Civilisations On Your Doorstep

Mary Beard goes in search of extraordinary works of art from all over the world that can be seen here in Britain.

Investigating the stories behind them – how they were brought here, why and by whom – Mary will also ask some deeper questions about what they say about our relationship to the outside world.

Starting with the last surviving cabinet of curiosities from the 17th century, Mary will then tell the story of how our national collections came together –from their aristocratic beginnings and their subsequent democratisation - to a more public 20th century debate about what these collections represented and who they were for.

Along the way, Mary will tackle some of the debates and controversies embedded in the very idea of what ‘civilisation’ is and ask some fundamental questions: How were our national collections built up? Through purchase or plunder? By collecting the art of the world, were we taking civilisation to others or civilising ourselves? And, most importantly of all, what do our collections tell us about who we are?

Production Information

Broadcaster: BBC Two

TX Date: April 2018

Format: 1 x 60

Useful Links:

BBC - Civilisations On Your Doorstep



Executive Producer(s):

Richard Bradley

Caterina Turroni 

Denys Blakeway 

Co-writer and Director:

Hugo Macgregor 


Ewan Roxburgh


Mary Beard