Episodes

  • Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the ideas explored in HG Wells' novella, published in 1895, in which the Time Traveller moves forward to 802,701 AD. There he finds humanity has evolved into the Eloi and Morlocks, where the Eloi are small but leisured fruitarians and the Morlocks live below ground, carry out the work and have a different diet. Escaping the Morlocks, he travels millions of years into the future, where the environment no longer supports humanity.

    The image above is from a painting by Anton Brzezinski of a scene from The Time Machine, with the Time Traveller meeting the Eloi

    With

    Simon Schaffer
    Professor of History of Science at Cambridge University

    Amanda Rees
    Historian of science at the University of York

    And

    Simon James
    Professor in the Department of English Studies at Durham University

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

  • Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the ideas of Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) on the education of children, as set out in his novel or treatise Emile, published in 1762. He held that children are born with natural goodness, which he sought to protect as they developed, allowing each to form their own conclusions from experience, avoiding the domineering influence of others. In particular, he was keen to stop infants forming the view that human relations were based on domination and subordination. Rousseau viewed Emile as his most imporant work, and it became very influential. It was also banned and burned, and Rousseau was attacked for not following these principles with his own children, who he abandoned, and for proposing a subordinate role for women in this scheme.

    The image above is of Emile playing with a mask on his mother's lap, from a Milanese edition published in 1805.

    With

    Richard Whatmore
    Professor of Modern History at the University of St Andrews and Co-Director of the St Andrews Institute of Intellectual History

    Caroline Warman
    Professor of French Literature and Thought at Jesus College, Oxford

    and

    Denis McManus
    Professor of Philosophy at the University of Southampton

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

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  • Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the work and ideas of Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin (1910-1994), awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1964 for revealing the structures of vitamin B12 and penicillin and who later determined the structure of insulin. She was one of the pioneers of X-ray crystallography and described by a colleague as 'a crystallographers' crystallographer'. She remains the only British woman to have won a Nobel in science, yet rejected the idea that she was a role model for other women, or that her career was held back because she was a woman. She was also the first woman since Florence Nightingale to receive the Order of Merit, and was given the Lenin Peace Prize in recognition of her efforts to bring together scientists from the East and West in pursuit of nuclear disarmament.

    With

    Georgina Ferry
    Science writer and biographer of Dorothy Hodgkin

    Judith Howard
    Professor of Chemistry at Durham University

    and

    Patricia Fara
    Fellow of Clare College, Cambridge

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

  • Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the ideas developed by the Anglican priest John Nelson Darby (1800-1882), drawn from his reading of scripture, in which Jesus would suddenly take His believers up into the air, and those left behind would suffer on Earth until He returned with His church to rule for a thousand years before Final Judgement. Some believers would look for signs that civilization was declining, such as wars and natural disasters, or for new Roman Empires that would harbour the Antichrist, and from these predict the time of the Rapture. Darby helped establish the Plymouth Brethren, and later his ideas were picked up in the Scofield Reference Bible (1909) and soon became influential, particularly in the USA.

    With

    Elizabeth Phillips
    Research Fellow at the Margaret Beaufort Institute at the University of Cambridge and Honorary Fellow in the Department of Theology and Religion at Durham University

    Crawford Gribben
    Professor of Early Modern British History at Queen’s University Belfast

    and

    Nicholas Guyatt
    Reader in North American History at the University of Cambridge

    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

  • In the 500th edition of the programme, Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the philosophical idea of free will.

    Free will - the extent to which we are free to choose our own actions - is one of the most absorbing philosophical problems, debated by almost every great thinker of the last two thousand years. In a universe apparently governed by physical laws, is it possible for individuals to be responsible for their own actions? Or are our lives simply proceeding along preordained paths? Determinism - the doctrine that every event is the inevitable consequence of what goes before - seems to suggest so.

    Many intellectuals have concluded that free will is logically impossible. The philosopher Baruch Spinoza regarded it as a delusion. Albert Einstein wrote: "Human beings, in their thinking, feeling and acting are not free agents but are as causally bound as the stars in their motion." But in the Enlightenment, philosophers including David Hume found ways in which free will and determinism could be reconciled. Recent scientific developments mean that this debate remains as lively today as it was in the ancient world.

