In Our Time

In Our Time

United Kingdom

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the history of ideas

Episodes

The Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum  

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the high temperatures that marked the end of the Paleocene and start of the Eocene periods, about 50m years ago. Over c1000 years, global temperatures rose more than 5 C on average and stayed that way for c100,000 years more, with the surface of seas in the Arctic being as warm as those in the subtropics. There were widespread extinctions, changes in ocean currents, and there was much less oxygen in the sea depths. The rise has been attributed to an increase of carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere, though it is not yet known conclusively what the source of those gases was. One theory is that a rise in carbon dioxide, perhaps from volcanoes, warmed up the globe enough for warm water to reach the bottom of the oceans and so release methane from frozen crystals in the sea bed. The higher the temperature rose and the longer the water was warm, the more methane was released. Scientists have been studying a range of sources from this long period, from ice samples to fossils, to try to understand more about possible causes. With Dame Jane Francis Professor of Palaeoclimatology at the British Antarctic Survey Mark Maslin Professor of Palaeoclimatology at University College London And Tracy Aze Lecturer in Marine Micropaleontology at the University of Leeds Producer: Simon Tillotson.

North and South  

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Elizabeth Gaskell's novel North and South, published in 1855 after serialisation in Dickens' Household Words magazine. It is the story of Margaret Hale, who was raised in the South in the New Forest and London's Harley Street, and then moves North to a smokey mill town, Milton, in Darkshire. As well as Margaret's emotional life and her growing sense of independence, the novel explores the new ways of living thrown up by industrialisation, and the relationships between 'masters and men'. Many of Margaret Hale's experiences echo Gaskell's own life, as she was born in Chelsea and later moved to Manchester, and the novel has become valued for its insights into social conflicts and the changing world in which Gaskell lived. With Sally Shuttleworth Professor of English Literature at the University of Oxford Dinah Birch Pro-vice Chancellor for Research and Professor of English Literature at the University of Liverpool And Jenny Uglow Biographer of Elizabeth Gaskell Producer: Simon Tillotson.

The Kuiper Belt  

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Kuiper Belt, a vast region of icy objects at the fringes of our Solar System, beyond Neptune, in which we find the dwarf planet Pluto and countless objects left over from the origins of the solar system, some of which we observe as comets. It extends from where Neptune is, which is 30 times further out than the Earth is from the Sun, to about 500 times the Earth-Sun distance. It covers an immense region of space and it is the part of the Solar System that we know the least about, because it is so remote from us and has been barely detectable by Earth-based telescopes until recent decades. Its existence was predicted before it was known, and study of the Kuiper Belt, and how objects move within it, has led to a theory that there may be a 9th planet far beyond Neptune. With Carolin Crawford Public Astronomer at the Institute of Astronomy and Fellow of Emmanuel College, University of Cambridge Monica Grady Professor of Planetary and Space Sciences at the Open University And Stephen Lowry Reader in Planetary and Space Sciences, University of Kent Producer: Simon Tillotson.

Seneca the Younger  

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Seneca the Younger, who was one of the first great writers to live his entire life in the world of the new Roman empire, after the fall of the Republic. He was a Stoic philosopher, he wrote blood-soaked tragedies, he was an orator, and he navigated his way through the reigns of Caligula, Claudius and Nero, sometimes exercising power at the highest level and at others spending years in exile. Agrippina the Younger was the one who called for him to tutor Nero, and it is thought Seneca helped curb some of Nero's excesses. He was later revered within the Christian church, partly for what he did and partly for what he was said to have done in forged letters to St Paul. His tragedies, with their ghosts and high body count, influenced Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus and Hamlet, and Kyd's Spanish Tragedy. The image above is the so-called bust of Seneca, a detail from Four Philosophers by Peter Paul Rubens. With Mary Beard Professor of Classics at the University of Cambridge Catharine Edwards Professor of Classics and Ancient History at Birkbeck, University of London and Alessandro Schiesaro Professor of Classics at the University of Manchester Producer: Simon Tillotson.

Maths in the Early Islamic World  

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the flourishing of maths in the early Islamic world, as thinkers from across the region developed ideas in places such as Baghdad's House of Wisdom. Among them were the Persians Omar Khayyam, who worked on equations, and Al-Khwarizmi, latinised as Algoritmi and pictured above, who is credited as one of the fathers of algebra, and the Jewish scholar Al-Samawal, who converted to Islam and worked on mathematical induction. As well as the new ideas, there were many advances drawing on Indian, Babylonian and Greek work and, thanks to the recording or reworking by mathematicians in the Islamic world, that broad range of earlier maths was passed on to western Europe for further study. With Colva Roney-Dougal Reader in Pure Mathematics at the University of St Andrews Peter Pormann Professor of Classics & Graeco-Arabic Studies at the University of Manchester And Jim Al-Khalili Professor of Physics at the University of Surrey Producer: Simon Tillotson.

