In Our Time

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Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the history of ideas

347 épisodes

20 juin 2019 - 00:03242
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss why Athenians decided to send a fast ship to Lesbos in 427BC, rowing through the night to catch one they sent the day before. That earlier ship had instructions to kill all adult men in Mytilene, after their unsuccessul revolt against Athens, as a warning to others. The later ship had orders to save them, as news of their killing would make others fight to the death rather than surrender. Thucydides retells this in his History of the Peloponnesian War as an example of Athenian democracy in action, emphasising the right of Athenians to change their minds in their own interests, even when a demagogue argued they were bound by their first decision.WithAngela Hobbs Professor of the Public Understanding of Philosophy at the University of SheffieldLisa Irene Hau Senior Lecturer in Classics at the University of GlasgowAndPaul Cartledge Emeritus AG Leventis Professor of Greek Culture, University of Cambridge and Senior Research Fellow of Clare CollegeProducer: Simon Tillotson
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13 juin 2019 - 00:03169
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss how the people of Cusco, in modern Peru, established an empire along the Andes down to the Pacific under their supreme leader Pachacuti. Before him, their control grew slowly from C13th and was at its peak after him when Pizarro arrived with his Conquistadors and captured their empire for Spain in 1533. The image, above, is of Machu Picchu which was built for emperor Pachacuti as an estate in C15th.WithFrank Meddens Visiting Scholar at the University of ReadingHelen Cowie Senior Lecturer in History at the University of YorkAndBill Sillar Senior Lecturer at the Institute of Archaeology at University College LondonProducer: Simon Tillotson
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6 juin 2019 - 00:03164
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the range, depth and style of Browne (1605-82) , a medical doctor whose curious mind drew him to explore and confess his own religious views, challenge myths and errors in science and consider how humans respond to the transience of life. His Religio Medici became famous throughout Europe and his openness about his religion, in that work, was noted as rare when others either kept quiet or professed orthodox views. His Pseudodoxia Epidemica challenged popular ideas, whether about the existence of mermaids or if Adam had a navel, and his Hydriotaphia or Urn Burial was a meditation on what matters to humans when handling the dead. In 1923, Virginia Woolf wrote, "Few people love the writings of Sir Thomas Browne, but those that do are the salt of the earth." He also contributed more words to the English language than almost anyone, such as electricity, indigenous, medical, ferocious, carnivorous ambidextrous and migrant.WithClaire Preston Professor of Renaissance Literature at Queen Mary University of LondonJessica Wolfe Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of North Carolina at Chapel HillAndKevin Killeen Professor of English at the University of YorkProducer: Simon Tillotson
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30 mai 2019 - 00:03312
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the impact of Grant's presidency on Americans in the years after the Civil War in which he, with Lincoln, had led the Union Army to victory. His predecessor, Andrew Johnson, was prepared to let the Southern States decide for themselves which rights to allow freed slaves; Grant supported equal rights, and he used troops and Enforcement Acts to defeat the Ku klux Klan which was violently suppressing African Americans. In later years Grant was remembered mainly for the corruption scandals under his terms of office, and for his failure to support or protect Native Americans, but in more recent decades his support for reconstruction has prompted a reassessement.WithErik Mathisen Lecturer in US History at the University of KentSusan-Mary Grant Professor of American History at Newcastle UniversityandRobert Cook Professor of American History at the University of SussexProducer: Simon Tillotson
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23 mai 2019 - 00:03098
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss how scientists sought to understand the properties of gases and the relationship between pressure and volume, and what that search unlocked. Newton theorised that there were static particles in gases that pushed against each other all the harder when volume decreased, hence the increase in pressure. Those who argued that molecules moved, and hit each other, were discredited until James Maxwell and Ludwig Boltzmann used statistics to support this kinetic theory. Ideas about atoms developed in tandem with this, and it came as a surprise to scientists in C20th that the molecules underpinning the theory actually existed and were not simply thought experiments.The image above is of Ludwig Boltzmann from a lithograph by Rudolf Fenzl, 1898WithSteven Bramwell Professor of Physics at University College LondonIsobel Falconer Reader in History of Mathematics at the University of St AndrewsandTed Forgan Emeritus Professor of Physics at the University of BirminghamProducer: Simon Tillotson
