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  • Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the French playwright who, in 1791, wrote The Declaration of the Rights of Woman and of the Female Citizen. This was Olympe de Gouges (1748-93) and she was responding to The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen from 1789, the start of the French Revolution which, by excluding women from these rights, had fallen far short of its apparent goals. Where the latter declared ‘men are born equal’, she asserted ‘women are born equal to men,’ adding, ‘since women are allowed to mount the scaffold, they should also be allowed to stand in parliament and defend their rights’. Two years later this playwright, novelist, activist and woman of letters did herself mount the scaffold, two weeks after Marie Antoinette, for the crime of being open to the idea of a constitutional monarchy and, for two hundred years, her reputation died with her, only to be revived with great vigour in the last 40 years.

    With

    Catriona Seth
    Marshal Foch Professor of French Literature at the University of Oxford

    Katherine Astbury
    Professor of French Studies at the University of Warwick

    And

    Sanja Perovic
    Reader in 18th century French studies at King’s College London


    Producer: Simon Tillotson

  • Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss one of our ancestors, Homo erectus, who thrived on Earth for around two million years whereas we, Homo sapiens, emerged only in the last three hundred thousand years. Homo erectus, or Upright Man, spread from Africa to Asia and it was on the Island of Java that fossilised remains were found in 1891 in an expedition led by Dutch scientist Eugène Dubois. Homo erectus people adapted to different habitats, ate varied food, lived in groups, had stamina to outrun their prey; and discoveries have prompted many theories on the relationship between their diet and the size of their brains, on their ability as seafarers, on their creativity and on their ability to speak and otherwise communicate.

    The image above is from a diorama at the Moesgaard Museum in Denmark, depicting the Turkana Boy referred to in the programme.

    With

    Peter Kjærgaard
    Director of the Natural History Museum of Denmark and Professor of Evolutionary History at the University of Copenhagen

    José Joordens
    Senior Researcher in Human Evolution at Naturalis Biodiversity Centre and Professor of Human Evolution at Maastricht University

    And

    Mark Maslin
    Professor of Earth System Science at University College London

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

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  • Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the influential novella of John Polidori (1795-1821) published in 1819 and attributed first to Lord Byron (1788-1824) who had started a version of it in 1816 at the Villa Diodati in the Year Without A Summer. There Byron, his personal physician Polidori, Mary and Percy Shelley and Claire Clairmont had whiled away the weeks of miserable weather by telling ghost stories, famously giving rise to Mary Shelley's 'Frankenstein'. Emerging soon after, 'The Vampyre' thrilled readers with its aristocratic Lord Ruthven who glutted his thirst with the blood of his victims, his status an abrupt change from the stories of peasant vampires of eastern and central Europe that had spread in the 18th Century with the expansion of the Austro-Hungarian empire. The connection with Lord Byron gave the novella a boost, and soon 'The Vampyre' spawned West End plays, penny dreadfuls such as 'Varney the Vampire', Bram Stoker’s 'Dracula', F.W Murnau's film 'Nosferatu A Symphony of Horror', and countless others.

    The image above is of Bela Lugosi (1882-1956) as Count Mora in Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer's 'Vampires of Prague' (1935)

    With

    Nick Groom
    Professor of Literature in English at the University of Macau

    Samantha George
    Associate Professor of Research in Literature at the University of Hertfordshire

    And

    Martyn Rady
    Professor Emeritus of Central European History at University College London

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

  • Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the astonishing work of Michelangelo (1477-1564) in this great chapel in the Vatican, firstly the ceiling with images from Genesis (of which the image above is a detail) and later The Last Judgement on the altar wall. For the Papacy, Michelangelo's achievement was a bold affirmation of the spiritual and political status of the Vatican, of Rome and of the Catholic Church. For the artist himself, already famous as the sculptor of David in Florence, it was a test of his skill and stamina, and of the potential for art to amaze which he realised in his astonishing mastery of the human form.

    With

    Catherine Fletcher
    Professor of History at Manchester Metropolitan University

    Sarah Vowles
    The Smirnov Family Curator of Italian and French Prints and Drawings at the British Museum

    And

    Matthias Wivel
    The Aud Jebsen Curator of Sixteenth-Century Italian Paintings at the National Gallery

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

  • Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss what is reputedly the most performed of all Greek tragedies. Antigone, by Sophocles (c496-c406 BC), is powerfully ambiguous, inviting the audience to reassess its values constantly before the climax of the play resolves the plot if not the issues. Antigone is barely a teenager and is prepared to defy her uncle Creon, the new king of Thebes, who has decreed that nobody should bury the body of her brother, a traitor, on pain of death. This sets up a conflict between generations, between the state and the individual, uncle and niece, autocracy and pluralism, and it releases an enormous tragic energy that brings sudden death to Antigone, her fiance Haemon who is also Creon's son, and to Creon's wife Eurydice, while Creon himself is condemned to a living death of grief.

