In Our Time

In Our Time

United Kingdom

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the history of ideas

Episodes

Purgatory  

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the flourishing of the idea of Purgatory from C12th, when it was imagined as a place alongside Hell and Heaven in which the souls of sinners would be purged of those sins by fire. In the West, there were new systems put in place to pray for the souls of the dead, on a greater scale, with opportunities to buy pardons to shorten time in Purgatory. The idea was enriched with visions, some religious and some literary; Dante imagined Purgatory as a mountain in the southern hemisphere, others such as Marie de France told of The Legend of the Purgatory of Saint Patrick, in which the entrance was on Station Island in County Donegal. This idea of purification by fire had appalled the Eastern Orthodox Church and was one of the factors in the split from Rome in 1054, but flourished in the West up to the reformations of C16th when it was again particularly divisive. With Laura Ashe Associate Professor of English and fellow of Worcester College at the University of Oxford Matthew Treherne Professor of Italian Literature at the University of Leeds and Helen Foxhall Forbes Associate Professor of Early Medieval History at Durham University Producer: Simon Tillotson.

Louis Pasteur  

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the life and work of Louis Pasteur (1822-1895) and his extraordinary contribution to medicine and science. It is said few people have saved more lives than Pasteur. A chemist, he showed that otherwise identical molecules could exist as 'left' and 'right-handed' versions and that molecules produced by living things were always left-handed. He proposed a germ theory to replace the idea of spontaneous generation. He discovered that microorganisms cause fermentation and disease. He began the process named after him, pasteurisation, heating liquids to 50-60 C to kill microbes. He saved the beer and wine industries in France when they were struggling with microbial contamination. He saved the French silk industry when he found a way of protecting healthy silkworm eggs from disease. He developed vaccines against anthrax and rabies and helped establish immunology. Many of his ideas were developed further after his lifetime, but one of his legacies was a charitable body, the Pasteur Institute, to continue research into infectious disease. With Andrew Mendelsohn Reader in the School of History at Queen Mary, University of London Anne Hardy Honorary Professor at the Centre for History in Public Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Michael Worboys Emeritus Professor in the History of Science, Technology and Medicine at the University of Manchester Producer: Simon Tillotson.

Emily Dickinson  

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the life and works of Emily Dickinson, arguably the most startling and original poet in America in the C19th. According to Thomas Wentworth Higginson, her correspondent and mentor, writing 15 years after her death, "Few events in American literary history have been more curious than the sudden rise of Emily Dickinson into a posthumous fame only more accentuated by the utterly recluse character of her life and by her aversion to even a literary publicity." That was in 1891 and, as more of Dickinson's poems were published, and more of her remaining letters, the more the interest in her and appreciation of her grew. With her distinctive voice, her abundance, and her exploration of her private world, she is now seen by many as one of the great lyric poets. With Fiona Green Senior Lecturer in English at the University of Cambridge and a Fellow of Jesus College Linda Freedman Lecturer in English and American Literature at University College London and Paraic Finnerty Reader in English and American Literature at the University of Portsmouth Producer: Simon Tillotson.

The Battle of Lincoln 1217  

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss The Battle of Lincoln on 20th May 1217, when two armies fought to keep, or to win, the English crown. This was a struggle between the Angevin and Capetian dynasties, one that followed Capetian successes over the Angevins in France. The forces of the new boy-king, Henry III, attacked those of Louis of France, the claimant backed by rebel Barons. Henry's regent, William Marshal, was almost seventy when he led the charge on Lincoln that day, and his victory confirmed his reputation as England's greatest knight. Louis sent to France for reinforcements but in August these, too, were defeated at sea, at the Battle of Sandwich. As part of the peace deal, Henry reissued Magna Carta, which King John had granted in 1215 but soon withdrawn, and Louis went home, leaving England's Anglo-French rulers more Anglo and less French than he had planned. The image above is by Matthew Paris (c1200-1259) from his Chronica Majora (MS 16, f. 55v) and appears with the kind permission of the Master and Fellows of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge With Louise Wilkinson Professor of Medieval History at Canterbury Christ Church University Stephen Church Professor of Medieval History at the University of East Anglia and Thomas Asbridge Reader in Medieval History at Queen Mary, University of London Producer: Simon Tillotson.

The Egyptian Book of the Dead  

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the text and context of The Book of the Dead, also known as the Book of Coming Forth by Day, the ancient Egyptian collections of spells which were intended to help the recently deceased navigate the underworld. They flourished under the New Kingdom from C16th BC until the end of the Ptolemaic era in C1st BC, and drew on much earlier traditions from the walls of pyramids and on coffin cases. Almost 200 spells survive, though no one collection contains all of them, and one of the best known surrounds the weighing of the heart, the gods' final judgement of the deceased's life. With John Taylor Curator at the Department of Ancient Egypt and Sudan at the British Museum Kate Spence Senior Lecturer in Egyptian Archaeology at Cambridge University and Fellow of Emmanuel College and Richard Parkinson Professor of Egyptology at the University of Oxford and Fellow of the Queen's College Producer: Simon Tillotson.