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16 mai 2019 - 00:03309
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.WithKaren O'Brien Professor of English Literature at the University of OxfordMichael Rossington Professor of Romantic Literature at Newcastle UniversityAndJane Thomas Professor of Victorian and Early 20th Century Literature at the University of HullProducer: Simon Tillotson
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9 mai 2019 - 00:03080
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the French philosopher Henri Bergson (1859-1941) and his ideas about human experience of time passing and how that differs from a scientific measurement of time, set out in his thesis on 'Time and Free Will' in 1889. He became famous in France and abroad for decades, rivalled only by Einstein and, in the years after the Dreyfus Affair, was the first ever Jewish member of the Académie Française. It's thought his work influenced Proust and Woolf, and the Cubists. He died in 1941 from a cold which, reputedly, he caught while queuing to register as a Jew, refusing the Vichy government's offer of exemption.WithKeith Ansell-Pearson Professor of Philosophy at the University of WarwickEmily Thomas Assistant Professor in Philosophy at Durham UniversityAndMark Sinclair Reader in Philosophy at the University of RoehamptonProducer: Simon Tillotson
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2 mai 2019 - 00:03019
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the most destructive riots in London's history, which reached their peak on 7th June 1780 as troops fired on the crowd outside the Bank of England. The leader was Lord George Gordon, head of the Protestant Association, who objected to the relaxing of laws against Catholics. At first the protest outside Parliament was peaceful but, when Gordon's petition failed to persuade the Commons, rioting continued for days until the military started to shoot suspects in the street. It came as Britain was losing the war to hold on to colonies in North America.The image above shows a crowd setting fire to Newgate Prison and freeing prisoners by the authority of 'His Majesty, King Mob.'WithIan Haywood Professor of English at the University of RoehamptonCatriona Kennedy Senior Lecturer in Modern British and Irish History and Director of the Centre for Eighteenth Century Studies at the University of YorkandMark Knights Professor of History at the University of WarwickProducer: Simon Tillotson
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25 avril 2019 - 00:03084
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the life of Nero (37-68 AD) who became Emperor at the age of 16. At first he was largely praised for his generosity yet became known for his debauched lifestyle, with allegations he started the Fire of Rome, watching the flames as he played the lyre. Christians saw him as their persecutor, an anti-Christ, and the number of the Beast in the Book of Revelation was thought to indicate Nero. He had confidence in his own artistry, took up acting (which then had a very low status) and, as revolts in the empire grew, killed himself after the Senate condemned him to die as a slave, on a cross.WithMaria Wyke Professor of Latin at University College LondonMatthew Nicholls Fellow and Senior Tutor at St John’s College, University of OxfordAndShushma Malik Lecturer in Classics at the University of RoehamptonProducer: Simon Tillotson
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18 avril 2019 - 00:03293
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss one of Shakespeare's most popular works, written c1595 in the last years of Elizabeth I. It is a comedy of love and desire and their many complications as well as their simplicity, and a reflection on society's expectations and limits. It is also a quiet critique of Elizabeth and her vulnerability and on the politics of the time, and an exploration of the power of imagination.WithHelen Hackett Professor of English Literature and Leverhulme Research Fellow at University College LondonTom Healy Professor of Renaissance Studies at the University of SussexandAlison Findlay Professor of Renaissance Drama at Lancaster University and Chair of the British Shakespeare AssociationProducer: Simon Tillotson
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11 avril 2019 - 00:02955
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss theories about the origins of teeth in vertebrates, and what we can learn from sharks in particular and their ancestors. Great white sharks can produce up to 100,000 teeth in their lifetimes. For humans, it is closer to a mere 50 and most of those have to last from childhood. Looking back half a billion years, though, the ancestors of sharks and humans had no teeth in their mouths at all, nor jaws. They were armoured fish, sucking in their food. The theory is that either their tooth-like scales began to appear in mouths as teeth, or some of their taste buds became harder. If we knew more about that, and why sharks can regenerate their teeth, then we might learn how humans could grow new teeth in later lives.WithGareth Fraser Assistant Professor in Biology at the University of FloridaZerina Johanson Merit Researcher in the Department of Earth Sciences at the Natural History MuseumandPhilip Donoghue Professor of Palaeobiology at the University of BristolProducer: Simon Tillotson
