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In Our Time

Author: BBC Radio 4

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Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the history of ideas
453 Episodes
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In a programme first broadcast in 2016, Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the impact of the eruption of Mt Tambora, in 1815, on the Indonesian island of Sambawa. This was the largest volcanic eruption in recorded history and it had the highest death toll, devastating people living in the immediate area. Tambora has been linked with drastic weather changes in North America and Europe the following year, with frosts in June and heavy rains throughout the summer in many areas. This led to food shortages, which may have prompted westward migration in America and, in a Europe barely recovered from the Napoleonic Wars, led to widespread famine. With Clive Oppenheimer Professor of Volcanology at the University of Cambridge Jane Stabler Professor in Romantic Literature at the University of St Andrews And Lawrence Goldman Director of the Institute of Historical Research at the University of London Producer: Simon Tillotson
Mary, Queen of Scots

Mary, Queen of Scots

2020-07-0253:205

In a programme first broadcast in 2017, Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the history of Mary, Queen of Scots, who had potential to be one of the most powerful rulers in Europe, yet she was also one of the most vulnerable. In France, when she was the teenage bride to their future king, she was seen as rightful heir to the thrones of England and Ireland, as well as Queen of Scotland and one day of France, which would have been an extraordinary union. She was widowed too young, though and, a Catholic returning to Protestant Scotland, she struggled to overcome rivalries in her own country. She fled to Protestant England, where she was implicated in plots to overthrow Elizabeth, and it was Elizabeth herself who signed Mary's death warrant. With David Forsyth Principal Curator, Scottish Medieval-Early Modern Collections at National Museums Scotland Anna Groundwater Teaching Fellow in Historical Skills and Methods at the University of Edinburgh And John Guy Fellow of Clare College, University of Cambridge Producer: Simon Tillotson.
Hannah Arendt

Hannah Arendt

2020-06-2548:105

In a programme first broadcast in 2017, Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the political philosophy of Hannah Arendt. She developed many of her ideas in response to the rise of totalitarianism in the C20th, partly informed by her own experience as a Jew in Nazi Germany before her escape to France and then America. She wanted to understand how politics had taken such a disastrous turn and, drawing on ideas of Greek philosophers as well as her peers, what might be done to create a better political life. Often unsettling, she wrote of 'the banality of evil' when covering the trial of Eichmann, one of the organisers of the Holocaust. With Lyndsey Stonebridge Professor of Modern Literature and History at the University of East Anglia Frisbee Sheffield Lecturer in Philosophy at Girton College, University of Cambridge and Robert Eaglestone Professor of Contemporary Literature and Thought at Royal Holloway, University London Producer: Simon Tillotson.
Bird Migration

Bird Migration

2020-06-1852:3210

In a programme first broadcast in 2017, Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss why some birds migrate and others do not, how they select their destinations and how they navigate the great distances, often over oceans. For millennia, humans set their calendars to birds' annual arrivals, and speculated about what happened when they departed, perhaps moving deep under water, or turning into fish or shellfish, or hibernating while clinging to trees upside down. Ideas about migration developed in C19th when, in Germany, a stork was noticed with an African spear in its neck, indicating where it had been over the winter and how far it had flown. Today there are many ideas about how birds use their senses of sight and smell, and magnetic fields, to find their way, and about why and how birds choose their destinations and many questions. Why do some scatter and some flock together, how much is instinctive and how much is learned, and how far do the benefits the migrating birds gain outweigh the risks they face? With Barbara Helm Reader at the Institute of Biodiversity, Animal Health and Comparative Medicine at the University of Glasgow Tim Guilford Professor of Animal Behaviour and Tutorial Fellow of Zoology at Merton College, Oxford and Richard Holland Senior Lecturer in Animal Cognition at Bangor University Producer: Simon Tillotson
Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass

2020-06-1152:469

In a programme first broadcast in 2018, Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the life and ideas of Frederick Douglass, who was born into slavery in Maryland in 1818 and, once he had escaped, became one of that century's most prominent abolitionists. He was such a good orator, his opponents doubted his story, but he told it in grim detail in 1845 in his book 'Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave.' He went on to address huge audiences in Great Britain and Ireland and there some of his supporters paid off his owner, so Douglass could be free in law and not fear recapture. After the Civil War and the abolition of slavery, he campaigned for equal rights for African-Americans, arguing against those such as Lincoln who had wanted freed slaves to leave America and found a colony elsewhere. "We were born here," he said, "and here we will remain." With Celeste-Marie Bernier Professor of Black Studies in the English Department at the University of Edinburgh Karen Salt Assistant Professor in Transnational American Studies at the University of Nottingham And Nicholas Guyatt Reader in North American History at the University of Cambridge Producer: Simon Tillotson.
Frankenstein