Roger Bacon  

The 13th-century English philosopher Roger Bacon is perhaps best known for his major work the Opus Maius. Commissioned by Pope Clement IV, this extensive text covered a multitude of topics from mathematics and optics to religion and moral philosophy. He is also regarded by some as an early pioneer of the modern scientific method. Bacon's erudition was so highly regarded that he came to be known as 'Doctor Mirabilis' or 'wonderful doctor'. However, he is a man shrouded in mystery. Little is known about much of his life and he became the subject of a number of strange legends, including one in which he allegedly constructed a mechanical brazen head that would predict the future. With: Jack Cunningham Academic Coordinator for Theology at Bishop Grosseteste University, Lincoln Amanda Power Associate Professor of Medieval History at the University of Oxford Elly Truitt Associate Professor of Medieval History at Bryn Mawr College Producer: Victoria Brignell.

Rosa Luxemburg  

Melvyn Bragg discusses the life and times of Rosa Luxemburg (1871-1919), 'Red Rosa', who was born in Poland under the Russian Empire and became one of the leading revolutionaries in an age of revolution. She was jailed for agitation and for her campaign against the Great War which, she argued, pitted workers against each other for the sake of capitalism. With Karl Liebknecht and other radicals, she founded the Spartacus League in the hope of ending the war through revolution. She founded the German Communist Party with Liebknecht; with the violence that followed the German Revolution of 1918, her opponents condemned her as Bloody Rosa. She and Liebknecht were seen as ringleaders in the Spartacus Revolt of 1919 and, on 15th January 1919, the Freikorps militia arrested and murdered them. While Luxemburg has faced opposition for her actions and ideas from many quarters, she went on to become an iconic figure in East Germany under the Cold War and a focal point for opposition to the Soviet-backed leadership. With Jacqueline Rose Co-Director of the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities, Birkbeck, University of London Mark Jones Irish Research Council fellow at the Centre for War Studies, University College Dublin and Nadine Rossol Senior lecturer in Modern European History at the University of Essex Producer: Simon Tillotson.

Pauli's Exclusion Principle  

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the life and ideas of Wolfgang Pauli (1900-1958), whose Exclusion Principle is one of the key ideas in quantum mechanics. A brilliant physicist, at 21 Pauli wrote a review of Einstein's theory of general relativity and that review is still a standard work of reference today. The Pauli Exclusion Principle proposes that no two electrons in an atom can be at the same time in the same state or configuration, and it helps explain a wide range of phenomena such as the electron shell structure of atoms. Pauli went on to postulate the existence of the neutrino, which was confirmed in his lifetime. Following further development of his exclusion principle, Pauli was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1945 for his 'decisive contribution through his discovery of a new law of Nature'. He also had a long correspondence with Jung, and a reputation for accidentally breaking experimental equipment which was dubbed The Pauli Effect. With Frank Close Fellow Emeritus at Exeter College, University of Oxford Michela Massimi Professor of Philosophy of Science at the University of Edinburgh and Graham Farmelo Bye-Fellow of Churchill College, University of Cambridge Producer: Simon Tillotson.

Hokusai  

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849), the Japanese artist whose views of Mt Fuji such as The Great Wave off Kanagawa (pictured) are some of the most iconic in world art. He worked as Japan was slowly moving towards greater contact with the outside world, trading with China and allowing two Dutch ships to dock each year. From these ships he picked up new synthetic colours and illustrations with Western compositions, which he incorporated in his traditional wood block prints. The quality of his images helped drive demand for prints among the highly literate Japanese public, particularly those required to travel to Edo under feudal obligations and who wanted to collect all his prints. As well as the quality of his work, Hokusai's success stems partly from his long life and career. He completed some of his most memorable works in his 70s and 80s and claimed he would not reach his best until he was 110. With Angus Lockyer Lecturer in Japanese History at SOAS University of London Rosina Buckland Senior Curator of Japanese Collections at the National Museum of Scotland And Ellis Tinios Honorary Lecturer in the School of History, University of Leeds Producer: Simon Tillotson.

The Battle of Salamis  

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss what is often called one of the most significant battles in history. In 480BC in the Saronic Gulf near Athens, between the mainland and the island of Salamis, a fleet of Greek allies decisively defeated a larger Persian-led fleet. This halted the further Persian conquest of Greece and, at Plataea and Mycale the next year, further Greek victories brought Persian withdrawal and the immediate threat of conquest to an end. To the Greeks, this enabled a flourishing of a culture that went on to influence the development of civilisation in Rome and, later, Europe and beyond. To the Persians, it was a reverse at the fringes of their vast empire but not a threat to their existence, as it was for the Greek states, and attention turned to quelling unrest elsewhere. With Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones Professor in Ancient History at Cardiff University Lindsay Allen Lecturer in Greek and Near Eastern History, King's College London and Paul Cartledge Emeritus Professor of Greek Culture and AG Leventis Senior Research Fellow at Clare College, University of Cambridge Producer: Simon Tillotson.

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.

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