    With:

    Simon Blackburn
    Bertrand Russell Professor of Philosophy at the University of Cambridge

    Helen Beebee
    Professor of Philosophy at the University of Birmingham

    Galen Strawson
    Professor of Philosophy at the University of Reading

    Producer: Thomas Morris

  • Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the context and impact of Pablo Picasso's iconic work, created soon after the bombing on 26th April 1937 that obliterated much of the Basque town of Guernica, and its people. The attack was carried out by warplanes of the German Condor Legion, joined by the Italian air force, on behalf of Franco's Nationalists. At first the Nationalists denied responsibility, blaming their opponents for creating the destruction themselves for propaganda purposes, but the accounts of journalists such as George Steer, and the prominence of Picasso's work, kept the events of that day under close scrutiny. Picasso's painting has gone on to become a symbol warning against the devastation of war.

    With

    Mary Vincent
    Professor of Modern European History at the University of Sheffield

    Gijs van Hensbergen
    Historian of Spanish Art and Fellow of the LSE Cañada Blanch Centre for Contemporary Spanish Studies

    and

    Dacia Viejo Rose
    Lecturer in Heritage in the Department of Archaeology at the University of Cambridge
    Fellow of Selwyn College

    Producer: Simon Tillotson.

  • Augustine's Confessions
    In Our Time

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss St Augustine of Hippo's account of his conversion to Christianity and his life up to that point. Written c397AD, it has many elements of autobiography with his scrutiny of his earlier life, his long relationship with a concubine, his theft of pears as a child, his work as an orator and his embrace of other philosophies and Manichaeism. Significantly for the development of Christianity, he explores the idea of original sin in the context of his own experience. The work is often seen as an argument for his Roman Catholicism, a less powerful force where he was living in North Africa where another form of Christianity was dominant, Donatism. While Augustine retells many episodes from his own life, the greater strength of his Confessions has come to be seen as his examination of his own emotional development, and the growth of his soul.

    With

    Kate Cooper
    Professor of History at the University of London and Head of History at Royal Holloway

    Morwenna Ludlow
    Professor of Christian History and Theology at the University of Exeter

    and

    Martin Palmer
    Visiting Professor in Religion, History and Nature at the University of Winchester

    Producer: Simon Tillotson.

  • Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the ideas and life of one of the greatest mathematicians of the 20th century, Emmy Noether. Noether’s Theorem is regarded as one of the most important mathematical theorems, influencing the evolution of modern physics. Born in 1882 in Bavaria, Noether studied mathematics at a time when women were generally denied the chance to pursue academic careers and, to get round objections, she spent four years lecturing under a male colleague’s name. In the 1930s she faced further objections to her teaching, as she was Jewish, and she left for the USA when the Nazis came to power. Her innovative ideas were to become widely recognised and she is now considered to be one of the founders of modern algebra.

    With

    Colva Roney Dougal
    Professor of Pure Mathematics at the University of St Andrews

    David Berman
    Professor in Theoretical Physics at Queen Mary, University of London

    Elizabeth Mansfield
    Professor of Mathematics at the University of Kent

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

  • Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss one of the jewels of medieval English poetry. It was written c1400 by an unknown poet and then was left hidden in private collections until the C19th when it emerged. It tells the story of a giant green knight who disrupts Christmas at Camelot, daring Gawain to cut off his head with an axe if he can do the same to Gawain the following year. Much to the surprise of Arthur's court, who were kicking the green head around, the decapitated body reaches for his head and rides off, leaving Gawain to face his promise and his apparently inevitable death the following Christmas.

    The illustration above is ©British Library Board Cotton MS Nero A.x, article 3, ff.94v95

    With

    Laura Ashe
    Professor of English Literature at Worcester College, University of Oxford

    Ad Putter
    Professor of Medieval English Literature at the University of Bristol

    And

    Simon Armitage
    Poet Laureate and Professor of Poetry at the Universities of Leeds and Oxford

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

  • Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the philosophy of hope. To the ancient Greeks, hope was closer to self-deception, one of the evils left in Pandora's box or jar, in Hesiod's story. In Christian tradition, hope became one of the theological virtues, the desire for divine union and the expectation of receiving it, an action of the will rather than the intellect. To Kant, 'what may I hope' was one of the three basic questions which human reason asks, while Nietzsche echoed Hesiod, arguing that leaving hope in the box was a deception by the gods, reflecting human inability to face the demands of existence. Yet even those critical of hope, like Camus, conceded that life was nearly impossible without it.