John Clare  

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Northamptonshire poet John Clare who, according to one of Melvyn's guests Jonathan Bate, was 'the greatest labouring-class poet that England has ever produced'. Clare worked in a tavern, as a gardener and as a farm labourer in the early 19th century and achieved his first literary success with Poems Descriptive of Rural Life and Scenery. He was praised for his descriptions of rural England and his childhood there, and his reaction to the changes he saw in the Agricultural Revolution with its enclosures, displacement and altered, disrupted landscape. Despite poor mental health and, from middle age onwards, many years in asylums, John Clare continued to write and he is now seen as one of the great poets of his age. With Jonathan Bate Mina Gorji and Simon Kövesi Producer: Simon Tillotson.

Hannah Arendt  

elvyn 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.

Parasitism  

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the relationship between parasites and hosts, where one species lives on or in another to the benefit of the parasite but at a cost to the host, potentially leading to disease or death of the host. Typical examples are mistletoe and trees, hookworms and vertebrates, cuckoos and other birds. In many cases the parasite species do so well in or on a particular host that they reproduce much faster and can adapt to changes more efficiently, and it is thought that almost half of all animal species have a parasitic stage in their lifetime. What techniques do hosts have to counter the parasites, and what impact do parasites have on the evolution of their hosts? With Steve Jones Emeritus Professor of Genetics at University College, London Wendy Gibson Professor of Protozoology at the University of Bristol and Kayla King Associate Professor in the Department of Zoology at the University of Oxford Producer: Simon Tillotson.

Mary, Queen of Scots  

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.

Nietzsche's Genealogy of Morality  

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Nietzsche's On The Genealogy of Morality - A Polemic, which he published in 1887 towards the end of his working life and in which he considered the price humans have paid, and were still paying, to become civilised. In three essays, he argued that having a guilty conscience was the price of living in society with other humans. He suggested that Christian morality, with its consideration for others, grew as an act of revenge by the weak against their masters, 'the blond beasts of prey', as he calls them, and the price for that slaves' revolt was endless self-loathing. These and other ideas were picked up by later thinkers, perhaps most significantly by Sigmund Freud who further explored the tensions between civilisation and the individual. With Stephen Mulhall Professor of Philosophy and a Fellow and Tutor at New College, University of Oxford Fiona Hughes Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Essex And Keith Ansell-Pearson Professor of Philosophy at the University of Warwick Producer: Simon Tillotson.

Johannes Kepler  

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the German astronomer Johannes Kepler (1571 - 1630). Although he is overshadowed today by Isaac Newton and Galileo, he is considered by many to be one of the greatest scientists in history. The three laws of planetary motion Kepler developed transformed people's understanding of the Solar System and laid the foundations for the revolutionary ideas Isaac Newton produced later. Kepler is also thought to have written one of the first works of science fiction. However, he faced a number of challenges. He had to defend his mother from charges of witchcraft, he had few financial resources and his career suffered as a result of his Lutheran faith. With David Wootton Professor of History at the University of York Ulinka Rublack Professor of Early Modern European History at the University of Cambridge and Fellow of St John's College Adam Mosley Associate Professor in the Department of History at Swansea University Producer: Victoria Brignell.

Four Quartets  

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Four Quartets, TS Eliot's last great work which he composed, against a background of imminent and actual world war, as meditations on the relationship between time and humanity. With David Moody Emeritus Professor of English and American Literature at the University of York Fran Brearton Professor of Modern Poetry at Queen's University, Belfast And Mark Ford Professor of English and American Literature at University College London Producer: Simon Tillotson Jeremy Irons will be reading TS Eliot's greatest poems, from Prufrock to The Waste Land to Four Quartets, across New Year's Day here on Radio 4.

The Gin Craze  

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the craze for gin in Britain in the mid 18th Century and the attempts to control it. With the arrival of William of Orange, it became an act of loyalty to drink Protestant, Dutch gin rather than Catholic brandy, and changes in tariffs made everyday beer less affordable. Within a short time, production increased and large sections of the population that had rarely or never drunk spirits before were consuming two pints of gin a week. As Hogarth indicated in his print 'Beer Street and Gin Lane' (1751) in support of the Gin Act, the damage was severe, and addiction to gin was blamed for much of the crime in cities such as London. With Angela McShane Research Fellow in History at the Victoria and Albert Museum and University of Sheffield Judith Hawley Professor of 18th century literature at Royal Holloway, University of London And Emma Major Senior Lecturer in English at the University of York Producer: Simon Tillotson.

Harriet Martineau  

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Harriet Martineau who, from a non-conformist background in Norwich, became one of the best known writers in the C19th. She had a wide range of interests and used a new, sociological method to observe the world around her, from religion in Egypt to slavery in America and the rights of women everywhere. She popularised writing about economics for those outside the elite and, for her own popularity, was invited to the coronation of Queen Victoria, one of her readers. With Valerie Sanders Professor of English at the University of Hull Karen O'Brien Professor of English Literature at the University of Oxford And Ella Dzelzainis Lecturer in 19th Century Literature at Newcastle University Producer: Simon Tillotson.