    With

    Edith Hall
    Professor of Classics at Durham University

    Oliver Taplin
    Emeritus Professor of Classics, University of Oxford

    And

    Lyndsay Coo
    Senior Lecturer in Ancient Greek Language and Literature at the University of Bristol


    Producer: Simon Tillotson

  • Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the idea of charismatic authority developed by Max Weber (1864-1920) to explain why people welcome some as their legitimate rulers and follow them loyally, for better or worse, while following others only dutifully or grudgingly. Weber was fascinated by those such as Napoleon (above) and Washington who achieved power not by right, as with traditional monarchs, or by law as with the bureaucratic world around him in Germany, but by revolution or insurrection. Drawing on the experience of religious figures, he contended that these leaders, often outsiders, needed to be seen as exceptional, heroic and even miraculous to command loyalty, and could stay in power for as long as the people were enthralled and the miracles they had promised kept coming. After the Second World War, Weber's idea attracted new attention as a way of understanding why some reviled leaders once had mass support and, with the arrival of television, why some politicians were more engaging and influential on screen than others.

    With

    Linda Woodhead
    The FD Maurice Professor and Head of the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at King's College London

    David Bell
    The Lapidus Professor in the Department of History at Princeton University

    And

    Tom Wright
    Reader in Rhetoric at the University of Sussex

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

  • Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the study of earthquakes. A massive earthquake in 1755 devastated Lisbon, and this disaster helped inspire a new science of seismology which intensified after San Francisco in 1906 and advanced even further with the need to monitor nuclear tests around the world from 1945 onwards. While we now know so much more about what lies beneath the surface of the Earth, and how rocks move and crack, it remains impossible to predict when earthquakes will happen. Thanks to seismology, though, we have a clearer idea of where earthquakes will happen and how to make some of them less hazardous to lives and homes.

    With

    Rebecca Bell
    Senior lecturer in Geology and Geophysics at Imperial College London

    Zoe Mildon
    Lecturer in Earth Sciences and Future Leaders Fellow at the University of Plymouth

    And

    James Hammond
    Reader in Geophysics at Birkbeck, University of London

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

  • Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the ancient Sanskrit text the Arthashastra, regarded as one of the major works of Indian literature. Written in the style of a scientific treatise, it provides rulers with a guide on how to govern their territory and sets out what the structure, economic policy and foreign affairs of the ideal state should be. According to legend, it was written by Chanakya, a political advisor to the ruler Chandragupta Maurya (reigned 321 – 297 BC) who founded the Mauryan Empire, the first great Empire in the Indian subcontinent. As the Arthashastra asserts that a ruler should pursue his goals ruthlessly by whatever means is required, it has been compared with the 16th-century work The Prince by Machiavelli. Today, it is widely viewed as presenting a sophisticated and refined analysis of the nature, dynamics and challenges of rulership, and scholars value it partly because it undermines colonial stereotypes of what early South Asian society was like.

    With

    Jessica Frazier
    Lecturer in the Study of Religion at the University of Oxford and a Fellow of the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies

    James Hegarty
    Professor of Sanskrit and Indian Religions at Cardiff University

    And

    Deven Patel
    Associate Professor of South Asia Studies at the University of Pennsylvania

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

  • Looking for the latest episode? New episodes of In Our Time will now be available first on BBC Sounds for four weeks before other podcast apps.

    If you haven’t already, you can download the BBC Sounds app to listen to the In Our Time podcast first.

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  • Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Russian prince who became a leading anarchist and famous scientist. Kropotkin (1842 - 1921) was born into privilege, very much in the highest circle of Russian society as a pageboy for the Tsar, before he became a republican in childhood and dropped the title 'Prince'. While working in Siberia, he started reading about anarchism and that radicalised him further, as did his observations of Siberian villagers supporting each other without (or despite) a role for the State. He made a name for himself as a geographer but soon his politics landed him in jail in St Petersburg, from which he escaped to exile in England where he was fêted, with growing fame leading to lecture tours in the USA. His time in Siberia also inspired his ideas on the importance of mutual aid in evolution, a counter to the dominant idea from Darwin and Huxley that life was a gladiatorial combat in which only the fittest survived. Kropotkin became such a towering figure in public life that, returning to Russia, he was able to challenge Lenin without reprisal, and Lenin in turn permitted his enormous public funeral there, attended by 20,000 mourners.

