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Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the history of ideas
460 Episodes
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Longitude

Longitude

2021-05-1350:569

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the search for Longitude while at sea. Following efforts by other maritime nations, the British Government passed the Longitude Act in 1714 to reward anyone who devised reliable means for ships to determine their longitude at sea. Mariners could already calculate how far they were north or south, the Latitude, using the Pole Star, but voyaging across the Atlantic to the Caribbean was much less predictable as navigators could not be sure how far east or west they were, a particular problem when heading for islands. It took fifty years of individual genius and collaboration in Britain and across Europe, among astronomers, clock makers, mathematicians and sailors, for the problem to be resolved. With Rebekah Higgitt Principal Curator of Science at National Museums Scotland Jim Bennett Keeper Emeritus at the Science Museum And Simon Schaffer Professor of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Cambridge Producer: Simon Tillotson
The Second Barons' War

The Second Barons' War

2021-05-0657:015

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the years of bloody conflict that saw Simon de Montfort (1205-65) become the most powerful man in England, with Henry III as his prisoner. With others, he had toppled Henry in 1258 in a secret, bloodless coup and established provisions for more parliaments with broader representation, for which he was later known as the Father of the House of Commons. When Henry III regained power in 1261, Simon de Montfort rallied forces for war, with victory at Lewes in 1264 and defeat and dismemberment in Evesham the year after. Although praised for supporting parliaments, he also earned a reputation for unleashing dark, violent forces in English politics and, infamously, his supporters murdered hundreds of Jewish people in London and elsewhere. With David Carpenter Professor of Medieval History at King’s College London Louise Wilkinson Professor of Medieval Studies at the University of Lincoln And Sophie Thérèse Ambler Lecturer in Later Medieval British and European History at Lancaster University Producer: Simon Tillotson
Ovid

Ovid

2021-04-2949:546

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Roman poet Publius Ovidius Naso (43BC-17/18AD) who, as he described it, was destroyed by 'carmen et error', a poem and a mistake. His works have been preserved in greater number than any of the poets of his age, even Virgil, and have been among the most influential. The versions of many of the Greek and Roman myths we know today were his work, as told in his epic Metamorphoses and, together with his works on Love and the Art of Love, have inspired and disturbed readers from the time they were created. Despite being the most prominent poet in Augustan Rome at the time, he was exiled from Rome to Tomis on the Black Sea Coast where he remained until he died. It is thought that the 'carmen' that led to his exile was the Art of Love, Ars Amatoria, supposedly scandalising Augustus, but the 'error' was not disclosed. With Maria Wyke Professor of Latin at University College London Gail Trimble Brown Fellow and Tutor in Classics at Trinity College at the University of Oxford And Dunstan Lowe Senior Lecturer in Latin Literature at the University of Kent Producer: Simon Tillotson
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the treaties France entered into with the United States of America in 1778, to give open support to the USA in its revolutionary war against Britain and to promote French trade across the Atlantic. This alliance had profound consequences for all three. The French navy, in particular, played a decisive role in the Americans’ victory in their revolution, but the great cost of supporting this overseas war fell on French taxpayers, highlighting the need for reforms which in turn led to the French Revolution. Then, when France looked to its American ally for support in the new French revolutionary wars with Britain, Americans had to choose where their longer term interests lay, and they turned back from the France that had supported them to the Britain they had just been fighting, and France and the USA fell into undeclared war at sea. The image above is a detail of Bataille de Yorktown by Auguste Couder, with Rochambeau commanding the French expeditionary force in 1781 With Frank Cogliano Professor of American History at the University of Edinburgh Kathleen Burk Professor Emerita of Modern and Contemporary History at University College London And Michael Rapport Reader in Modern European History at the University of Glasgow Producer: Simon Tillotson
Arianism

