Episodes

  • Rosalind Franklin

    · In Our Time

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the pioneering scientist Rosalind Franklin (1920 - 1958). During her distinguished career, Franklin carried out ground-breaking research into coal and viruses but she is perhaps best remembered for her investigations in the field of DNA. In 1952 her research generated a famous image that became known as Photograph 51. When the Cambridge scientists Francis Crick and James Watson saw this image, it enabled them the following year to work out that DNA has a double-helix structure, one of the most important discoveries of modern science. Watson, Crick and Franklin's colleague Maurice Wilkins received a Nobel Prize in 1962 for this achievement but Franklin did not and today many people believe that Franklin has not received enough recognition for her work. With:Patricia FaraPresident of the British Society for the History of ScienceJim NaismithInterim lead of the Rosalind Franklin Institute, Director of the Research Complex at Harwell and Professor at the University of OxfordJudith Howard Professor of Chemistry at Durham UniversityProducer: Victoria Brignell.

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  • Fungi

    · In Our Time

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss fungi. These organisms are not plants or animals but a kingdom of their own. Millions of species of fungi live on the Earth and they play a crucial role in ecosystems, enabling plants to obtain nutrients and causing material to decay. Without fungi, life as we know it simply would not exist. They are also a significant part of our daily life, making possible the production of bread, wine and certain antibiotics. Although fungi brought about the colonisation of the planet by plants about 450 million years ago, some species can kill humans and devastate trees. With:Lynne BoddyProfessor of Fungal Ecology at Cardiff UniversitySarah GurrProfessor of Food Security in the Biosciences Department at the University of ExeterDavid JohnsonN8 Chair in Microbial Ecology at the University of ManchesterProducer: Victoria Brignell.

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  • Frederick Douglass

    · In Our Time

    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."WithCeleste-Marie BernierProfessor of Black Studies in the English Department at the University of EdinburghKaren SaltAssistant Professor in Transnational American Studies at the University of NottinghamAndNicholas GuyattReader in North American History at the University of CambridgeProducer: Simon Tillotson.

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  • Cephalopods

    · In Our Time

    The octopus, the squid, the nautilus and the cuttlefish are some of the most extraordinary creatures on this planet, intelligent and yet apparently unlike other life forms. They are cephalopods and are part of the mollusc family like snails and clams, and they have some characteristics in common with those. What sets them apart is the way members of their group can change colour, camouflage themselves, recognise people, solve problems, squirt ink, power themselves with jet propulsion and survive both on land, briefly, and in the deepest, coldest oceans. And, without bones or shells, they grow so rapidly they can outstrip their rivals when habitats change, making them the great survivors and adaptors of the animal world.WithLouise AllcockLecturer in Zoology at the National University of Ireland, GalwayPaul RodhouseEmeritus Fellow of the British Antarctic SurveyandJonathan AblettSenior Curator of Molluscs at the Natural History MuseumProducer: Simon Tillotson.

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  • Cicero

    · In Our Time

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the ideas developed by Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43BC) to support and reinvigorate the Roman Republic when, as it transpired, it was in its final years, threatened by civil wars, the rule of Julius Caesar and the triumvirates that followed. As Consul he had suppressed a revolt by Catiline, putting the conspirators to death summarily as he believed the Republic was in danger and that this danger trumped the right to a fair trial, a decision that rebounded on him. While in exile he began works on duty, laws, the orator and the republic. Although left out of the conspiracy to kill Caesar, he later defended that murder in the interests of the Republic, only to be murdered himself soon after.With Melissa LaneThe Class of 1943 Professor of Politics at Princeton Universityand 2018 Carlyle Lecturer at the University of OxfordCatherine SteelProfessor of Classics at the University of GlasgowAndValentina ArenaReader in Roman History at University College LondonProducer: Simon Tillotson.

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  • Anna Akhmatova

    · In Our Time

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the work, ideas and life of the Russian poet whose work was celebrated in C20th both for its quality and for what it represented, written under censorship in the Stalin years. Her best known poem, Requiem, was written after her son was imprisoned partly as a threat to her and, to avoid punishment for creating it, she passed it on to her supporters to be memorised, line by line, rather than written down. She was a problem for the authorities and became significant internationally, as her work came to symbolise resistance to political tyranny and the preservation of pre-Revolutionary liberal values in the Soviet era.The image above is based on 'Portrait of Anna Akhmatova' by N.I. Altman, 1914, MoscowWithKatharine HodgsonProfessor in Russian at the University of ExeterAlexandra HarringtonReader in Russian Studies at Durham UniversityAndMichael BaskerProfessor of Russian Literature and Dean of Arts at the University of BristolProducer: Simon Tillotson.