    With

    Ruth Kinna
    Professor of Political Theory at Loughborough University

    Lee Dugatkin
    Professor of Biology at the University of Louisville

    And

    Simon Dixon
    The Sir Bernard Pares Professor of Russian History at University College London

  • Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss William Shakespeare's famous tragedy, written in the early 1590s after a series of histories and comedies. His audience already knew the story of the feuding Capulets and Montagues in Verona and the fate of the young lovers from their rival houses, but not how Shakespeare would tell it and, with his poetry and plotting, he created a work so powerful and timeless that his play has shaped the way we talk of love, especially young love, ever since.

    The image above is of Mrs Patrick Campbell ('Mrs Pat') as Juliet and Johnson Forbes-Robinson as Romeo in a scene from the 1895 production at the Lyceum Theatre, London

    With

    Helen Hackett
    Professor of English Literature at University College London

    Paul Prescott
    Professor of English and Theatre at the University of California Merced

    And

    Emma Smith
    Professor of Shakespeare Studies at Hertford College, University of Oxford

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

  • Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss one of the most celebrated thinkers of the twentieth century. Walter Benjamin (1892-1940) was a German Jewish philosopher, critic, historian, an investigator of culture, a maker of radio programmes and more. Notably, in his Arcades Project, he looked into the past of Paris to understand the modern age and, in The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, examined how the new media of film and photography enabled art to be politicised, and politics to become a form of art. The rise of the Nazis in Germany forced him into exile, and he worked in Paris in dread of what was to come; when his escape from France in 1940 was blocked at the Spanish border, he took his own life.

    With

    Esther Leslie
    Professor of Political Aesthetics at Birkbeck, University of London

    Kevin McLaughlin
    Dean of the Faculty and Professor of English, Comparative Literature and German Studies at Brown University

    And

    Carolin Duttlinger
    Professor of German Literature and Culture at the University of Oxford

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

  • Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the momentum behind teetotalism in 19th Century Britain, when calls for moderation gave way to complete abstinence in pursuit of a better life. Although arguments for temperance had been made throughout the British Isles beforehand, the story of the organised movement in Britain is often said to have started in 1832 in Preston, when Joseph Livesey and seven others gave a pledge to abstain. The movement grew quickly, with Temperance Halls appearing as new social centres in towns in place of pubs, and political parties being drawn into taking sides either to support abstinence or impose it or reject it.

    The image above, which appeared in The Teetotal Progressionist in 1852, is an example of the way in which images contained many points of temperance teaching, and is © Copyright Livesey Collection at the University of Central Lancashire.

    With

    Annemarie McAllister
    Senior Research Fellow in History at the University of Central Lancashire

    James Kneale
    Associate Professor in Geography at University College London

    And

    David Beckingham
    Associate Professor in Cultural and Historical Geography at the University of Nottingham

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

  • Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss one of the outstanding French writers of the twentieth century. The novels of Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette (1873 - 1954) always had women at their centre, from youth to mid-life to old age, and they were phenomenally popular, at first for their freshness and frankness about women’s lives, as in the Claudine stories, and soon for their sheer quality as she developed as a writer. Throughout her career she intrigued readers by inserting herself, or a character with her name, into her works, fictionalising her life as a way to share her insight into the human experience.

    With

    Diana Holmes
    Professor of French at the University of Leeds

    Michèle Roberts
    Writer, novelist, poet and Emeritus Professor of Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia

    And

    Belinda Jack
    Fellow and Tutor in French Literature and Language at Christ Church, University of Oxford

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

  • Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the system that flourished from 1870 when gold became dominant and more widely available, following gold rushes in California and Australia. Banknotes could be exchanged for gold at central banks, the coins in circulation could be gold (as with the sovereign in the image above, initially worth £1), gold could be freely imported and exported, and many national currencies around the world were tied to gold and so to each other. The idea began in Britain, where sterling was seen as good as gold, and when other countries rushed to the Gold Standard the confidence in their currencies grew, and world trade took off and, for a century, gold was seen as a vital component of the world economy, supporting stability and confidence. The system came with constraints on government ability to respond to economic crises, though, and has been blamed for deepening and prolonging the Great Depression of the 1930s.