Arianism

2021-04-1550:3311

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the form of Christianity adopted by Ostrogoths in the 4th century AD, which they learned from Roman missionaries and from their own contact with the imperial court at Constantinople. This form spread to the Vandals and the Visigoths, who took it into Roman Spain and North Africa, and the Ostrogoths brought it deeper into Italy after the fall of the western Roman empire. Meanwhile, with the Roman empire in the east now firmly committed to the Nicene Creed not the Arian, the Goths and Vandals faced conflict or conversion, as Arianism moved from an orthodox view to being a heresy that would keep followers from heaven and delay the Second Coming for all. The image above is the ceiling mosaic of the Arian Baptistry in Ravenna, commissioned by Theodoric, ruler of the Ostrogothic Kingdom of Italy, around the end of the 5th century With Judith Herrin Professor of Late Antique and Byzantine Studies, Emeritus, at King's College London Robin Whelan Lecturer in Mediterranean History at the University of Liverpool And Martin Palmer Visiting Professor in Religion, History and Nature at the University of Winchester Producer: Simon Tillotson
Pierre-Simon Laplace

Pierre-Simon Laplace

2021-04-0848:409

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Laplace (1749-1827) who was a giant in the world of mathematics both before and after the French Revolution. He addressed one of the great questions of his age, raised but side-stepped by Newton: was the Solar System stable, or would the planets crash into the Sun, as it appeared Jupiter might, or even spin away like Saturn threatened to do? He advanced ideas on probability, long the preserve of card players, and expanded them out across science; he hypothesised why the planets rotate in the same direction; and he asked if the Universe was deterministic, so that if you knew everything about all the particles then you could predict the future. He also devised the metric system and reputedly came up with the name 'metre'. With Marcus du Sautoy Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science and Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford Timothy Gowers Professor of Mathematics at the College de France And Colva Roney-Dougal Professor of Pure Mathematics at the University of St Andrews Producer: Simon Tillotson
The Russo-Japanese War

The Russo-Japanese War

2021-04-0149:2117

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the conflict between Russia and Japan from February 1904 to September 1905, which gripped the world and had a profound impact on both countries. Wary of Russian domination of Korea, Japan attacked the Russian Fleet at Port Arthur and the ensuing war gave Russia a series of shocks, including the loss of their Baltic Fleet after a seven month voyage, which reverberated in the 1905 Revolution. Meanwhile Japan, victorious, advanced its goal of making Europe and America more wary in East Asia, combining rapid military modernisation and Samurai traditions when training its new peasant conscripts. The US-brokered peace failed to require Russia to make reparations, which became a cause of Japanese resentment towards the US. With Simon Dixon The Sir Bernard Pares Professor of Russian History at University College London Naoko Shimazu Professor of Humanities at Yale NUS College, Singapore And Oleg Benesch Reader in Modern History at the University of York Producer: Simon Tillotson
David Ricardo

David Ricardo

2021-03-2550:167

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss one of the most influential economists from the age of Adam Smith and Thomas Malthus. Ricardo (1772 -1823) reputedly made his fortune at the Battle of Waterloo, and he made his lasting impact with his ideas on free trade. At a time when nations preferred to be self-sufficient, to produce all their own food and manufacture their own goods, and to find markets for export rather than import, Ricardo argued for free trade even with rivals for the benefit of all. He contended that existing economic policy unduly favoured landlords above all others and needed to change, and that nations would be less likely to go to war with their trading partners if they were more reliant on each other. For the last two hundred years, Ricardo’s Theory of Comparative Advantage in support of free trade has been developed and reinterpreted by generations of economists across the political spectrum. With Matthew Watson Professor of Political Economy at the University of Warwick Helen Paul Lecturer in Economics and Economic History at the University of Southampton And Richard Whatmore Professor of Modern History at the University of St Andrews and Co-Director of the St Andrews Institute of Intellectual History Producer: Simon Tillotson
The Bacchae

