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In Our Time: History podcast

In Our Time: History

Historical themes, events and key individuals from Akhenaten to Xenophon.

Historical themes, events and key individuals from Akhenaten to Xenophon.

 

#300

Homo erectus

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 ... Read more

12 May 2022

51 MINS

51:03

12 May 2022


#299

The Arthashastra

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 ... Read more

31 Mar 2022

56 MINS

56:09

31 Mar 2022


#298

In Our Time is now first on BBC Sounds

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. BBC Sounds is also available in lots of other places. Find us on your voice device or smart speaker, on your connected TV, in your car, or at bbc.co.uk/sounds. The latest episode is available on BBC Sounds right now. BBC Sounds – you can find exclusive music mixes, live BBC radio and more podcasts like this one. ... Read more

04 Mar 2022

01 MINS

01:00

04 Mar 2022


#297

Peter Kropotkin

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 ... Read more

24 Feb 2022

51 MINS

51:53

24 Feb 2022


#296

The Temperance Movement

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 ... Read more

03 Feb 2022

52 MINS

52:25

03 Feb 2022


#295

The Gold Standard

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 ... Read more

20 Jan 2022

49 MINS

49:00

20 Jan 2022


#294

The Hittites

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 ... Read more

23 Dec 2021

52 MINS

52:19

23 Dec 2021


#293

The May Fourth Movement

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 ... Read more

09 Dec 2021

52 MINS

52:57

09 Dec 2021


#292

The Battle of Trafalgar

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the events of 21st October 1805, in which the British fleet led by Nelson destroyed a combined Franco-Spanish fleet in the Atlantic off the coast of Spain. Nelson's death that day was deeply mourned in Britain, and his example proved influential, and the battle was to help sever ties between Spain and its American empire. In France meanwhile, even before Nelson's body was interred at St Paul's, the setback at Trafalgar was overshadowed by Napoleon's decisive victory over Russia and Austria at Austerlitz, though Napoleon's search for his lost naval strength was to shape his plans for further conquests. The image above is from 'The Battle of Trafalgar' by JMW Turner (1824). With James Davey Lecturer in Naval and Maritime History at the University of Exeter Marianne Czisnik Independent researcher on Nelson and editor of his letters to Lady Hamilton And Kenneth Johnson Research Professor of National Security at Air University, Alabama Producer: Simon Tillotson ... Read more

02 Dec 2021

51 MINS

51:57

02 Dec 2021


#291

The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the republic that emerged from the union of the Kingdom of Poland and Grand Duchy of Lithuania in the 14th Century. At first this was a personal union, similar to that of James I and VI in Britain, but this was formalised in 1569 into a vast republic, stretching from the Baltic to the Black Sea. Kings and princes from across Europe would compete for parliament to elect them King and Grand Duke, and the greatest power lay with the parliaments. When the system worked well, the Commonwealth was a powerhouse, and it was their leader Jan Sobieski who relieved the siege of Vienna in 1683, defeating the Ottomans. Its neighbours exploited its parliament's need for unanimity, though, and this contributed to its downfall. Austria, Russia and Prussia divided its territory between them from 1772, before the new, smaller states only emerged in the 20th Century. The image above is Jan III Sobieski (1629-1696), King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania, at the Battle of Vienna 1683, by Marcello Bacciarelli (1731-1818) With Robert Frost The Burnett Fletcher Chair of History at the University of Aberdeen Katarzyna Kosior Lecturer in Early Modern History at Northumbria University And Norman Davies Professor Emeritus in History and Honorary Fellow of St Antony’s College, University of Oxford Producer: Simon Tillotson ... Read more

14 Oct 2021

48 MINS

48:43

14 Oct 2021


#290

The Manhattan Project

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the race to build an atom bomb in the USA during World War Two. Before the war, scientists in Germany had discovered the potential of nuclear fission and scientists in Britain soon argued that this could be used to make an atom bomb, against which there could be no defence other than to own one. The fear among the Allies was that, with its head start, Germany might develop the bomb first and, unmatched, use it on its enemies. The USA took up the challenge in a huge engineering project led by General Groves and Robert Oppenheimer and, once the first bomb had been exploded at Los Alamos in July 1945, it appeared inevitable that the next ones would be used against Japan with devastating results. The image above is of Robert Oppenheimer and General Groves examining the remains of one the bases of the steel test tower, at the atomic bomb Trinity Test site, in September 1945. With Bruce Cameron Reed The Charles A. Dana Professor of Physics Emeritus at Alma College, Michigan Cynthia Kelly Founder and President of the Atomic Heritage Foundation And Frank Close Emeritus Professor of Theoretical Physics at the University of Oxford and a Fellow of Exeter College, Oxford Producer: Simon Tillotson ... Read more