    With

    Catherine Schenk
    Professor of Economic and Social History at the University of Oxford

    Helen Paul
    Lecturer in Economics and Economic History at the University of Southampton

    And

    Matthias Morys
    Senior Lecturer in Economic History at the University of York

    Produced by Eliane Glaser and Simon Tillotson

  • Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Thomas Hardy (1840 -1928) and his commitment to poetry, which he prized far above his novels. In the 1890s, once he had earned enough from his fiction, Hardy stopped writing novels altogether and returned to the poetry he had largely put aside since his twenties. He hoped that he might be ranked one day alongside Shelley and Byron, worthy of inclusion in a collection such as Palgrave's Golden Treasury which had inspired him. Hardy kept writing poems for the rest of his life, in different styles and metres, and he explored genres from nature, to war, to epic. Among his best known are what he called his Poems of 1912 to 13, responding to his grief at the death of his first wife, Emma (1840 -1912), who he credited as the one who had made it possible for him to leave his work as an architect's clerk and to write the novels that made him famous.

    With

    Mark Ford
    Poet, and Professor of English and American Literature, University College London.

    Jane Thomas
    Emeritus Professor of English at the University of Hull and Senior Visiting Research Fellow at the University of Leeds

    And

    Tim Armstrong
    Professor of Modern English and American Literature at Royal Holloway, University of London

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

  • Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Austrian-born film director Fritz Lang (1890-1976), who was one of the most celebrated film-makers of the 20th century. He worked first in Weimar Germany, creating a range of films including the startling and subversive Mabuse the Gambler and the iconic but ruinously expensive Metropolis before arguably his masterpiece, M, with both the police and the underworld hunting for a child killer in Berlin, his first film with sound. The rise of the Nazis prompted Lang's move to Hollywood where he developed some of his Weimar themes in memorable and disturbing films such as Fury and The Big Heat.


    With

    Stella Bruzzi
    Professor of Film and Dean of Arts and Humanities at University College London


    Joe McElhaney
    Professor of Film Studies at Hunter College, City University of New York

    And

    Iris Luppa
    Senior Lecturer in Film Studies in the Division of Film and Media at London South Bank University

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

  • Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the empire that flourished in the Late Bronze Age in what is now Turkey, and which, like others at that time, mysteriously collapsed. For the next three thousand years these people of the Land of Hatti, as they called themselves, were known only by small references to their Iron Age descendants in the Old Testament and by unexplained remains in their former territory. Discoveries in their capital of Hattusa just over a century ago brought them back to prominence, including cuneiform tablets such as one (pictured above) which relates to an agreement with their rivals, the Egyptians. This agreement has since become popularly known as the Treaty of Kadesh and described as the oldest recorded peace treaty that survives to this day, said to have followed a great chariot battle with Egypt in 1274 BC near the Orontes River in northern Syria.

    With

    Claudia Glatz
    Professor of Archaeology at the University of Glasgow

    Ilgi Gercek
    Assistant Professor of Ancient Near Eastern Languages and History at Bilkent University

    And

    Christoph Bachhuber
    Lecturer in Archaeology at St John’s College, University of Oxford


    Producer: Simon Tillotson

  • Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Charles Dickens' novella, written in 1843 when he was 31, which has become intertwined with his reputation and with Christmas itself. Ebenezer Scrooge is the miserly everyman figure whose joyless obsession with money severs him from society and his own emotions, and he is only saved after recalling his lonely past, seeing what he is missing now and being warned of his future, all under the guidance of the ghosts of Christmases Past, Present and Yet To Come. Redeemed, Scrooge comes to care in particular about one of the many minor characters in the story who make a great impact, namely Tiny Tim, the disabled child of the poor and warm-hearted Cratchit family, with his cry, "God bless us, every one!"

    With

    Juliet John
    Professor of English Literature and Dean of Arts and Social Sciences at City, University of London

    Jon Mee
    Professor of Eighteenth-Century Studies at the University of York

    And

    Dinah Birch
    Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Cultural Engagement and Professor of English Literature at the University of Liverpool


    Producer: Simon Tillotson

  • Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the violent protests in China on 4th May 1919 over the nation's humiliation in the Versailles Treaty after World War One. China had supported the Allies, sending workers to dig trenches, and expected to regain the German colonies on its territory, but the Allies and China's leaders chose to give that land to Japan instead. To protestors, this was a travesty and reflected much that was wrong with China, with its corrupt leaders, division by warlords, weakness before Imperial Europe and outdated ideas and values. The movement around 4th May has since been seen as a watershed in China’s development in the 20th century, not least as some of those connected with the movement went on to found the Communist Party of China a few years later.

    The image above is of students from Peking University marching with banners during the May Fourth demonstrations in 1919.

    With

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

    Elisabeth Forster
    Lecturer in Chinese History at the University of Southampton

    And

    Song-Chuan Chen
    Associate Professor in History at the University of Warwick


    Producer: Simon Tillotson