Frankenstein

2020-03-1955:1835

In a programme first broadcast in May 2019, Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Mary Shelley's (1797-1851) Gothic story of a Swiss natural philosopher, Victor Frankenstein, and the creature he makes from parts of cadavers and which he then abandons, horrified by his appearance, and never names. Rejected by all humans who see him, the monster takes his revenge on Frankenstein, killing those dear to him. Shelley started writing Frankenstein when she was 18, prompted by a competition she had with Byron and her husband Percy Shelley to tell a ghost story while they were rained in in the summer of 1816 at the Villa Diodati by Lake Geneva. The image of Mary Shelley, above, was first exhibited in 1840. With Karen O'Brien Professor of English Literature at the University of Oxford Michael Rossington Professor of Romantic Literature at Newcastle University And Jane Thomas Professor of Victorian and Early 20th Century Literature at the University of Hull Producer: Simon Tillotson This programme is a repeat
The Covenanters

The Covenanters

2020-03-1254:0114

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the bonds that Scottish Presbyterians made between themselves and their monarchs in the 16th and 17th Centuries, to maintain their form of worship. These covenants bound James VI of Scotland to support Presbyterians yet when he became James I he was also expected to support episcopacy. That tension came to a head under Charles I who found himself on the losing side of a war with the Covenanters, who later supported Parliament before backing the future Charles II after he had pledged to support them. Once in power, Charles II failed to deliver the religious settlement the Covenanters wanted, and set about repressing them violently. Those who refused to renounce the covenants were persecuted in what became known as The Killing Times, as reflected in the image above. With Roger Mason Professor of Scottish History at the University of St Andrews Laura Stewart Professor of Early Modern British History at the University of York And Scott Spurlock Professor of Scottish and Early Modern Christianities at the University of Glasgow Producer: Simon Tillotson
Paul Dirac

Paul Dirac

2020-03-0550:5815

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the theoretical physicist Dirac (1902-1984), whose achievements far exceed his general fame. To his peers, he was ranked with Einstein and, when he moved to America in his retirement, he was welcomed as if he were Shakespeare. Born in Bristol, he trained as an engineer before developing theories in his twenties that changed the understanding of quantum mechanics, bringing him a Nobel Prize in 1933 which he shared with Erwin Schrödinger. He continued to make deep contributions, bringing abstract maths to physics, beyond predicting anti-particles as he did in his Dirac Equation. With Graham Farmelo Biographer of Dirac and Fellow at Churchill College, Cambridge Valerie Gibson Professor of High Energy Physics at the University of Cambridge and Fellow of Trinity College And David Berman Professor of Theoretical Physics at Queen Mary University of London Producer: Simon Tillotson
The Evolution of Horses

The Evolution of Horses

2020-02-2750:2221

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the origins of horses, from their dog sized ancestors to their proliferation in the New World until hunted to extinction, their domestication in Asia and their development since. The genetics of the modern horse are the most studied of any animal, after humans, yet it is still uncertain why they only have one toe on each foot when their wider family had more, or whether speed or stamina has been more important in their evolution. What is clear, though, is that when humans first chose to ride horses, as well as eat them, the future of both species changed immeasurably. With Alan Outram Professor of Archaeological Science at the University of Exeter Christine Janis Honorary Professor in Palaeobiology at the University of Bristol and Professor Emerita in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Brown University And John Hutchinson Professor in Evolutionary Biomechanics at the Royal Veterinary College Producer: Simon Tillotson
The Valladolid Debate

