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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

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


#299

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


#298

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


#297

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


#296

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


#295

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


#294

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


#293

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


#292

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


#291

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


#290

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


#289

David Ricardo

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss one of the most influential economists from the age of Adam Smith and Thomas Malthus. Ricardo (1772 -1823) reputedly made his fortune at the Battle of Waterloo, and he made his lasting impact with his ideas on free trade. At a time when nations preferred to be self-sufficient, to produce all their own food and manufacture their own goods, and to find markets for export rather than import, Ricardo argued for free trade even with rivals for the benefit of all. He contended that existing economic policy unduly favoured landlords above all others and needed to change, and that nations would be less likely to go to war with their trading partners if they were more reliant on each other. For the last two hundred years, Ricardo’s Theory of Comparative Advantage in support of free trade has been developed and reinterpreted by generations of economists across the political spectrum. With Matthew Watson Professor of Political Economy at the University of Warwick Helen Paul Lecturer in Economics and Economic History at the University of Southampton And Richard Whatmore Professor of Modern History at the University of St Andrews and Co-Director of the St Andrews Institute of Intellectual History Producer: Simon Tillotson ... Read more

25 Mar 2021

49 MINS

49:51

25 Mar 2021


#288

Marcus Aurelius

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the man who, according to Machiavelli, was the last of the Five Good Emperors. Marcus Aurelius, 121 to 180 AD, has long been known as a model of the philosopher king, a Stoic who, while on military campaigns, compiled ideas on how best to live his life, and how best to rule. These ideas became known as his Meditations, and they have been treasured by many as an insight into the mind of a Roman emperor, and an example of how to avoid the corruption of power in turbulent times. The image above shows part of a bronze equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius. With Simon Goldhill Professor of Greek Literature and Culture and Fellow of King’s College, Cambridge Angie Hobbs Professor of the Public Understanding of Philosophy at the University of Sheffield And Catharine Edwards Professor of Classics and Ancient History at Birkbeck, University of London Producer: Simon Tillotson ... Read more

25 Feb 2021

52 MINS

52:36

25 Feb 2021


#287

The Plague of Justinian

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the plague that broke out in Constantinople 541AD, in the reign of Emperor Justinian. According to the historian Procopius, writing in Byzantium at the time, this was a plague by which the whole human race came near to being destroyed, embracing the whole world, and blighting the lives of all mankind. The bacterium behind the Black Death has since been found on human remains from that time, and the symptoms described were the same, and evidence of this plague has since been traced around the Mediterranean and from Syria to Britain and Ireland. The question of how devastating it truly was, though, is yet to be resolved. With John Haldon Professor of Byzantine History and Hellenic Studies Emeritus at Princeton University Rebecca Flemming Senior Lecturer in Classics at the University of Cambridge And Greg Woolf Director of the Institute of Classical Studies, University of London Producer: Simon Tillotson ... Read more

21 Jan 2021

48 MINS

48:31

21 Jan 2021


#286

The Cultural Revolution

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Chairman Mao and the revolt he led within his own party from 1966, setting communists against each other, to renew the revolution that he feared had become too bourgeois and to remove his enemies and rivals. Universities closed and the students formed Red Guard factions to attack the 'four olds' - old ideas, culture, habits and customs - and they also turned on each other, with mass violence on the streets and hundreds of thousands of deaths. Over a billion copies of Chairman Mao’s Little Red Book were printed to support his cult of personality, before Mao himself died in 1976 and the revolution came to an end. The image above is of Red Guards, holding The Little Red Book, cheering Mao during a meeting to celebrate the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution at Tiananmen Square, Beijing, August 1966 With Rana Mitter Professor of the History and Politics of Modern China and Fellow of St Cross College, University of Oxford Sun Peidong Visiting Professor at the Center for International Studies at Sciences Po, Paris And Julia Lovell Professor in Modern Chinese History and Literature at Birkbeck, University of London Produced by Simon Tillotson and Julia Johnson ... Read more

