Episodes

  • 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

  • Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the life and ideas of Li Shizhen (1518-1593) whose compendium of natural medicines is celebrated in China as the most complete survey of natural remedies of its time. He trained as a doctor and worked at the Ming court before spending almost 30 years travelling in China, inspecting local plants and animals for their properties, trying them out on himself and then describing his findings in his Compendium of Materia Medica or Bencao Gangmu, in 53 volumes. He's been called the uncrowned king of Chinese naturalists, and became a scientific hero in the 20th century after the revolution.

    With

    Craig Clunas
    Professor Emeritus in the History of Art at the University of Oxford

    Anne Gerritsen
    Professor in History at the University of Warwick

    And

    Roel Sterckx
    Joseph Needham Professor of Chinese History at the University of Cambridge

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

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  • Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the most powerful woman in the Crusader states in the century after the First Crusade. Melisende (1105-61) was born and raised after the mainly Frankish crusaders had taken Jerusalem from the Fatimids, and her father was King of Jerusalem. She was married to Fulk from Anjou, on the understanding they would rule together, and for 30 years she vied with him and then their son as they struggled to consolidate their Frankish state in the Holy Land.

    The image above is of the coronation of Fulk with Melisende, from Livre d'Eracles, Guillaume de Tyr (1130?-1186)
    Source: Bibliothèque nationale de France

    With

    Natasha Hodgson
    Senior Lecturer in Medieval History and Director of the Centre for the Study of Religion and Conflict at Nottingham Trent University

    Katherine Lewis
    Senior Lecturer in History at the University of Huddersfield

    and

    Danielle Park
    Visiting Lecturer at Royal Holloway, University of London

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

  • Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the 1691 peace treaty that ended the Williamite War in Ireland, between supporters of the deposed King James II and the forces of William III and his allies. It followed the battles at Aughrim and the Boyne and sieges at Limerick, and led to the disbanding of the Jacobite army in Ireland, with troops free to follow James to France for his Irish Brigade. The Catholic landed gentry were guaranteed rights on condition of swearing loyalty to William and Mary yet, while some Protestants thought the terms too lenient, it was said the victors broke those terms before the ink was dry.

    The image above is from British Battles on Land and Sea, Vol. I, by James Grant, 1880, and is meant to show Irish troops leaving Limerick as part of The Flight of the Wild Geese - a term used for soldiers joining continental European armies from C16th-C18th.

    With

    Jane Ohlmeyer
    Chair of the Irish Research Council and Erasmus Smith’s Professor of Modern History at Trinity College Dublin

    Dr Clare Jackson
    Senior Tutor, Trinity Hall, and Faculty of History, University of Cambridge

    and

    Thomas O'Connor
    Professor of History at Maynooth University

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

  • Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss how, in September 1812, Napoleon captured Moscow and waited a month for the Russians to meet him, to surrender and why, to his dismay, no-one came. Soon his triumph was revealed as a great defeat; winter was coming, supplies were low; he ordered his Grande Armée of six hundred thousand to retreat and, by the time he crossed back over the border, desertion, disease, capture, Cossacks and cold had reduced that to twenty thousand. Napoleon had shown his weakness; his Prussian allies changed sides and, within eighteen months they, the Russians and Austrians had captured Paris and the Emperor was exiled to Elba.

    With

    Janet Hartley
    Professor Emeritus of International History, LSE

    Michael Rowe
    Reader in European History, King’s College London

    And

    Michael Rapport
    Reader in Modern European History, University of Glasgow

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

  • Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the people, plants and animals once living on land now under the North Sea, now called Doggerland after Dogger Bank, inhabited up to c7000BC or roughly 3000 years before the beginnings of Stonehenge. There are traces of this landscape at low tide, such as the tree stumps at Redcar (above); yet more is being learned from diving and seismic surveys which are building a picture of an ideal environment for humans to hunt and gather, with rivers and wooded hills. Rising seas submerged this land as glaciers melted, and the people and animals who lived there moved to higher ground, with the coasts of modern-day Britain on one side and Denmark, Germany, The Netherlands, Belgium and France on the other.

    With

    Vince Gaffney
    Anniversary Professor of Landscape Archaeology at the University of Bradford

    Carol Cotterill
    Marine Geoscientist at the British Geological Survey

    And

    Rachel Bynoe
    Lecturer in Archaeology at the University of Southampton

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

  • 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.

    With

    Angela Hobbs
    Professor of the Public Understanding of Philosophy at the University of Sheffield

    Lisa Irene Hau
    Senior Lecturer in Classics at the University of Glasgow

    And

    Paul Cartledge
    Emeritus AG Leventis Professor of Greek Culture, University of Cambridge and Senior Research Fellow of Clare College

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

  • 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.

    With

    Frank Meddens
    Visiting Scholar at the University of Reading

    Helen Cowie
    Senior Lecturer in History at the University of York

    And

    Bill Sillar
    Senior Lecturer at the Institute of Archaeology at University College London

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

  • 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.

    With

    Erik Mathisen
    Lecturer in US History at the University of Kent

    Susan-Mary Grant
    Professor of American History at Newcastle University

    and

    Robert Cook
    Professor of American History at the University of Sussex

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

  • 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.'

    With

    Ian Haywood
    Professor of English at the University of Roehampton

    Catriona Kennedy
    Senior Lecturer in Modern British and Irish History and Director of the Centre for Eighteenth Century Studies at the University of York

    and

    Mark Knights
    Professor of History at the University of Warwick

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

  • 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.

    With

    Maria Wyke
    Professor of Latin at University College London

    Matthew Nicholls
    Fellow and Senior Tutor at St John’s College, University of Oxford

    And

    Shushma Malik
    Lecturer in Classics at the University of Roehampton

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

  • 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."