    With

    Beatrice Han-Pile
    Professor of Philosophy at the University of Essex

    Robert Stern
    Professor of Philosophy at the University of Sheffield

    And

    Judith Wolfe
    Professor of Philosophical Theology at the University of St Andrews

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

  • Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the planet Venus which is both the morning star and the evening star, rotates backwards at walking speed and has a day which is longer than its year. It has long been called Earth’s twin, yet the differences are more striking than the similarities. Once imagined covered with steaming jungles and oceans, we now know the surface of Venus is 450 degrees celsius, and the pressure there is 90 times greater than on Earth, enough to crush an astronaut. The more we learn of it, though, the more we learn of our own planet, such as whether Earth could become more like Venus in some ways, over time.

    With

    Carolin Crawford
    Public Astronomer at the Institute of Astronomy and Fellow of Emmanuel College, University of Cambridge

    Colin Wilson
    Senior Research Fellow in Planetary Science at the University of Oxford

    And

    Andrew Coates
    Professor of Physics at Mullard Space Science Laboratory, University College London

    Produced by: Simon Tillotson and Julia Johnson

  • Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the works of Wharton (1862-1937) such as The Age of Innocence for which she won the Pulitzer Prize and was the first woman to do so, The House of Mirth, and The Custom of the Country. Her novels explore the world of privileged New Yorkers in the Gilded Age of the late C19th, of which she was part, drawing on her own experiences and written from the perspective of the new century, either side of WW1 . Among her themes, she examined the choices available to women and the extent to which they could ever really be free, even if rich.

    With

    Dame Hermione Lee
    Biographer, former President of Wolfson College, Oxford

    Bridget Bennett
    Professor of American Literature and Culture at the University of Leeds

    And

    Laura Rattray
    Reader in North American Literature at the University of Glasgow

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

  • Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the life and ideas of Frederick Douglass, who was born into slavery in Maryland in 1818 and, once he had escaped, became one of that century's most prominent abolitionists. He was such a good orator, his opponents doubted his story, but he told it in grim detail in 1845 in his book 'Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave.' He went on to address huge audiences in Great Britain and Ireland and there some of his supporters paid off his owner, so Douglass could be free in law and not fear recapture. After the Civil War and the abolition of slavery, he campaigned for equal rights for African-Americans, arguing against those such as Lincoln who had wanted freed slaves to leave America and found a colony elsewhere. "We were born here," he said, "and here we will remain."

    With

    Celeste-Marie Bernier
    Professor of Black Studies in the English Department at the University of Edinburgh

    Karen Salt
    Assistant Professor in Transnational American Studies at the University of Nottingham

    And

    Nicholas Guyatt
    Reader in North American History at the University of Cambridge

    Producer: Simon Tillotson.

  • Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss how some bats, dolphins and other animals emit sounds at high frequencies to explore their environments, rather than sight. This was such an unlikely possibility, to natural historians from C18th onwards, that discoveries were met with disbelief even into the C20th; it was assumed that bats found their way in the dark by touch. Not all bats use echolocation, but those that do have a range of frequencies for different purposes and techniques for preventing themselves becoming deafened by their own sounds. Some prey have evolved ways of detecting when bats are emitting high frequencies in their direction, and some fish have adapted to detect the sounds dolphins use to find them.

    With

    Kate Jones
    Professor of Ecology and Biodiversity at University College London

    Gareth Jones
    Professor of Biological Sciences at the University of Bristol

    And

    Dean Waters
    Lecturer in the Environment Department at the University of York

    Producer: Simon Tillotson.

  • Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Spanish poet and playwright Federico Garcia Lorca (1898-1936), author of Blood Wedding, Yerma and The House of Bernarda Alba, who mixed the traditions of Andalusia with the avant-garde. He found his first major success with his Gypsy Ballads, although Dali, once his close friend, mocked him for these, accusing Lorca of being too conservative. He preferred performing his poems to publishing them, and his plays marked a revival in Spanish theatre. He was captured and killed by Nationalist forces at the start of the Civil War, his body never recovered, and it's been suggested this was punishment for his politics and for being openly gay. He has since been seen as the most important Spanish playwright and poet of the last century.

    With

    Maria Delgado
    Professor of Creative Arts at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, University of London

    Federico Bonaddio
    Reader in Modern Spanish at King’s College London

    And

    Sarah Wright
    Professor of Hispanic Studies and Screen Arts at Royal Holloway, University of London

    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 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.

    With

    Claire Preston
    Professor of Renaissance Literature at Queen Mary University of London

    Jessica Wolfe
    Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

    And

    Kevin Killeen
    Professor of English at the University of York

    Producer: Simon Tillotson