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The ascent of woman

Join us for a series that travels the continents over 20,000 years uncovering the incredible stories of women who changed human history. 

  • Duration 10 mins
  • Updated Wednesday 1st July 2015
  • Posted under TV
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Dr. Amanda Foreman in front of the Taj Mahal Copyrighted  image Icon Copyright: BBC About the series

Dr. Amanda Foreman traverses countries and continents in this four-part BBC series to uncover and interrogate key stories of the strong, radical and revolutionary women that have made and changed the course of human history from 10,000 BC to the present day.

The diverse characters she explores range from Mughal Empress Nur Jahan, who helped establish trade routes and pioneered the visual aesthetic of India, to American activist Margaret Sanger, who coined the term ‘birth control’ and developed the contraceptive pill. 

The programme's geographical reach is just as ambitious, covering everywhere from ancient Greece to medieval France; from first-century Vietnam to modern America.

Here on OpenLearn we've collated a range of resources written by our academics to complement the series and aid your further learning. You may like to:

The first episode of 'The ascent of woman' airs on BBC Two on Wednesday 3rd September 2015 at 9PM. Full broadcast details and watch again links can be found on

Order your free world-changing women booklet of postcards

Try our interactive tour of how women changed the world

You may also want to view the articles on World-changing women: The biographies here

Like history? Take it further with The Open University

Not ready yet? Try these FREE materials and snippets from courses


Dr. Amanda Foreman veiled inside the Hagia Sofia, Istanbul Copyrighted  image Icon Copyright: BBC Dr. Amanda Foreman travels to Istanbul, Germany, Paris and Delhi to explore the stories of women behind some of the most powerful empires of the Middle Ages. From 6th century Byzantium to Medieval Europe, the Ottoman Court to the Mughal Empire, Amanda looks behind the male dominated perceptions of these empires to reveal the strength of women at the heart of power and influence.

This is the story of the few, exceptional women who defied the entrenched male intellectual movements and religions of the period, by creating their own worlds from which a female perspective could thrive. Women who operated from within the systems of religion, law, marriage and education to create their own routes to power:  from Empress Theodora who transformed herself from street performer and prostitute to Empress and co - ruler of the Eastern Orthodox Church, to 12th century German writer, preacher and visionary Hildegard of Bingen. From Christine de Pizan, the first woman to write in defense of women’s rights to Roxelana, a former slave who changed the structure of sexual dynastic politics in the Ottoman Court and the Mughal Empress Nur Jahan, who helped establish trade routes and pioneered the visual aesthetic of India we know today. These women resisted and rebelled from within the confines of the palace, the convent, and the harem. They demanded to be heard, fought to have respect, and insisted on having their own authority. And in doing so, they helped to shape our world.

Episodes in this series

Episode Description
Revolution In the final episode of The ascent of woman, political uprisings that have shaped our modern world are uncovered and... Read more
Separation In this episode, Dr. Amanda Foreman looks at the role of women in Asia under Buddhist and Confucianist ideologies,... Read more
Civilisation The first episode of The ascent of woman explores how early civilisations dealt with the status of women and the... Read more
Power Looking back to the Middle Ages, Dr. Amanda Foreman delves in to the lives of the world-changing women who rebelled... Read more


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