    With

    Cormac O'Grada
    Professor Emeritus in the School of Economics at University College Dublin

    Niamh Gallagher
    University Lecturer in Modern British and Irish History at the University of Cambridge

    And

    Enda Delaney
    Professor of Modern History and School Director of Research at the University of Edinburgh

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

  • 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.

    With

    Judith Jesch
    Professor of Viking Studies at the University of Nottingham

    John Hines
    Professor of Archaeology at Cardiff University

    And

    Jane Kershaw
    ERC Principal Investigator in Archaeology at the University of Oxford

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

  • 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.

    With

    Diarmaid MacCulloch
    Professor of the History of the Church at the University of Oxford

    Susan Doran
    Professor of Early Modern British History at the University of Oxford

    and

    John Guy
    Fellow of Clare College, University of Cambridge

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

  • Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the life, works, context and legacy of Antarah (525-608AD), the great poet and warrior. According to legend, he was born a slave; his mother was an Ethiopian slave, his father an elite Arab cavalryman. Antarah won his freedom in battle and loved a woman called Abla who refused him, and they were later celebrated in the saga of Antar and Abla. One of Antarah's poems was so esteemed in pre-Islamic Arabia that it is believed it was hung up on the wall of the Kaaba in Mecca.

    With

    James Montgomery
    Sir Thomas Adams's Professor of Arabic at the University of Cambridge

    Marlé Hammond
    Senior Lecturer in Arabic Popular Literature and Culture at SOAS, University of London

    And

    Harry Munt
    Lecturer in Medieval History at the University of York

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

  • Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the life of the Welsh nobleman, also known as Owen Glendower, who began a revolt against Henry IV in 1400 which was at first very successful. Glyndwr (c1359-c1415) adopted the title Prince of Wales and established a parliament and his own foreign policy, until he was defeated by the future Henry V. Owain Glyndwr escaped and led guerilla attacks for several years but was never betrayed to the English, disappearing without trace.

    With

    Huw Pryce
    Professor of Welsh History at Bangor University

    Helen Fulton
    Professor of Medieval Literature at the University of Bristol

    Chris Given-Wilson
    Emeritus Professor of Medieval History at the University of St Andrews

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

  • Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss how, from 1834, poor people across England and Wales faced new obstacles when they could no longer feed or clothe themselves, or find shelter. Parliament, in line with the ideas of Jeremy Bentham and Thomas Malthus, feared hand-outs had become so attractive, they stopped people working to support themselves, and encouraged families to have more children than they could afford. To correct this, under the New Poor Laws it became harder to get any relief outside a workhouse, where families would be separated, husbands from wives, parents from children, sisters from brothers. Many found this regime inhumane, while others protested it was too lenient, and it lasted until the twentieth century.

    The image above was published in 1897 as New Year's Day in the Workhouse.

    With

    Emma Griffin
    Professor of Modern British History at the University of East Anglia

    Samantha Shave
    Lecturer in Social Policy at the University of Lincoln

    And

    Steven King
    Professor of Economic and Social History at the University of Leicester

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

  • Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the war in Europe which begain in 1618 and continued on such a scale and with such devastation that its like was not seen for another three hundred years. It pitched Catholics against Protestants, Lutherans against Calvinists and Catholics against Catholics across the Holy Roman Empire, drawing in their neighbours and it lasted for thirty gruelling years, from the Defenestration of Prague to the Peace of Westphalia of 1648. Many more civilians died than soldiers, and famine was so great that even cannibalism was excused. This topic was chosen from several hundred suggested by listeners this autumn.

    The image above is a detail from a painting of The Battle of White Mountain on 7-8 November 1620, by Pieter Snayers (1592-1667)

    With

    Peter Wilson
    Chichele Professor of the History of War at the University of Oxford

    Ulinka Rublack
    Professor of Early Modern European History at the University of Cambridge and Fellow of St John’s College

    And

    Toby Osborne
    Associate Professor in History at Durham University


    Producer: Simon Tillotson

  • Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss a foundation story for China as it was reshaped under Mao Zedong. In October 1934, around ninety thousand soldiers of the Red Army broke out of a siege in Jiangxi in the south east of the country, hoping to find a place to regroup and rebuild. They were joined by other armies, and this turned into a very long march to the west and then north, covering thousands of miles of harsh and hostile territory, marshes and mountains, pursued by forces of the ruling Kuomintang for a year. Mao Zedong was among the marchers and emerged at the head of them, and he ensured the officially approved history of the Long March would be an inspiration and education for decades to come.

    With

    Rana Mitter
    Professor of the History and Politics of Modern China and Fellow of St Cross College, University of Oxford

    Sun Shuyun
    Historian, writer of 'The Long March' and film maker

    And

    Julia Lovell
    Professor in Modern Chinese History and Literature at Birkbeck, University of London

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

  • Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Horace (65-8BC), who flourished under the Emperor Augustus. He was one of the greatest poets of his age and is one of the most quoted of any age. Carpe diem, nil desperandum, nunc est bibendum – that’s Horace. He was the son of a freedman from southern Italy and, thanks to his talent, achieved high status in Rome despite fighting on the losing side in the civil wars. His Odes are widely thought his most enduring works, yet he also wrote his scurrilous Epodes, some philosophical Epistles and broad Satires. He’s influenced poets ever since, including those such as Wilfred Owen who rejected his line: ‘dulce et decorum est pro patria mori’.

    With

    Emily Gowers
    Professor of Latin Literature at the University of Cambridge and Fellow of St John’s College

    William Fitzgerald
    Professor of Latin Language and Literature at King’s College London

    and

    Ellen O’Gorman
    Senior Lecturer in Classics at the University of Bristol

    Producer: Simon Tillotson