17 Dec 2020

48 MINS

48:09

17 Dec 2020


#285

The Zong Massacre

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the notorious events off Jamaica in 1781 and their background. The British slave ship Zong, having sailed across the Atlantic towards Jamaica, threw 132 enslaved Africans from its human cargo into the sea to drown. Even for a slave ship, the Zong was overcrowded; those murdered were worth more to the ship dead than alive. The crew said there was not enough drinking water to go round and they had no choice, which meant they could claim for the deaths on insurance. The main reason we know of this atrocity now is that the owners took their claim to court in London, and the insurers were at first told to pay up as if the dead slaves were any other lost goods, not people. Abolitionists in Britain were scandalised: if courts treated mass murder in the slave trade as just another business transaction and not a moral wrong, the souls of the nation would be damned. But nobody was ever prosecuted. The image above is of sailors throwing slaves overboard, from Torrey's 'American Slave Trade', 1822 With Vincent Brown Charles Warren Professor of American History and Professor of African and African American Studies at Harvard University Bronwen Everill Class of 1973 Lecturer in History and Fellow at Gonville & Caius College, University of Cambridge And Jake Subryan Richards Assistant Professor of History at the London School of Economics Studio production: Hannah Sander Producer: Simon Tillotson ... Read more

26 Nov 2020

52 MINS

52:04

26 Nov 2020


#284

Maria Theresa

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Maria Theresa (1717-1780) who inherited the Austrian throne in 1740 at the age of 23. Her neighbours circled like wolves and, within two months, Frederick the Great had seized one of her most prized lands, Silesia, exploiting her vulnerability. Yet over the next forty years through political reforms, alliances and marriages, she built Austria up into a formidable power, and she would do whatever it took to save the souls of her Catholic subjects, with a rigidity and intolerance that Joseph II, her son and heir, could not wait to challenge. With Catriona Seth Marshal Foch Professor of French Literature at the University of Oxford Martyn Rady Professor of Central European History at University College London And Thomas Biskup Lecturer in Early Modern History at the University of Hull Producer: Simon Tillotson ... Read more

22 Oct 2020

50 MINS

50:37

22 Oct 2020


#283

Cave Art

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss ideas about the Stone Age people who created the extraordinary images found in caves around the world, from hand outlines to abstract symbols to the multicoloured paintings of prey animals at Chauvet and, as shown above, at Lascaux. In the 19th Century, it was assumed that only humans could have made these, as Neanderthals would have lacked the skills or imagination, but new tests suggest otherwise. How were the images created, were they meant to be for private viewing or public spaces, and what might their purposes have been? And, if Neanderthals were capable of creative work, in what ways were they different from humans? What might it have been like to experience the paintings, so far from natural light? With Alistair Pike Professor of Archaeological Sciences at the University of Southampton Chantal Conneller Senior Lecturer in Early Pre-History at Newcastle University And Paul Pettitt Professor of Palaeolithic Archaeology at Durham University Producer: Simon Tillotson ... Read more

24 Sep 2020

48 MINS

48:01

24 Sep 2020


#282

Pericles

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Pericles (495-429BC), the statesman who dominated the politics of Athens for thirty years, the so-called Age of Pericles, when the city’s cultural life flowered, its democracy strengthened as its empire grew, and the Acropolis was adorned with the Parthenon. In 431 BC he gave a funeral oration for those Athenians who had already died in the new war with Sparta which has been celebrated as one of the greatest speeches of all time, yet within two years he was dead from a plague made worse by Athenians crowding into their city to avoid attacks. Thucydides, the historian, knew him and was in awe of him, yet few shared that view until the nineteenth century, when they found much in Pericles to praise, an example for the Victorian age. With Edith Hall Professor of Classics at King's College London. Paul Cartledge AG Leventis Senior Research Fellow at Clare College, University of Cambridge And Peter Liddel Senior Lecturer in Ancient History at the University of Manchester Producer: Simon Tillotson ... Read more

17 Sep 2020

48 MINS

48:55

17 Sep 2020


#281

The Covenanters

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the bonds that Scottish Presbyterians made between themselves and their monarchs in the 16th and 17th Centuries, to maintain their form of worship. These covenants bound James VI of Scotland to support Presbyterians yet when he became James I he was also expected to support episcopacy. That tension came to a head under Charles I who found himself on the losing side of a war with the Covenanters, who later supported Parliament before backing the future Charles II after he had pledged to support them. Once in power, Charles II failed to deliver the religious settlement the Covenanters wanted, and set about repressing them violently. Those who refused to renounce the covenants were persecuted in what became known as The Killing Times, as reflected in the image above. With Roger Mason Professor of Scottish History at the University of St Andrews Laura Stewart Professor of Early Modern British History at the University of York And Scott Spurlock Professor of Scottish and Early Modern Christianities at the University of Glasgow Producer: Simon Tillotson ... Read more

12 Mar 2020

53 MINS

53:49

12 Mar 2020