The Valladolid Debate

2020-02-2053:1219

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the debate in Valladolid, Spain in 1550, over Spanish rights to enslave the native peoples in the newly conquered lands. Bartolomé de Las Casas (pictured above), the Bishop of Chiapas, Mexico, was trying to end the encomienda system in which those who now owned the land could also take the people in forced labour. Juan Gines Sepulveda, a philosopher, argued for the colonists' property rights over people, asserting that some native Americans were 'natural slaves' as defined by Aristotle. Valladolid became seen as the first open attempt by European colonists to discuss the ethics of slavery, and Las Casas became known as 'Saviour of the Indians' and an advocate for human rights, although for some time he argued that African slaves be imported to do the work in place of the native people, before repenting. With Caroline Dodds Pennock Senior Lecturer in International History at the University of Sheffield John Edwards Faculty Fellow in Spanish at the University of Oxford And Julia McClure Lecturer in Late Medieval and Early Modern Global History at the University of Glasgow Producer: Simon Tillotson
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the great Roman military disaster of 9 AD when Germanic tribes under Arminius ambushed and destroyed three legions under Varus. According to Suetonius, emperor Augustus hit his head against the wall when he heard the news, calling on Varus to give him back his legions. The defeat ended Roman expansion east of the Rhine. Victory changed the development of the Germanic peoples, both in the centuries that followed and in the nineteenth century when Arminius, by then known as Herman, became a rallying point for German nationalism. With Peter Heather Professor of Medieval History at King’s College London Ellen O'Gorman Senior Lecturer in Classics at the University of Bristol And Matthew Nicholls Fellow and Senior Tutor at St John’s College, Oxford Producer: Simon Tillotson
George Sand

George Sand

2020-02-0655:0513

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the works and life of one of the most popular writers in Europe in C19th, Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin (1804-1876) who wrote under the name George Sand. When she wrote her first novel under that name, she referred to herself as a man. This was in Indiana (1832), which had the main character breaking away from her unhappy marriage. It made an immediate impact as it overturned the social conventions of the time and it drew on her own early marriage to an older man, Casimir Dudevant. Once Sand's identity was widely known, her works became extremely popular in French and in translation, particularly her rural novels, outselling Hugo and Balzac in Britain, perhaps buoyed by an interest in her personal life, as well as by her ideas on the rights and education of women and strength of her writing. With Belinda Jack Fellow and Tutor in French at Christ Church, University of Oxford Angela Ryan Senior Lecturer in French at University College Cork And Nigel Harkness Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Humanities and Social Sciences and Professor of French at Newcastle University Producer: Simon Tillotson
Alcuin

Alcuin

2020-01-3056:1414

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Alcuin of York, c735-804AD, who promoted education as a goal in itself, and had a fundamental role in the renaissance at Charlemagne's court. He wrote poetry and many letters, hundreds of which survive and provide insight into his life and times. He was born in or near York and spent most of his life in Northumbria before accepting an invitation to Charlemagne's court in Aachen. To this he brought Anglo-Saxon humanism, encouraging a broad liberal education for itself and the better to understand Christian doctrine. He left to be abbot at Marmoutier, Tours, where the monks were developing the Carolingian script that influenced the Roman typeface. The image above is Alcuin’s portrait, found in a copy of the Bible made at his monastery in Tours during the rule of his successor Abbot Adalhard (834–843). Painted in red on gold leaf, it shows Alcuin with a tonsure and a halo, signifying respect for his memory at the monastery where he had died in 804. His name and rank are spelled out alongside: Alcvinvs abba, ‘Alcuin the abbot’. It is held at the Staatsbibliothek Bamberg -Kaiser-Heinrich-Bibliothek - Msc.Bibl.1,fol.5v (photo by Gerald Raab). With Joanna Story Professor of Early Medieval History at the University of Leicester Andy Orchard Rawlinson and Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon at the University of Oxford and a fellow of Pembroke College And Mary Garrison Lecturer in History at the Centre for Medieval Studies at the University of York Producer: Simon Tillotson
Solar Wind

