janina Ramirez shows how medieval manuscripts gave power to the king and united the kingdom in an age of plague, warfare and rebellion, discovers that Edward III used the manuscripts he read as a boy to prepare him for his great victory at the battle of Crecy and reveals how a vigorous new national identity bloomed during the 100 Years War with France. In the British Library's Royal Manuscripts collection Dr Ramirez finds out that magnificent manuscripts like the Bedford Hours, taken as war booty from the French royal family, were adapted for the education of English princes. She also explores how knowledge spread through a new form of book - the encyclopaedia.
Series: Illuminations: the private lives of medieval kings

The Normans: Normans of the South

   2010    History
Professor Robert Bartlett explores the impact of the Normans on southern Europe and the Middle East. The Normans spread south in the 11th century, winning control of southern Italy and the island of Sicily. There they created their most prosperous kingdom, where Christianity and Islam co-existed in relative harmony and mutual tolerance. It became a great centre of medieval culture and learning. But events in the Middle East provoked the more aggressive side of the Norman character. In 1095, the Normans enthusiastically answered the Pope's call for holy war against Islam and joined the first crusade. They lay siege to Jerusalem and eventually helped win back the holy city from the muslims. This bloody conquest left a deep rift between Christianity and Islam which is still being felt to this day.

The Empire of Reason

   2017    History
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.
Series: Science and Islam

Libraries Gave Us Power

   2012    Art
The story of the British Library's Royal Manuscripts collection reaches its end with the last great flowering of illumination, in the magnificent courts of the Tudors. Dr Janina Ramirez investigates astrological texts created for Henry VII, and unwraps his will - still in its original, extravagantly-decorated velvet and gold cover. She hears music written for Henry VIII, which went unperformed for centuries; and reads love notes between the king and Anne Boleyn, written in the margins of a prayer book. Nina also visits Bruges, the source of many of the greatest manuscripts, where this medieval art form collided with the artistic innovations of the Renaissance.
Series: Illuminations: the private lives of medieval kings

Words on a Page

   2020    History
Writing itself is 5,000 years old, and for most of that time words were written by hand using a variety of tools. The Romans were able to run an empire thanks to documents written on papyrus. Scroll books could be made quite cheaply and, as a result, ancient Rome had a thriving written culture. With the fall of the Roman Empire, papyrus became more difficult to obtain. Europeans were forced to turn to a much more expensive surface on which to write: Parchment. Medieval handwritten books could cost as much as a house, they also represent a limitation on literacy and scholarship.
No such limitations were felt in China, where paper had been invented in the second century. Paper was the foundation of Chinese culture and power, and for centuries how to make it was kept secret. When the secret was out, paper mills soon sprang up across central Asia. The result was an intellectual flourishing known as the Islamic Golden Age. Muslim scholars made discoveries in biology, geology, astronomy and mathematics. By contrast, Europe was an intellectual backwater.
That changed with Gutenberg’s development of movable type printing. The letters of the Latin alphabet have very simple block-like shapes, which made it relatively simple to turn them into type pieces. When printers tried to use movable type to print Arabic texts, they found themselves hampered by the cursive nature of Arabic writing. The success of movable type printing in Europe led to a thousand-fold increase in the availability of information, which produced an explosion of ideas that led directly to the European Scientific Revolution and the Industrial Revolution that followed.
Series: The Secret History of Writing
Minimalism
Minimalism

   2015    Culture
Chef's Table
Chef's Table

   2017    Art
The Last Dance
The Last Dance

   2020    Culture
Galapagos with David Attenborough
Galapagos with David Attenborough

   2013    Nature
It Was Fifty Years Ago Today
It Was Fifty Years Ago Today

   2017    Art
Chemistry
Chemistry

   2010    Science
The Beauty of Maps
The Beauty of Maps

   2010    History