07 Oct 2021

48 MINS

48:20

07 Oct 2021


#289

Herodotus

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Greek writer known as the father of histories, dubbed by his detractors as the father of lies. Herodotus (c484 to 425 BC or later) was raised in Halicarnassus in modern Turkey when it was part of the Persian empire and, in the years after the Persian Wars, set about an inquiry into the deep background to those wars. He also aimed to preserve what he called the great and marvellous deeds of Greeks and non-Greeks, seeking out the best evidence for past events and presenting the range of evidence for readers to assess. Plutarch was to criticise Herodotus for using this to promote the least flattering accounts of his fellow Greeks, hence the 'father of lies', but the depth and breadth of his Histories have secured his reputation from his lifetime down to the present day. With Tom Harrison Professor of Ancient History at the University of St Andrews Esther Eidinow Professor of Ancient History at the University of Bristol And Paul Cartledge A. G. Leventis Senior Research Fellow at Clare College, University of Cambridge Producer: Simon Tillotson ... Read more

23 Sep 2021

52 MINS

52:18

23 Sep 2021


#288

Edward Gibbon

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the life and ideas of one of the great historians, best known for his History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (published 1776-89). According to Gibbon (1737-94) , the idea for this work came to him on 15th of October 1764 as he sat musing amidst the ruins of Rome, while barefooted friars were singing vespers in the Temple of Jupiter. Decline and Fall covers thirteen centuries and is an enormous intellectual undertaking and, on publication, it became a phenomenal success across Europe. The image above is of Edward Gibbon by Henry Walton, oil on mahogany panel, 1773. With David Womersley The Thomas Wharton Professor of English Literature at St Catherine’s College, University of Oxford Charlotte Roberts Lecturer in English at University College London And Karen O’Brien Professor of English Literature at the University of Oxford Producer: Simon Tillotson ... Read more

17 Jun 2021

52 MINS

52:22

17 Jun 2021


#287

Booth's Life and Labour Survey

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Charles Booth's survey, The Life and Labour of the People in London, published in 17 volumes from 1889 to 1903. Booth (1840-1916), a Liverpudlian shipping line owner, surveyed every household in London to see if it was true, as claimed, that as many as a quarter lived in poverty. He found that it was closer to a third, and that many of these were either children with no means of support or older people no longer well enough to work. He went on to campaign for an old age pension, and broadened the impact of his findings by publishing enhanced Ordnance Survey maps with the streets coloured according to the wealth of those who lived there. The image above is of an organ grinder on a London street, circa 1893, with children dancing to the Pas de Quatre With Emma Griffin Professor of Modern British History at the University of East Anglia Sarah Wise Adjunct Professor at the University of California And Lawrence Goldman Emeritus Fellow in History at St Peter’s College, University of Oxford Producer: Simon Tillotson ... Read more

10 Jun 2021

48 MINS

48:47

10 Jun 2021


#286

The Interregnum

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the period between the execution of Charles I in 1649 and the unexpected restoration of his son Charles II in 1660, known as The Interregnum. It was marked in England by an elusive pursuit of stability, with serious consequences in Scotland and notorious ones in Ireland. When Parliament executed Charles it had also killed Scotland and Ireland’s king, without their consent; Scotland immediately declared Charles II king of Britain, and Ireland too favoured Charles. In the interests of political and financial security, Parliament's forces, led by Oliver Cromwell, soon invaded Ireland and then turned to defeating Scotland. However, the improvised power structures in England did not last and Oliver Cromwell's death in 1658 was followed by the threat of anarchy. In England, Charles II had some success in overturning the changes of the 1650s but there were lasting consequences for Scotland and the notorious changes in Ireland were entrenched. The Dutch image of Oliver Cromwell, above, was published by Joost Hartgers c1649 With Clare Jackson Senior Tutor at Trinity Hall, University of Cambridge Micheál Ó Siochrú Professor in Modern History at Trinity College Dublin And Laura Stewart Professor in Early Modern History at the University of York Producer: Simon Tillotson ... Read more