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4 avril 2019 - 00:03439
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss why the potato crop failures in the 1840s had such a catastrophic impact in Ireland. It is estimated that one million people died from disease or starvation after the blight and another two million left the country within the decade. There had been famines before, but not on this scale. What was it about the laws, attitudes and responses that made this one so devastating?The image above is from The Illustrated London News, Dec. 29, 1849, showing a scalp or shelter, "a hole, surrounded by pools, and three sides of the scalp were dripping with water, which ran in small streams over the floor and out by the entrance. The poor inhabitants said they would be thankful if the landlord would leave them there, and the Almighty would spare their lives. Its principal tenant is Margaret Vaughan."WithCormac O'Grada Professor Emeritus in the School of Economics at University College DublinNiamh Gallagher University Lecturer in Modern British and Irish History at the University of CambridgeAndEnda Delaney Professor of Modern History and School Director of Research at the University of EdinburghProducer: Simon Tillotson
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28 mars 2019 - 00:03006
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the effective partition of England in the 880s after a century of Viking raids, invasions and settlements. Alfred of Wessex, the surviving Anglo-Saxon king and Guthrum, a Danish ruler, had fought each other to a stalemate and came to terms, with Guthrum controlling the land to the east (once he had agreed to convert to Christianity). The key strategic advantage the invaders had was the Viking ships which were far superior and enabled them to raid from the sea and up rivers very rapidly. Their Great Army had arrived in the 870s, conquering the kingdom of Northumbria and occupying York. They defeated the king of Mercia and seized part of his land. They killed the Anglo-Saxon king of East Anglia and gained control of his territory. It was only when a smaller force failed to defeat Wessex that the Danelaw came into being, leaving a lasting impact on the people and customs of that area.WithJudith Jesch Professor of Viking Studies at the University of NottinghamJohn Hines Professor of Archaeology at Cardiff UniversityAndJane Kershaw ERC Principal Investigator in Archaeology at the University of OxfordProducer: Simon Tillotson
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28 mars 2019 - 00:03006
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the effective partition of England in the 880s after a century of Viking raids, invasions and settlements. Alfred of Wessex, the surviving Anglo-Saxon king and Guthrum, a Danish ruler, had fought each other to a stalemate and came to terms, with Guthrum controlling the land to the east (once he had agreed to convert to Christianity). The key strategic advantage the invaders had was the Viking ships which were far superior and enabled them to raid from the sea and up rivers very rapidly. Their Great Army had arrived in the 870s, conquering the kingdom of Northumbria and occupying York. They defeated the king of Mercia and seized part of his land. They killed the Anglo-Saxon king of East Anglia and gained control of his territory. It was only when a smaller force failed to defeat Wessex that the Danelaw came into being, leaving a lasting impact on the people and customs of that area.WithJudith Jesch Professor of Viking Studies at the University of NottinghamJohn Hines Professor of Archaeology at Cardiff UniversityAndJane Kershaw ERC Principal Investigator in Archaeology at the University of OxfordProducer: Simon Tillotson
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21 mars 2019 - 00:02859
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the life and works of Hopkins (1844-89), a Jesuit priest who at times burned his poems and at others insisted they should not be published. His main themes are how he, nature and God relate to each other. His friend Robert Bridges preserved Hopkins' poetry and, once printed in 1918, works such as The Windhover, Pied Beauty and As Kingfishers Catch Fire were celebrated for their inventiveness and he was seen as a major poet, perhaps the greatest of the Victorian age.WithCatherine Phillips R J Owens Fellow in English at Downing College, University of CambridgeJane Wright Senior Lecturer in English Literature at the University of BristolandMartin Dubois Assistant Professor in Nineteenth Century Literature at Durham UniversityProducer: Simon Tillotson
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21 mars 2019 - 00:02859