The Bacchae

2021-03-1852:489

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Euripides' great tragedy, which was first performed in Athens in 405 BC when the Athenians were on the point of defeat and humiliation in a long war with Sparta. The action seen or described on stage was brutal: Pentheus, king of Thebes, is torn into pieces by his mother in a Bacchic frenzy and his grandparents condemned to crawl away as snakes. All this happened because Pentheus had denied the divinity of his cousin Dionysus, known to the audience as god of wine, theatre, fertility and religious ecstasy. The image above is a detail of a Red-Figure Cup showing the death of Pentheus (exterior) and a Maenad (interior), painted c. 480 BC by the Douris painter. This object can be found at the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas. With Edith Hall Professor of Classics at King’s College London Emily Wilson Professor of Classical Studies at the University of Pennsylvania And Rosie Wyles Lecturer in Classical History and Literature at the University of Kent Producer: Simon Tillotson
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the devastating mass extinctions of the Late Devonian Period, roughly 370 million years ago, when around 70 percent of species disappeared. Scientists are still trying to establish exactly what happened, when and why, but this was not as sudden as when an asteroid hits Earth. The Devonian Period had seen the first trees and soils and it had such a diversity of sea life that it’s known as the Age of Fishes, some of them massive and armoured, and, in one of the iconic stages in evolution, some of them moving onto land for the first time. One of the most important theories for the first stage of this extinction is that the new soils washed into oceans, leading to algal blooms that left the waters without oxygen and suffocated the marine life. The image above is an abstract group of the huge, armoured Dunkleosteus fish, lost in the Late Devonian Extinction With Jessica Whiteside Associate Professor of Geochemistry in the Department of Ocean and Earth Science at the University of Southampton David Bond Professor of Geology at the University of Hull And Mike Benton Professor of Vertebrate Paleontology at the School of Life Sciences, University of Bristol.
In this 900th edition of the programme, Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss one of the best known and most influential of the poems of the Romantic movement. Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834) wrote The Rime of the Ancient Mariner in 1798 after discussions with his friend Wordsworth. He refined it for the rest of his life, and it came to define him, a foreshadowing of his opium-addicted, lonely wandering and deepening sense of guilt. The poem tells of a sailor compelled to tell and retell the story of a terrible voyage in his youth, this time as guests are heading to a wedding party, where he stoppeth one of three. The image above is from Gustave Doré's illustration of the mariner's shooting of the albatross, for an 1877 German language edition of the poem With Sir Jonathan Bate Professor of Environmental Humanities at Arizona State University Tom Mole Professor of English Literature and Book History at the University of Edinburgh And Rosemary Ashton Emeritus Quain Professor of English Language and Literature at University College London Producer: Simon Tillotson
Marcus Aurelius

Marcus Aurelius

2021-02-2553:1029

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the man who, according to Machiavelli, was the last of the Five Good Emperors. Marcus Aurelius, 121 to 180 AD, has long been known as a model of the philosopher king, a Stoic who, while on military campaigns, compiled ideas on how best to live his life, and how best to rule. These ideas became known as his Meditations, and they have been treasured by many as an insight into the mind of a Roman emperor, and an example of how to avoid the corruption of power in turbulent times. The image above shows part of a bronze equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius. With Simon Goldhill Professor of Greek Literature and Culture and Fellow of King’s College, Cambridge Angie Hobbs Professor of the Public Understanding of Philosophy at the University of Sheffield And Catharine Edwards Professor of Classics and Ancient History at Birkbeck, University of London Producer: Simon Tillotson
Medieval Pilgrimage

Medieval Pilgrimage

2021-02-1851:1312

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the idea and experience of Christian pilgrimage in Europe from the 12th to the 15th centuries, which figured so strongly in the imagination of the age. For those able and willing to travel, there were countless destinations from Jerusalem, Rome and Santiago de Compostela to the smaller local shrines associated with miracles and relics of the saints. Meanwhile, for those unable or not allowed to travel there were journeys of the mind, inspired by guidebooks that would tell the faithful how many steps they could take around their homes to replicate the walk to the main destinations in Rome and the Holy Land, passing paintings of the places on their route. The image above is of a badge of St Thomas of Canterbury, worn by pilgrims who had journeyed to his shrine. With Miri Rubin Professor of Medieval and Early Modern History at Queen Mary, University of London Kathryn Rudy Professor of Art History at the University of St Andrews And Anthony Bale Professor of Medieval Studies and Dean of the School of Arts at Birkbeck, University of London Producer: Simon Tillotson
The Rosetta Stone