Solar Wind

2020-01-2355:2219

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the flow of particles from the outer region of the Sun which we observe in the Northern and Southern Lights, interacting with Earth's magnetosphere, and in comet tails that stream away from the Sun regardless of their own direction. One way of defining the boundary of the solar system is where the pressure from the solar wind is balanced by that from the region between the stars, the interstellar medium. Its existence was suggested from the C19th and Eugene Parker developed the theory of it in the 1950s and it has been examined and tested by a series of probes in C20th up to today, with more planned. With Andrew Coates Professor of Physics and Deputy Director in charge of the Solar System at the Mullard Space Science Laboratory, University College London Helen Mason OBE Reader in Solar Physics at the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics, University of Cambridge, Fellow at St Edmund's College And Tim Horbury Professor of Physics at Imperial College London Producer: Simon Tillotson
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the siege of Paris during the Franco-Prussian war and the social unrest that followed, as the French capital was cut off from the rest of the country and food was scarce. When the French government surrendered Paris to the Prussians, power gravitated to the National Guard in the city and to radical socialists, and a Commune established in March 1871 with the red flag replacing the trilcoleur. The French government sent in the army and, after bloody fighting, the Communards were defeated by the end of May 1871. The image above is from an engraving of the fire in the Tuileries Palace, May 23, 1871 With Karine Varley Lecturer in French and European History at the University of Strathclyde Robert Gildea Professor of Modern History at the University of Oxford And Julia Nicholls Lecturer in French and European Studies at King’s College London Producer: Simon Tillotson
Catullus

Catullus

2020-01-0952:4321

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Catullus (c84-c54 BC) who wrote some of the most sublime poetry in the late Roman Republic, and some of the most obscene. He found a new way to write about love, in poems to the mysterious Lesbia, married and elusive, and he influenced Virgil and Ovid and others, yet his explicit poems were to blight his reputation for a thousand years. Once the one surviving manuscript was discovered in the Middle Ages, though, anecdotally as a plug in a wine butt, he inspired Petrarch and the Elizabethan poets, as he continues to inspire many today. The image above is of Lesbia and her Sparrow, 1860, artist unknown With Gail Trimble Brown Fellow and Tutor in Classics at Trinity College at the University of Oxford Simon Smith Reader in Creative Writing at the University of Kent, poet and translator of Catullus and Maria Wyke Professor of Latin at University College London Producer: Simon Tillotson
Tutankhamun

Tutankhamun

2019-12-2653:3929

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the discovery in 1922 of Tutankhamun's 3000 year old tomb and its impact on the understanding of ancient Egypt, both academic and popular. The riches, such as the death mask above, were spectacular and made the reputation of Howard Carter who led the excavation. And if the astonishing contents of the tomb were not enough, the drama of the find and the control of how it was reported led to a craze for 'King Tut' that has rarely subsided and has enthused and sometimes confused people around the world, seeking to understand the reality of Tutankhamun's life and times. With Elizabeth Frood Associate Professor of Egyptology, Director of the Griffith Institute and Fellow of St Cross at the University of Oxford Christina Riggs Professor of the History of Visual Culture at Durham University and a Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford And John Taylor Curator at the Department of Egypt and Sudan at the British Museum Producer: Simon Tillotson
Auden

Auden

2019-12-1953:3313

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the life and poetry of WH Auden (1907-1973) up to his departure from Europe for the USA in 1939. As well as his personal life, he addressed suffering and confusion, and the moral issues that affected the wider public in the 1930s and tried to unpick what was going wrong in society and to understand those times. He witnessed the rise of totalitarianism in the austerity of that decade, travelling through Germany to Berlin, seeing Spain in the Civil War and China during its wars with Japan, often collaborating with Christopher Isherwood. In his lifetime his work attracted high praise and intense criticism, and has found new audiences in the fifty years since his death, sometimes taking literally what he meant ironically. With Mark Ford Poet and Professor of English at University College London Janet Montefiore Professor Emerita of 20th Century English Literature at the University of Kent And Jeremy Noel-Tod Senior Lecturer in Literature and Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia Producer: Simon Tillotson
Coffee

Coffee

2019-12-1255:4230

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the history and social impact of coffee. From its origins in Ethiopia, coffea arabica spread through the Ottoman Empire before reaching Western Europe where, in the 17th century, coffee houses were becoming established. There, caffeinated customers stayed awake for longer and were more animated, and this helped to spread ideas and influence culture. Coffee became a colonial product, grown by slaves or indentured labour, with coffea robusta replacing arabica where disease had struck, and was traded extensively by the Dutch and French empires; by the 19th century, Brazil had developed into a major coffee producer, meeting demand in the USA that had grown on the waggon trails. With Judith Hawley Professor of 18th Century Literature at Royal Holloway, University of London Markman Ellis Professor of 18th Century Studies at Queen Mary University of London And Jonathan Morris Professor in Modern History at the University of Hertfordshire Producer: Simon Tillotson
Lawrence of Arabia