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the life and works of Hopkins (1844-89), a Jesuit priest who at times burned his poems and at others insisted they should not be published. His main themes are how he, nature and God relate to each other. His friend Robert Bridges preserved Hopkins' poetry and, once printed in 1918, works such as The Windhover, Pied Beauty and As Kingfishers Catch Fire were celebrated for their inventiveness and he was seen as a major poet, perhaps the greatest of the Victorian age.WithCatherine Phillips R J Owens Fellow in English at Downing College, University of CambridgeJane Wright Senior Lecturer in English Literature at the University of BristolandMartin Dubois Assistant Professor in Nineteenth Century Literature at Durham UniversityProducer: Simon Tillotson
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14 mars 2019 - 00:03033
Melvyn Bragg and guests dicuss what it means to be oneself, a question explored by philosophers from Aristotle to the present day, including St Augustine, Kierkegaard, Heidegger and Sartre. In Hamlet, Polonius said 'To thine own self be true', but what is the self, and what does it mean to be true to it, and why should you be true? To Polonius, if you are true to yourself, ‘thou canst not be false to any man’ - but with the rise of the individual, authenticity became a goal in itself, regardless of how that affected others. Is authenticity about creating yourself throughout your life, or fulfilling the potential with which you were born, connecting with your inner child, or something else entirely? What are the risks to society if people value authenticity more than morality - that is, if the two are incompatible?The image above is of Sartre, aged 8 months, perhaps still connected to his inner child.WithSarah Richmond Associate Professor in Philosophy at University College LondonDenis McManus Professor of Philosophy at the University of SouthamptonandIrene McMullin Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of EssexProducer: Simon Tillotson
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14 mars 2019 - 00:03033
Melvyn Bragg and guests dicuss what it means to be oneself, a question explored by philosophers from Aristotle to the present day, including St Augustine, Kierkegaard, Heidegger and Sartre. In Hamlet, Polonius said 'To thine own self be true', but what is the self, and what does it mean to be true to it, and why should you be true? To Polonius, if you are true to yourself, ‘thou canst not be false to any man’ - but with the rise of the individual, authenticity became a goal in itself, regardless of how that affected others. Is authenticity about creating yourself throughout your life, or fulfilling the potential with which you were born, connecting with your inner child, or something else entirely? What are the risks to society if people value authenticity more than morality - that is, if the two are incompatible?The image above is of Sartre, aged 8 months, perhaps still connected to his inner child.WithSarah Richmond Associate Professor in Philosophy at University College LondonDenis McManus Professor of Philosophy at the University of SouthamptonandIrene McMullin Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of EssexProducer: Simon Tillotson
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7 mars 2019 - 00:03083
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the impact on the British Isles of William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley, the most poweful man in the court of Elizabeth I. He was both praised and attacked for his flexibility, adapting to the reigns of Protestant and Catholic monarchs and, under Elizabeth, his goal was to make England strong, stable and secure from attack from its neighbours. He sought control over Ireland and persuaded Elizabeth that Mary Queen of Scots must die, yet often counselled peace rather than war in the interests of prosperity.WithDiarmaid MacCulloch Professor of the History of the Church at the University of OxfordSusan Doran Professor of Early Modern British History at the University of OxfordandJohn Guy Fellow of Clare College, University of CambridgeProducer: Simon Tillotson
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7 mars 2019 - 00:03083
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the impact on the British Isles of William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley, the most poweful man in the court of Elizabeth I. He was both praised and attacked for his flexibility, adapting to the reigns of Protestant and Catholic monarchs and, under Elizabeth, his goal was to make England strong, stable and secure from attack from its neighbours. He sought control over Ireland and persuaded Elizabeth that Mary Queen of Scots must die, yet often counselled peace rather than war in the interests of prosperity.WithDiarmaid MacCulloch Professor of the History of the Church at the University of OxfordSusan Doran Professor of Early Modern British History at the University of OxfordandJohn Guy Fellow of Clare College, University of CambridgeProducer: Simon Tillotson
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