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Ashes to Ashes

   2020    History
Hours before Mehmed II launches his final assault, an ominous sight shakes both sides. Rumors of a 40-ship fleet's imminent arrival have swirled for weeks, but it's exact whereabouts remained unknown. Ottoman cannons reduced the city walls to rubble, and Venetian reinforcements arrived too late. The conquest of Constantinople ushers in a new era for the Ottoman Empire, being a dominant force in world politics for 300 years. Mehmed II, in many senses, changed the nature of world history.
Series: Rise of Empires: Ottoman

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

The Secret File of Marco Polo

   2018    Historia
Did Marco Polo, the most illustrious traveller in history, ever go to China? To this day doubt lingers, among some scholars, as to whether the Venetian’s book is a personal account of China’s 13th-century Middle Kingdom and its marvels. Scientists, western scholars and Chinese historians have uncovered striking new evidence that the son of Venetian merchants actually had been to China. Explore the mysteries of the historical figure in this featured documentary.

The Language of Science

   2017    History
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.
Series: Science and Islam

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
The Germanic Tribes
The Germanic Tribes

   2007    History
Africa with David Attenborough
Africa with David Attenborough

   2013    Nature
Senna
Senna

   2010    Culture
Neanderthal
Neanderthal

      History
The Sound and the Fury
The Sound and the Fury

   2013    Art
Generation Iron
Generation Iron

   2013    Culture
Hidden Kingdoms
Hidden Kingdoms

   2014    Nature