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  • The Siege of Malta, 1565

    · In Our Time

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the event of which Voltaire, two hundred years later, said 'nothing was more well known'. In 1565, Suleiman the Magnificent, the Ottoman leader, sent a great fleet west to lay siege to Malta and capture it for his empire. Victory would mean control of trade across the Mediterranean and a base for attacks on Spain, Sicily and southern Italy, even Rome. It would also mean elimination of Malta's defenders, the Knights Hospitaller, driven by the Ottomans from their base in Rhodes in 1522 and whose raids on his shipping had long been a thorn in his side. News of the Great Siege of Malta spread fear throughout Europe, though that turned to elation when, after four months of horrific fighting, the Ottomans withdrew, undermined by infighting between their leaders and the death of the highly-valued admiral, Dragut. The Knights Hospitaller had shown that Suleiman's forces could be contained, and their own order was reinvigorated. The image above is the Death of Dragut at the Siege of Malta (1867), after a painting by Giuseppe Cali. Dragut (1485 – 1565) was an Ottoman Admiral and privateer, known as The Drawn Sword of Islam and as one of the finest generals of the time.With Helen NicholsonProfessor of Medieval History at Cardiff UniversityDiarmaid MacCullochProfessor of the History of the Church at the University of OxfordandKate FleetDirector of the Skilliter Centre for Ottoman Studies and Fellow of Newnham College, CambridgeProducer: Simon Tillotson.

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  • Hamlet

    · In Our Time

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Shakespeare's best known, most quoted and longest play, written c1599 - 1602 and rewritten throughout his lifetime. It is the story of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, encouraged by his father's ghost to take revenge on his uncle who murdered him, and is set at the court of Elsinore. In soliloquies, the Prince reveals his inner self to the audience while concealing his thoughts from all at the Danish court, who presume him insane. Shakespeare gives him lines such as 'to be or not to be,' 'alas, poor Yorick,' and 'frailty thy name is woman', which are known even to those who have never seen or read the play. And Hamlet has become the defining role for actors, men and women, who want to show their mastery of Shakespeare's work. The image above is from the 1964 film adaptation, directed by Grigori Kozintsev, with Innokenty Smoktunovsky as Hamlet.WithSir Jonathan BateProvost of Worcester College, University of OxfordCarol RutterProfessor of Shakespeare and Performance Studies at the University of WarwickAndSonia MassaiProfessor of Shakespeare Studies at King's College LondonProducer: Simon Tillotson.

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  • Beethoven

    · In Our Time

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss one of the great composers, who was born into a family of musicians in Bonn. His grandfather was an eminent musician and also called Ludwig van Beethoven. His father, who was not as talented as Beethoven's grandfather, drank heavily and died when Beethoven was still young. It was his move to Vienna that allowed him to flourish, with the support at first of aristocratic patrons, when that city was the hub of European music. He is credited with developing the symphony further than any who preceded him, with elevating instrumental above choral music and with transforming music to the highest form of art. He composed his celebrated works while, from his late twenties onwards, becoming increasingly deaf.(Before the live broadcast, BBC Radio 3's Breakfast programme played selections from Beethoven, with Essential Classics playing more, immediately after, on the same network.)With Laura TunbridgeProfessor of Music and Henfrey Fellow, St Catherine's College, University of OxfordJohn DeathridgeEmeritus King Edward Professor of Music at King's College LondonAndErica BuurmanSenior Lecturer in Music, Canterbury Christchurch UniversityProducer: Simon Tillotson.

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  • Thomas Becket

    · In Our Time

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the man who was Henry II's Chancellor and then Archbishop of Canterbury and who was murdered by knights in Canterbury Cathedral (depicted by Matthew Paris, above). Henry believed that Becket owed him loyalty as he had raised him to the highest offices, and that he should agree to Henry's courts having jurisdiction over 'criminous clerics'. They fell out when Becket agreed to this jurisdiction verbally but would not put his seal on the agreement, the Constitutions of Clarendon. The rift deepened when Henry's heir was crowned without Becket, who excommunicated the bishops who took part. Becket's tomb became one of the main destinations for pilgrims for the next 400 years, including those in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales where he was the 'blisful martir'. With Laura AsheAssociate Professor of English at Worcester College, University of OxfordMichael StauntonAssociate Professor in History at University College DublinAndDanica SummerlinLecturer in Medieval History at the University of SheffieldProducer: Simon Tillotson.