27 May 2021

52 MINS

52:24

27 May 2021


#285

The Second Barons' War

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the years of bloody conflict that saw Simon de Montfort (1205-65) become the most powerful man in England, with Henry III as his prisoner. With others, he had toppled Henry in 1258 in a secret, bloodless coup and established provisions for more parliaments with broader representation, for which he was later known as the Father of the House of Commons. When Henry III regained power in 1261, Simon de Montfort rallied forces for war, with victory at Lewes in 1264 and defeat and dismemberment in Evesham the year after. Although praised for supporting parliaments, he also earned a reputation for unleashing dark, violent forces in English politics and, infamously, his supporters murdered hundreds of Jewish people in London and elsewhere. With David Carpenter Professor of Medieval History at King’s College London Louise Wilkinson Professor of Medieval Studies at the University of Lincoln And Sophie Thérèse Ambler Lecturer in Later Medieval British and European History at Lancaster University Producer: Simon Tillotson ... Read more

06 May 2021

56 MINS

56:32

06 May 2021


#284

Ovid

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Roman poet Publius Ovidius Naso (43BC-17/18AD) who, as he described it, was destroyed by 'carmen et error', a poem and a mistake. His works have been preserved in greater number than any of the poets of his age, even Virgil, and have been among the most influential. The versions of many of the Greek and Roman myths we know today were his work, as told in his epic Metamorphoses and, together with his works on Love and the Art of Love, have inspired and disturbed readers from the time they were created. Despite being the most prominent poet in Augustan Rome at the time, he was exiled from Rome to Tomis on the Black Sea Coast where he remained until he died. It is thought that the 'carmen' that led to his exile was the Art of Love, Ars Amatoria, supposedly scandalising Augustus, but the 'error' was not disclosed. With Maria Wyke Professor of Latin at University College London Gail Trimble Brown Fellow and Tutor in Classics at Trinity College at the University of Oxford And Dunstan Lowe Senior Lecturer in Latin Literature at the University of Kent Producer: Simon Tillotson ... Read more

29 Apr 2021

49 MINS

49:31

29 Apr 2021


#283

The Franco-American Alliance 1778

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the treaties France entered into with the United States of America in 1778, to give open support to the USA in its revolutionary war against Britain and to promote French trade across the Atlantic. This alliance had profound consequences for all three. The French navy, in particular, played a decisive role in the Americans’ victory in their revolution, but the great cost of supporting this overseas war fell on French taxpayers, highlighting the need for reforms which in turn led to the French Revolution. Then, when France looked to its American ally for support in the new French revolutionary wars with Britain, Americans had to choose where their longer term interests lay, and they turned back from the France that had supported them to the Britain they had just been fighting, and France and the USA fell into undeclared war at sea. The image above is a detail of Bataille de Yorktown by Auguste Couder, with Rochambeau commanding the French expeditionary force in 1781 With Frank Cogliano Professor of American History at the University of Edinburgh Kathleen Burk Professor Emerita of Modern and Contemporary History at University College London And Michael Rapport Reader in Modern European History at the University of Glasgow Producer: Simon Tillotson ... Read more

22 Apr 2021

50 MINS

50:51

22 Apr 2021


#282

Pierre-Simon Laplace

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Laplace (1749-1827) who was a giant in the world of mathematics both before and after the French Revolution. He addressed one of the great questions of his age, raised but side-stepped by Newton: was the Solar System stable, or would the planets crash into the Sun, as it appeared Jupiter might, or even spin away like Saturn threatened to do? He advanced ideas on probability, long the preserve of card players, and expanded them out across science; he hypothesised why the planets rotate in the same direction; and he asked if the Universe was deterministic, so that if you knew everything about all the particles then you could predict the future. He also devised the metric system and reputedly came up with the name 'metre'. With Marcus du Sautoy Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science and Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford Timothy Gowers Professor of Mathematics at the College de France And Colva Roney-Dougal Professor of Pure Mathematics at the University of St Andrews Producer: Simon Tillotson ... Read more

08 Apr 2021

48 MINS

48:10

08 Apr 2021


#281

The Russo-Japanese War

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the conflict between Russia and Japan from February 1904 to September 1905, which gripped the world and had a profound impact on both countries. Wary of Russian domination of Korea, Japan attacked the Russian Fleet at Port Arthur and the ensuing war gave Russia a series of shocks, including the loss of their Baltic Fleet after a seven month voyage, which reverberated in the 1905 Revolution. Meanwhile Japan, victorious, advanced its goal of making Europe and America more wary in East Asia, combining rapid military modernisation and Samurai traditions when training its new peasant conscripts. The US-brokered peace failed to require Russia to make reparations, which became a cause of Japanese resentment towards the US. With Simon Dixon The Sir Bernard Pares Professor of Russian History at University College London Naoko Shimazu Professor of Humanities at Yale NUS College, Singapore And Oleg Benesch Reader in Modern History at the University of York Producer: Simon Tillotson ... Read more

01 Apr 2021

48 MINS

48:51

01 Apr 2021