The Rosetta Stone

2021-02-1147:2925

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss one of the most famous museum objects in the world, shown in the image above in replica, and dating from around 196 BC. It is a damaged, dark granite block on which you can faintly see three scripts engraved: Greek at the bottom, Demotic in the middle and Hieroglyphs at the top. Napoleon’s soldiers found it in a Mamluk fort at Rosetta on the Egyptian coast, and soon realised the Greek words could be used to unlock the hieroglyphs. It was another 20 years before Champollion deciphered them, becoming the first to understand the hieroglyphs since they fell out of use 1500 years before and so opening up the written culture of ancient Egypt to the modern age. With Penelope Wilson Associate Professor of Egyptian Archaeology at Durham University Campbell Price Curator of Egypt and Sudan at the Manchester Museum And Richard Bruce Parkinson Professor of Egyptology and Fellow of The Queen’s College, University of Oxford Producer: Simon Tillotson
Emilie du Châtelet

Emilie du Châtelet

2021-02-0450:218

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss one of the outstanding French mathematicians and natural philosophers of the 18th Century, celebrated across Europe. Emilie du Châtelet, 1706-49, created a translation of Newton’s Principia from Latin into French that helped spread the light of mathematics on the emerging science, and her own book Institutions de Physique, with its lessons on physics, was welcomed as profound. She had the privileges of wealth and aristocracy, yet had to fight to be taken seriously as an intellectual in a world of ideas that was almost exclusively male. With Patricia Fara Emeritus Fellow of Clare College, Cambridge David Wootton Anniversary Professor of History at the University of York And Judith Zinsser Professor Emerita of History at Miami University of Ohio and biographer of Emilie du Châtelet. Producer: Simon Tillotson
Saint Cuthbert

Saint Cuthbert

2021-01-2856:228

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Northumbrian man who, for 500 years, was the pre-eminent English saint, to be matched only by Thomas Becket after his martyrdom in 1170. Now at Durham, Cuthbert was buried first on Lindisfarne in 687AD, where monks shared vivid stories of his sanctifying miracles, his healing, and his power over nature, and his final tomb became a major site of pilgrimage. In his lifetime he was both hermit and kingmaker, bishop and travelling priest, and the many accounts we have of him, including two by Bede, tell us much of the values of those who venerated him so soon after his death. The image above is from a stained glass window in the south aisle of the nave in Durham Cathedral: 'St Cuthbert praying before his cell in the Farne Island' With Jane Hawkes Professor of Medieval Art History at the University of York Sarah Foot The Regius Professor of Ecclesiastical History at the University of Oxford and Canon of Christ Church Cathedral And John Hines Professor of Archaeology at Cardiff University Producer: Simon Tillotson
The Plague of Justinian

The Plague of Justinian

2021-01-2149:0510

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the plague that broke out in Constantinople 541AD, in the reign of Emperor Justinian. According to the historian Procopius, writing in Byzantium at the time, this was a plague by which the whole human race came near to being destroyed, embracing the whole world, and blighting the lives of all mankind. The bacterium behind the Black Death has since been found on human remains from that time, and the symptoms described were the same, and evidence of this plague has since been traced around the Mediterranean and from Syria to Britain and Ireland. The question of how devastating it truly was, though, is yet to be resolved. With John Haldon Professor of Byzantine History and Hellenic Studies Emeritus at Princeton University Rebecca Flemming Senior Lecturer in Classics at the University of Cambridge And Greg Woolf Director of the Institute of Classical Studies, University of London Producer: Simon Tillotson
The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby

2021-01-1455:5715

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss F Scott Fitzgerald’s finest novel, published in 1925, one of the great American novels of the twentieth century. It is told by Nick Carraway, neighbour and friend of the mysteriously wealthy Jay Gatsby. In the age of jazz and prohibition, Gatsby hosts lavish parties at his opulent home across the bay from Daisy Buchanan, in the hope she’ll attend one of them and they can be reunited. They were lovers as teenagers but she had given him up for a richer man who she soon married, and Gatsby is obsessed with winning her back. The image above is of Robert Redford as Gatsby in a scene from the film 'The Great Gatsby', 1974. With Sarah Churchwell Professor of American Literature and Public Understanding of the Humanities at the University of London Philip McGowan Professor of American Literature at Queen’s University, Belfast And William Blazek Associate Professor and Reader in American Literature at Liverpool Hope University Produced by Simon Tillotson and Julia Johnson
Eclipses

Eclipses

2020-12-3151:2113

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss solar eclipses, some of life’s most extraordinary moments, when day becomes night and the stars come out before day returns either all too soon or not soon enough, depending on what you understand to be happening. In ancient China, for example, there was a story that a dragon was eating the sun and it had to be scared away by banging pots and pans if the sun were to return. Total lunar eclipses are more frequent and last longer, with a blood moon coloured red like a sunrise or sunset. Both events have created the chance for scientists to learn something remarkable, from the speed of light, to the width of the Atlantic, to the roundness of Earth, to discovering helium and proving Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity. With Carolin Crawford Public Astronomer based at the Institute of Astronomy, University of Cambridge and a fellow of Emmanuel College Frank Close Emeritus Professor of Physics at the University of Oxford And Lucie Green Professor of Physics and a Royal Society University Research Fellow at Mullard Space Science Laboratory at University College London Producers: Simon Tillotson and Julia Johnson
The Cultural Revolution

The Cultural Revolution

2020-12-1748:5327

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Chairman Mao and the revolt he led within his own party from 1966, setting communists against each other, to renew the revolution that he feared had become too bourgeois and to remove his enemies and rivals. Universities closed and the students formed Red Guard factions to attack the 'four olds' - old ideas, culture, habits and customs - and they also turned on each other, with mass violence on the streets and hundreds of thousands of deaths. Over a billion copies of Chairman Mao’s Little Red Book were printed to support his cult of personality, before Mao himself died in 1976 and the revolution came to an end. The image above is of Red Guards, holding The Little Red Book, cheering Mao during a meeting to celebrate the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution at Tiananmen Square, Beijing, August 1966 With Rana Mitter Professor of the History and Politics of Modern China and Fellow of St Cross College, University of Oxford Sun Peidong Visiting Professor at the Center for International Studies at Sciences Po, Paris And Julia Lovell Professor in Modern Chinese History and Literature at Birkbeck, University of London Produced by Simon Tillotson and Julia Johnson
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Comments (71)

Dylan Harrison

Among the very very greatest works of art ever made. A masterpiece. As close to a magic thing as you are likely to encounter.

Feb 25th
Reply

hosein Shoaee

thank you for this episode.anarchism will be our future.

Feb 14th
Reply

Rich B

This episode has 1 of the most awkward moments in. Sir MB asked a question so banal that the guest didn't know how to even address it! 😁

Jan 21st
Reply

Ross H

Pat Hudson is a silly lefty bitch.

Jan 11th
Reply

Granny InSanDiego

Is there no producer on this program who can deal with Mr. Bragg's mumbling? It really ruins the listening experience.

Dec 3rd
Reply (1)

Nicholas Everett

Edith Hall kicks f**king ass.

Sep 24th
Reply

Ben Hundley

can you do an episode on Hegel? please?

Sep 1st
Reply

WEI SHI

I HATE THIS PODCAST😤😤😤!!!!

Jul 1st
Reply (4)

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 (1)

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

Olive Retreat🍏O • L I V E Ayurveda

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 (3)

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
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