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  • Moby Dick

    · In Our Time

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Herman Melville's (1819-1891) epic novel, published in London in 1851, the story of Captain Ahab's pursuit of a great white sperm whale that had bitten off his leg. He risks his own life and that of his crew on the Pequod, single-mindedly seeking his revenge, his story narrated by Ishmael who was taking part in a whaling expedition for the first time. This is one of the c1000 ideas which listeners sent in this autumn for our fourth Listener Week, following Kafka's The Trial in 2014, Captain Cook in 2015 and Garibaldi and the Risorgimento in 2016.With Bridget BennettProfessor of American Literature and Culture at the University of LeedsKatie McGettiganLecturer in American Literature at Royal Holloway, University of LondonAndGraham ThompsonAssociate Professor of American Studies at the University of NottinghamProducer: Simon Tillotson.

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  • Carl Friedrich Gauss

    · In Our Time

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Gauss (1777-1855), widely viewed as one of the greatest mathematicians of all time. He was a child prodigy, correcting his father's accounts before he was 3, dumbfounding his teachers with the speed of his mental arithmetic, and gaining a wealthy patron who supported his education. He wrote on number theory when he was 21, with his Disquisitiones Arithmeticae, which has influenced developments since. Among his achievements, he was the first to work out how to make a 17-sided polygon, he predicted the orbit of the minor planet Ceres, rediscovering it, he found a way of sending signals along a wire, using electromagnetism, the first electromagnetic telegraph, and he advanced the understanding of parallel lines on curved surfaces. With Marcus du SautoyProfessor of Mathematics and Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science at the University of OxfordColva Roney-DougalReader in Pure Mathematics at the University of St AndrewsAnd Nick EvansProfessor of Theoretical Physics at the University of SouthamptonProducer: Simon Tillotson.

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  • Thebes

    · In Our Time

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the myths and history of the ancient Greek city of Thebes and its depiction in Athenian drama. In myths it was said to be home to Heracles, Dionysus, Oedipus and Cadmus among others and, in history, was infamous for supporting Xerxes in the Persian War. Its prominence led to a struggle with the rising force of Macedon in which the Thebans were defeated at Chaironea in 338 BC, one of the most important battles in ancient history. The position of Thebes in Greek culture was enormously powerful. The strength of its myths and its proximity to Athens made it a source of stories for the Athenian theatre, and is the setting for more of the surviving plays than any other location. The image, above, is of Oedipus answering questions of the sphinx in Thebes (cup 5th century BC).With Edith HallProfessor of Classics at King's College LondonSamuel GartlandLecturer in Ancient History at Corpus Christi College, University of OxfordandPaul CartledgeEmeritus Professor of Greek Culture and AG Leventis Senior Research Fellow at Clare College, University of CambridgeProducer: Simon Tillotson.

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  • Germaine de Stael

    · In Our Time

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the life and impact of Germaine de Staël (1766-1817) who Byron praised as Europe's greatest living writer, and was at the heart of intellectual and literary life in the France of revolution and of Napoleon. As well as attracting and inspiring others in her salon, she wrote novels, plays. literary criticism, political essays, and poems and developed the ideas behind Romanticism. She achieved this while regularly exiled from the Paris in which she was born, having fallen out with Napoleon who she opposed, becoming a towering figure in the history of European ideas.With Catriona Seth, Marshal Foch Professor of French Literature at the University of OxfordAlison Finch, Professor Emerita of French Literature at the University of Cambridgeand Katherine Astbury, Associate Professor and Reader in French Studies at the University of Warwick.Producer: Simon Tillotson.

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  • The Picts

    · In Our Time

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss The Picts and, to mark our twentieth season, that discussion takes place in front of a student audience at the University of Glasgow, many of them studying this topic. According to Bede writing c731AD, the Picts, with the English, Britons, Scots and Latins, formed one of the five nations of Britain, 'an island in the ocean formerly called Albion'. The Picts is now a label given to the people who lived in Scotland north of the Forth-Clyde line from about 300 AD to 900 AD, from the time of the Romans to the time of the Vikings. They left intricately carved stones, such as the one above with a bull motif, from Burghead, Moray, Scotland, but there are relatively few other traces. Who were they, and what happened to them? And what has been learned in the last twenty years, through archaeology? With Katherine ForsythReader in the Department of Celtic and Gaelic at the University of GlasgowAlex WoolfSenior Lecturer in Dark Age Studies at the University of St Andrewsand Gordon NobleReader in Archaeology at the University of AberdeenProducer: Simon Tillotson.