Garibaldi and the Risorgimento  

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Giuseppe Garibaldi and the Italian Risorgimento. According to the historian AJP Taylor, Garibaldi was the only wholly admirable figure in modern history. Born in Nice in 1807, one of Garibaldi's aims in life was the unification of Italy and, in large part thanks to him, Italy was indeed united substantially in 1861 and entirely in 1870. With his distinctive red shirt and poncho, he was a hero of Romantic revolutionaries around the world. His fame was secured when, with a thousand soldiers, he invaded Sicily and toppled the monarchy in the Italian south. The Risorgimento was soon almost complete. This topic is the one chosen from over 750 different ideas suggested by listeners in October, for our yearly Listener Week. With Lucy Riall Professor of Comparative History of Europe at the European University Institute and Professor of History at Birkbeck, University of London Eugenio Biagini Professor of Modern and Contemporary History at the University of Cambridge and David Laven Associate Professor of History at the University of Nottingham Producer: Simon Tillotson.

Baltic Crusades  

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Baltic Crusades, the name given to a series of overlapping attempts to convert the pagans of North East Europe to Christianity at the point of the sword. From the 12th Century, Papal Bulls endorsed those who fought on the side of the Church, the best known now being the Teutonic Order which, thwarted in Jerusalem, founded a state on the edge of the Baltic, in Prussia. Some of the peoples in the region disappeared, either killed or assimilated, and the consequences for European history were profound. With Aleks Pluskowski Associate Professor of Archaeology at the University of Reading Nora Berend Fellow of St Catharine's College and Reader in European History at the Faculty of History at the University of Cambridge and Martin Palmer Director of the International Consultancy on Religion, Education, and Culture Producer: Simon Tillotson.

Justinian's Legal Code  

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the ideas brought together under Justinian I, Byzantine emperor in the 6th century AD, which were rediscovered in Western Europe in the Middle Ages and became very influential in the development of laws in many European nations and elsewhere. With Caroline Humfress Professor of Medieval History at the University of St Andrews Simon Corcoran Lecturer in Ancient History at Newcastle University and Paul du Plessis Senior Lecturer in Civil law and European legal history at the School of Law, University of Edinburgh Producer: Simon Tillotson.

The Fighting Temeraire  

This image: Joseph Mallord William Turner, The Fighting Temeraire, 1839 (c) The National Gallery, London Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss "The Fighting Temeraire", one of Turner's greatest works and the one he called his 'darling'. It shows one of the most famous ships of the age, a hero of Trafalgar, being towed up the Thames to the breakers' yard, sail giving way to steam. Turner displayed this masterpiece to a public which, at the time, was deep in celebration of the Temeraire era, with work on Nelson's Column underway, and it was an immediate success, with Thackeray calling the painting 'a national ode'. With Susan Foister Curator of Early Netherlandish, German and British Painting at the National Gallery David Blayney Brown Manton Curator of British Art 1790-1850 at Tate Britain and James Davey Curator of Naval History at the National Maritime Museum Producer: Simon Tillotson.

Epic of Gilgamesh  

"He who saw the Deep" are the first words of the standard version of The Epic of Gilgamesh, the subject of this discussion between Melvyn Bragg and his guests. Gilgamesh is often said to be the oldest surviving great work of literature, with origins in the third millennium BC, and it passed through thousands of years on cuneiform tablets. Unlike epics of Greece and Rome, the intact story of Gilgamesh became lost to later generations until tablets were discovered by Hormuzd Rassam in 1853 near Mosul and later translated. Since then, many more tablets have been found and much of the text has been reassembled to convey the story of Gilgamesh, king of Uruk the sheepfold, and Enkidu who the gods created to stop Gilgamesh oppressing his people. Together they fight Humbaba, monstrous guardian of the Cedar Forest, and kill the Bull of Heaven, for which the gods make Enkidu mortally ill. Gilgamesh goes on a long journey as he tries unsuccessfully to learn how to live forever, learning about the Great Deluge on the way, but his remarkable building works guarantee that his fame will last long after his death. With Andrew George Professor of Babylonian at SOAS, University of London Frances Reynolds Shillito Fellow in Assyriology at the Oriental Institute, University of Oxford and Fellow of St Benet's Hall and Martin Worthington Lecturer in Assyriology at the University of Cambridge Producer: Simon Tillotson.

John Dalton  

The scientist John Dalton was born in North England in 1766. Although he came from a relatively poor Quaker family, he managed to become one of the most celebrated scientists of his age. Through his work, he helped to establish Manchester as a place where not only products were made but ideas were born. His reputation during his lifetime was so high that unusually a statue was erected to him before he died. Among his interests were meteorology, gasses and colour blindness. However, he is most remembered today for his pioneering thinking in the field of atomic theory. With: Jim Bennett Former Director of the Museum of the History of Science at the University of Oxford and Keeper Emeritus at the Science Museum Aileen Fyfe Reader in British History at the University of St Andrews James Sumner Lecturer in the History of Technology at the Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine at the University of Manchester Producer: Victoria Brignell.

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