Episodes

  • 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.

    starstarstarstarstar
  • Missing episodes?

    Click here to refresh the feed.

  • 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.

    starstarstarstarstar
  • 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.

    starstarstarstarstar
  • 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.

    starstarstarstarstar
  • 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.

    starstarstarstarstar
  • 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.

    starstarstarstarstar
  • 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.

    starstarstarstarstar
  • Wuthering Heights

    · In Our Time

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Emily Bronte (1818-1848) and her only novel, published in 1847 under the name 'Ellis Bell' just a year before her death. It is the story of Heathcliff, a foundling from Liverpool brought up in the Earnshaw family at the remote Wuthering Heights, high on the moors, who becomes close to the young Cathy Earnshaw but hears her say she can never marry him. He disappears and she marries his rival, Edgar Linton, of Thrushcross Grange even though she feels inextricably linked with Heathcliff, exclaiming to her maid 'I am Heathcliff!' On his return, Heathcliff steadily works through his revenge on all who he believes wronged him, and their relations. When Cathy dies, Heathcliff longs to be united with her in the grave. The raw passions and cruelty of the story unsettled Emily's sister Charlotte Bronte, whose novel Jane Eyre had been published shortly before, and who took pains to explain its roughness, jealousy and violence when introducing it to early readers. Over time, with its energy, imagination and scope, Wuthering Heights became celebrated as one of the great novels in English.The image above is of Laurence Olivier as Heathcliff and Merle Oberon as Cathy on the set of the Samuel Goldwyn Company movie 'Wuthering Heights', circa 1939.WithKaren O'BrienProfessor of English Literature at the University of OxfordJohn BowenProfessor of Nineteenth Century Literature at the University of Yorkand Alexandra LewisLecturer in English Literature at the University of AberdeenProducer: Simon Tillotson.

    starstarstarstarstar
  • Kant's Categorical Imperative

    · In Our Time

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss how, in the Enlightenment, Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) sought to define the difference between right and wrong by applying reason, looking at the intention behind actions rather than at consequences. He was inspired to find moral laws by natural philosophers such as Newton and Leibniz, who had used reason rather than emotion to analyse the world around them and had identified laws of nature. Kant argued that when someone was doing the right thing, that person was doing what was the universal law for everyone, a formulation that has been influential on moral philosophy ever since and is known as the Categorical Imperative. Arguably even more influential was one of his reformulations, echoed in The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in which he asserted that humanity has a value of an entirely different kind from that placed on commodities. Kant argued that simply existing as a human being was valuable in itself, so that every human owed moral responsibilities to other humans and was owed responsibilities in turn.With Alison HillsProfessor of Philosophy at St John's College, OxfordDavid OderbergProfessor of Philosophy at the University of ReadingandJohn CallananSenior Lecturer in Philosophy at King's College, LondonProducer: Simon Tillotson.

    starstarstarstarstar
  • al-Biruni

    · In Our Time

    Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Central Asian polymath al-Biruni and his eleventh-century book the India.Born in around 973 in the central Asian region of Chorasmia, al-Biruni became an itinerant scholar of immense learning, a master of mathematics, medicine, astronomy and many languages. He corresponded with the age's greatest scientist, Avicenna, and made significant contributions to many fields of knowledge.In 1017 al-Biruni became a member of the court of the ruler Mahmud of Ghazna. Over the course of the next thirteen years he wrote the India, a comprehensive account of Hindu culture which was the first book about India by a Muslim scholar. It contains detailed information about Hindu religion, science and everyday life which have caused some to call it the first work of anthropology.With:James MontgomeryProfessor of Classical Arabic at the University of CambridgeHugh KennedyProfessor of Arabic in the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of LondonAmira BennisonSenior Lecturer in Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies at the University of CambridgeProducer: Thomas Morris.

    starstarstarstarstar
  • Bird Migration

    · In Our Time

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss why some birds migrate and others do not, how they select their destinations and how they navigate the great distances, often over oceans. For millennia, humans set their calendars to birds' annual arrivals, and speculated about what happened when they departed, perhaps moving deep under water, or turning into fish or shellfish, or hibernating while clinging to trees upside down. Ideas about migration developed in C19th when, in Germany, a stork was noticed with an African spear in its neck, indicating where it had been over the winter and how far it had flown. Today there are many ideas about how birds use their senses of sight and smell, and magnetic fields, to find their way, and about why and how birds choose their destinations and many questions. Why do some scatter and some flock together, how much is instinctive and how much is learned, and how far do the benefits the migrating birds gain outweigh the risks they face?With Barbara HelmReader at the Institute of Biodiversity, Animal Health and Comparative Medicine at the University of GlasgowTim GuilfordProfessor of Animal Behaviour and Tutorial Fellow of Zoology at Merton College, Oxfordand Richard HollandSenior Lecturer in Animal Cognition at Bangor UniversityProducer: Simon Tillotson.

    starstarstarstarstar
  • Plato's Republic

    · In Our Time

    Is it always better to be just than unjust? That is the central question of Plato's Republic, discussed here by Melvyn Bragg and guests. Writing in c380BC, Plato applied this question both to the individual and the city-state, considering earlier and current forms of government in Athens and potential forms, in which the ideal city might be ruled by philosophers. The Republic is arguably Plato's best known and greatest work, a dialogue between Socrates and his companions, featuring the allegory of the cave and ideas about immortality of the soul, the value of poetry to society, and democracy's vulnerability to a clever demagogue seeking tyranny.With Angie HobbsProfessor of the Public Understanding of Philosophy at the University of SheffieldMM McCabeProfessor of Ancient Philosophy Emerita at King's College LondonandJames WarrenFellow of Corpus Christi College and a Reader in Ancient Philosophy at the University of Cambridge Producer: Simon Tillotson.