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  • Picasso's Guernica

    · In Our Time

    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 VincentProfessor of Modern European History at the University of SheffieldGijs van HensbergenHistorian of Spanish Art and Fellow of the LSE Cañada Blanch Centre for Contemporary Spanish Studies andDacia Viejo RoseLecturer in Heritage in the Department of Archaeology at the University of CambridgeFellow of Selwyn CollegeProducer: Simon Tillotson.

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  • Feathered Dinosaurs

    · In Our Time

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the development of theories about dinosaur feathers, following discoveries of fossils which show evidence of feathers. All dinosaurs were originally thought to be related to lizards - the word 'dinosaur' was created from the Greek for 'terrible lizard' - but that now appears false. In the last century, discoveries of fossils with feathers established that at least some dinosaurs were feathered and that some of those survived the great extinctions and evolved into the birds we see today. There are still many outstanding areas for study, such as what sorts of feathers they were, where on the body they were found, what their purpose was and which dinosaurs had them. With Mike BentonProfessor of Vertebrate Palaeontology at the University of BristolSteve BrusatteReader and Chancellor's Fellow in Vertebrate Palaeontology at the University of EdinburghandMaria McNamaraSenior Lecturer in Geology at University College, CorkProducer: Simon Tillotson.

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  • The Congress of Vienna

    · In Our Time

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the conference convened by the victorious powers of the Napoleonic Wars and the earlier French Revolutionary Wars, which had devastated so much of Europe over the last 25 years. The powers aimed to create a long lasting peace, partly by redrawing the map to restore old boundaries and partly by balancing the powers so that none would risk war again. It has since been seen as a very conservative outcome, reasserting the old monarchical and imperial orders over the growth of liberalism and national independence movements, and yet also largely successful in its goal of preventing war in Europe on such a scale for another 100 years. Delegates to Vienna were entertained at night with lavish balls, and the image above is from a French cartoon showing Russia, Prussia, and Austria dancing to the bidding of Castlereagh, the British delegate.With Kathleen BurkProfessor Emerita of Modern and Contemporary History at University College LondonTim BlanningEmeritus Professor of Modern European History at the University of CambridgeandJohn BewProfessor in History and Foreign Policy at the War Studies Department at King's College LondonProducer: Simon Tillotson.

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  • Aphra Behn

    · In Our Time

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Aphra Behn (1640-1689), who made her name and her living as a playwright, poet and writer of fiction under the Restoration. Virginia Woolf wrote of her: ' All women together, ought to let flowers fall upon the grave of Aphra Behn... for it was she who earned them the right to speak their minds'. Behn may well have spent some of her early life in Surinam, the setting for her novel Oroonoko, and there are records of her working in the Netherlands as a spy for Charles II. She was loyal to the Stuart kings, and refused to write a poem on the coronation of William of Orange. She was regarded as an important writer in her lifetime and inspired others to write, but fell out of favour for two centuries after her death when her work was seen as too bawdy, the product of a disreputable age. The image above is from the Yale Center for British Art and is titled 'Aphra Behn, by Sir Peter Lely, 1618-1680' With Janet ToddFormer President of Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge UniversityRos BallasterProfessor of 18th Century Literature at Mansfield College, University of Oxfordand Claire BowditchPost-doctoral Research Associate in English and Drama at Loughborough UniversityProducer: Simon Tillotson.

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  • Constantine the Great

    · In Our Time

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the life, reputation and impact of Constantine I, known as Constantine the Great (c280s -337AD). Born in modern day Serbia and proclaimed Emperor by his army in York in 306AD, Constantine became the first Roman Emperor to profess Christianity. He legalised Christianity and its followers achieved privileges that became lost to traditional religions, leading to the steady Christianisation of the Empire. He built a new palace in Byzantium, renaming it Constantinople, as part of the decentralisation of the Empire, an Eastern shift that saw Roman power endure another thousand years there, long after the collapse of the empire in the West. With Christopher KellyProfessor of Classics and Ancient History at the University of Cambridge and President of Corpus Christi CollegeLucy GrigSenior Lecturer in Roman History at the University of Edinburghand Greg WoolfDirector of the Institute of Classical Studies, University of LondonProducer: Simon Tillotson.

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