Episode five of Civilisations, “The Triumph of Art”, will air on BBC Two tonight but I’ll be 5,000km away, at home in the Hudson Valley, multitudes of tiny emergent frogs piping down in the hollows, the last grimy mounds of slush surrendering to spring, and “Play ball” at last being shouted in baseball grounds all over the country.
Mary Beard’s career began with a piece of cake. On a trip to the British Museum with her mother, a curator noticed her struggling to see one of the exhibits, a 3,000-year-old piece of carbonised cake from Ancient Egypt.
“He got his keys out, he opened the case, he got the bit of cake out and he showed it to me.” It was a “light-bulb moment” for the then five-year-old, and a lesson in the joy of sharing. “People will see you wanting to know something and they’ll get their keys and unlock the case.”
A Black History of Britain will look at the long relationship between the British Isles, Africa, North America and the Caribbean.
The series will use new genetic and genealogical research alongside original records and interviews to build a new national narrative.
“This series will unveil a new type of black British history, because to me black history is everyone’s history,” said Olusoga. “It's the long, often tragic and always surprising story of Britain’s relationship with Africa and her peoples.”
Art historian Simon Schama will lead Civilisations, presenting six episodes of the ten part BBC Two series, while classicist Mary Beard will present two programmes putting the art and culture of ancient Greece and Rome into a global context, looking at early material from Iran, China and Mexico. RTS Programme Award nominee David Olusoga will present two episodes examining the relationships between Empire, military history and global cultures.