    starstarstarstarstar
  • Eugene Onegin

    · In Our Time

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Alexander Pushkin's verse novel, the story of Eugene Onegin, widely regarded as his masterpiece. Pushkin (pictured above) began this in 1823 and worked on it over the next ten years, while moving around Russia, developing the central character of a figure all too typical of his age, the so-called superfluous man. Onegin is cynical, disillusioned and detached, his best friend Lensky is a romantic poet and Tatyana, whose love for Onegin is not returned until too late, is described as a poetic ideal of a Russian woman, and they are shown in the context of the Russian landscape and society that has shaped them. Onegin draws all three into tragic situations which, if he had been willing and able to act, he could have prevented, and so becomes the one responsible for the misery of himself and others as well as the death of his friend.With Andrew KahnProfessor of Russian Literature at the University of Oxford and Fellow of St Edmund HallEmily FinerLecturer in Russian and Comparative Literature at the University of St Andrewsand Simon DixonThe Sir Bernard Pares Professor of Russian History at University College LondonProducer: Simon Tillotson.

    starstarstarstarstar
  • The American Populists

    · In Our Time

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss what, in C19th America's Gilded Age, was one of the most significant protest movements since the Civil War with repercussions well into C20th. Farmers in the South and Midwest felt ignored by the urban and industrial elites who were thriving as the farmers suffered droughts and low prices. The farmers were politically and physically isolated. As one man wrote on his abandoned farm, 'two hundred and fifty miles to the nearest post office, one hundred miles to wood, twenty miles to water, six inches to Hell'. They formed the Populist or People's Party to fight their cause, put up candidates for President, won several states and influenced policies. In the South, though, their appeal to black farmers stimulated their political rivals to suppress the black vote for decades and set black and poor white farmers against each other, tightening segregation. Aspects of the Populists ideas re-emerged effectively in Roosevelt's New Deal, even if they are mainly remembered now, if at all, thanks to allegorical references in The Wizard of Oz.The caricature above is of William Jennings Bryan, Populist-backed Presidential candidate.With Lawrence GoldmanProfessor of History at the Institute of Historical Research, University of LondonMara KeireLecturer in US History at the University of OxfordAndChristopher PhelpsAssociate Professor of American Studies at the University of NottinghamProducer: Simon Tillotson.

    starstarstarstarstar
  • Christine de Pizan

    · In Our Time

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the life and works of Christine de Pizan, who wrote at the French Court in the late Middle Ages and was celebrated by Simone de Beauvoir as the first woman to 'take up her pen in defence of her sex.' She wrote across a broad range, and was particularly noted for challenging the depiction of women by famous writers such as Jean de Meun, author of the Romance of the Rose. She has been characterised as an early feminist who argued that women could play a much more important role in society than the one they were allotted, reflected in arguably her most important work, The Book of the City of Ladies, a response to the seemingly endless denigration of women in popular texts of the time.The image above, of Christine de Pizan lecturing, is (c)The British Library Board. Harley 4431, f.259v.With Helen SwiftAssociate Professor of Medieval French at the University of Oxford and Fellow of St Hilda's CollegeMiranda GriffinLecturer in French and Fellow of St Catharine's College, Cambridgeand Marilynn DesmondDistinguished Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Binghamton UniversityProducer: Simon Tillotson.

    starstarstarstarstar
  • Enzymes

    · In Our Time

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss enzymes, the proteins that control the speed of chemical reactions in living organisms. Without enzymes, these reactions would take place too slowly to keep organisms alive: with their actions as catalysts, changes which might otherwise take millions of years can happen hundreds of times a second. Some enzymes break down large molecules into smaller ones, like the ones in human intestines, while others use small molecules to build up larger, complex ones, such as those that make DNA. Enzymes also help keep cell growth under control, by regulating the time for cells to live and their time to die, and provide a way for cells to communicate with each other. With Nigel RichardsProfessor of Biological Chemistry at Cardiff UniversitySarah BarryLecturer in Chemical Biology at King's College LondonAnd Jim NaismithDirector of the Research Complex at HarwellBishop Wardlaw Professor of Chemical Biology at the University of St AndrewsProfessor of Structural Biology at the University of OxfordProducer: Simon Tillotson.

    starstarstarstarstar
  • Purgatory

    · In Our Time

    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.WithLaura AsheAssociate Professor of English and fellow of Worcester College at the University of OxfordMatthew TreherneProfessor of Italian Literature at the University of LeedsandHelen Foxhall ForbesAssociate Professor of Early Medieval History at Durham UniversityProducer: Simon Tillotson.

    starstarstarstarstar
  • Louis Pasteur

    · In Our Time

    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 MendelsohnReader in the School of History at Queen Mary, University of LondonAnne HardyHonorary Professor at the Centre for History in Public Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicineand Michael WorboysEmeritus Professor in the History of Science, Technology and Medicine at the University of Manchester Producer: Simon Tillotson.

    starstarstarstarstar
  • Emily Dickinson

    · In Our Time

    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 GreenSenior Lecturer in English at the University of Cambridge and a Fellow of Jesus CollegeLinda FreedmanLecturer in English and American Literature at University College LondonandParaic FinnertyReader in English and American Literature at the University of PortsmouthProducer: Simon Tillotson.

    starstarstarstarstar
  • The Battle of Lincoln 1217

    · In Our Time

    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, CambridgeWithLouise WilkinsonProfessor of Medieval History at Canterbury Christ Church UniversityStephen ChurchProfessor of Medieval History at the University of East AngliaandThomas AsbridgeReader in Medieval History at Queen Mary, University of LondonProducer: Simon Tillotson.

    starstarstarstarstar