Lawrence of Arabia

2019-12-0552:1526

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss T.E. Lawrence (1888 – 1935), better known as Lawrence of Arabia, a topic drawn from over 1200 suggestions for our Listener Week 2019. Although Lawrence started as an archaeologist in the Middle East, when World War I broke out he joined the British army and became an intelligence officer. His contact with a prominent Arab leader, Sharif Hussein, made him sympathetic to Hussein’s cause and during the Arab Revolt of 1916 he not only served the British but also the interests of Hussein. After the war he was dismayed by the peace settlement and felt that the British had broken an assurance that Sharif Hussein would lead a new Arab kingdom. Lawrence was made famous by the work of Lowell Thomas, whose film of Lawrence drew huge audiences in 1919, which led to his own book Seven Pillars of Wisdom and David Lean’s 1962 film with Peter O'Toole. In previous Listener Weeks, we've discussed Kafka's The Trial, The Voyages of Captain Cook, Garibaldi and the Risorgimento, Moby Dick and The Thirty Years War. With Hussein Omar Lecturer in Modern Global History at University College Dublin Catriona Pennell Associate Professor of Modern History and Memory Studies at the University of Exeter Neil Faulkner Director of Military History Live and Editor of the magazine Military History Matters Producer: Simon Tillotson
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Comments (53)

WEI SHI

I HATE THIS PODCAST😤😤😤!!!!

Jul 1st
Reply (2)

Cheney Feng

So worrying when host gaps

Jun 30th
Reply

Alex K.

Great podcast channel. I'm sorry you are taking a break, but you do deserve it.

Jun 18th
Reply

Ben Wilson

"does anyone want a coffee...or a green tea?" 😁😂

May 3rd
Reply

Marc Naura

Wow, I nearly didn't recognise the commune here. 72 days and so much achieved or at least started: free equal education, pensions to orphans and widows, democracy, separation of state and church, cooperative organisation in businesses, gendre equality for wages etc! I am surprised by how little this was mentioned considering how much of an impact this had. And Paris was not first in doing communes: Lyon and Paris were first!

Feb 7th
Reply

Granny InSanDiego

And Judiasm and Islam are no better, utterly absurd.

Feb 1st
Reply

Granny InSanDiego

Now we can see how absurd Christianity is. Now we have these evangelical zombies slavishly pushing these doctrines which were invented out of whole cloth by primitive, power hungry men.

Feb 1st
Reply

O • L I V E - health retreat

the reason they bombed Guernica was that it was the Basque "capital" since prehistoric times. the oak was the meeting point for the "Foros" of Euskadi.

Nov 5th
Reply (1)

10 cent plague whereyouwerewhen

opo.o wn nppppp y

Oct 23rd
Reply

Julia Wise

Calling the Irish "the lowest of the low" in the British racial hierarchy seems far-fetched. It's hard to imagine they experienced more discrimination than African or Asian people in Britain at the time.

Aug 18th
Reply (1)

Per Olofsson

You do not have to belong to a certain group to do research on or have an opinion about that group.

Jul 22nd
Reply

Ralph Holtom

So frustrating. What is wrong with BBC podcasts? I listened to the Gordon riots episode without any problem but now this podcast won't play at all. I will have to go to BBC sounds but the point of having a podcast player is to avoid switching between apps

May 9th
Reply

Michael King

Mic quality is poor and some discussion cannot be heard. Otherwise entertaining.

May 8th
Reply

Rich Berry

I was Francis Flute and got very good feedback! I was 17. I loved playing Thisby and your program has brought back some happy memories as well as being insightful. Thank you.

Apr 22nd
Reply

Simon Curry

Great episode.

Mar 9th
Reply

Aliyah s

why is it always Western academics talking about Muslims? it would be really nice if you got someone from the tradition instead of perpetuating this orientalist outlook.

Feb 28th
Reply (8)

Rob Moores

bananas were possibly unknown in England in 1620

Feb 23rd
Reply

Paul Gerald William Mc Closkey

. CD d

Feb 19th
Reply

I like dick up my Bum Hole and

BBC LMAO

Feb 7th
Reply

Cara Hugo Meintjes Hartley

Good episode, but the host could steer them less - as the 'extra' pieces at the end demonstrate, they do quite well without so much interjecting!

Dec 9th
Reply
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