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In Our Time podcast

In Our Time

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the ideas, people and events that have shaped our world.

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the ideas, people and events that have shaped our world.

 

#300

Hegel's Philosophy of History

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss ideas of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770 - 1831) on history. Hegel, one of the most influential of the modern philosophers, described history as the progress in the consciousness of freedom, asking whether we enjoy more freedom now than those who came before us. To explore this, he looked into the past to identify periods when freedom was moving from the one to the few to the all, arguing that once we understand the true nature of freedom we reach an endpoint in understanding. That end of history, as it's known, describes an understanding of freedom so far progressed, so profound, that it cannot be extended or deepened even if it can be lost. With Sally Sedgwick Professor and Chair of Philosophy at Boston University Robert Stern Professor of Philosophy at the University of Sheffield And Stephen Houlgate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Warwick Producer: Simon Tillotson ... Read more

23 Jun 2022

52 MINS

52:25

23 Jun 2022


#299

Comenius

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Czech educator Jan Amos Komenský (1592-1670) known throughout Europe in his lifetime under the Latin version of his name, Comenius. A Protestant and member of the Unity of Brethren, he lived much of his life in exile, expelled from his homeland under the Catholic Counter-Reformation, and he wanted to address the deep antagonisms underlying the wars that were devastating Europe especially The Thirty Years War (1618-1648). A major part of his plan was Universal Education, in which everyone could learn about everything, and better understand each other and so tolerate their religious differences and live side by side. His ideas were to have a lasting influence on education, even though the peace that followed the Thirty Years War only entrenched the changes in his homeland that made his life there impossible. The image above is from a portrait of Comenius by Jürgen Ovens, 1650 - 1670, painted while he was living in Amsterdam and held in the Rikjsmuseum With Vladimir Urbanek Senior Researcher in the Department of Comenius Studies and Early Modern Intellectual History at the Institute of Philosophy of the Czech Academy of Sciences Suzanna Ivanic Lecturer in Early Modern European History at the University of Kent And Howard Hotson Professor of Early Modern Intellectual History at the University of Oxford and Fellow of St Anne’s College Producer: Simon Tillotson ... Read more

16 Jun 2022

56 MINS

56:32

16 Jun 2022


#298

Tang Era Poetry

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss two of China’s greatest poets, Li Bai and Du Fu, who wrote in the 8th century in the Tang Era. Li Bai (701-762AD) is known for personal poems, many of them about drinking wine, and for finding the enjoyment in life. Du Fu (712-770AD), a few years younger, is more of an everyman, writing in the upheaval of the An Lushan Rebellion (755-763AD). Together they have been a central part of Chinese culture for over a millennium, reflecting the balance between the individual and the public life, and one sign of their enduring appeal is that there is rarely agreement on which of them is the greater. The image above is intended to depict Du Fu. With Tim Barrett Professor Emeritus of East Asian History at SOAS, University of London Tian Yuan Tan Shaw Professor of Chinese at the University of Oxford and Professorial Fellow at University College And Frances Wood Former Curator of the Chinese Collections at the British Library Producer: Simon Tillotson ... Read more

09 Jun 2022

46 MINS

46:37

09 Jun 2022


#297

The Davidian Revolution

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the impact of David I of Scotland (c1084-1153) on his kingdom and on neighbouring lands. The youngest son of Malcolm III, he was raised in exile in the Anglo-Norman court and became Earl of Huntingdon and Prince of Cumbria before claiming the throne in 1124. He introduced elements of what he had learned in England and, in the next decades, his kingdom saw new burghs, new monasteries, new ways of governing and the arrival of some very influential families, earning him the reputation of The Perfect King. With Richard Oram Professor of Medieval and Environmental History at the University of Stirling Alice Taylor Professor of Medieval History at King’s College London And Alex Woolf Senior Lecturer in History at the University of St Andrews Producer: Simon Tillotson ... Read more

02 Jun 2022

50 MINS

50:16

02 Jun 2022


#296

Early Christian Martyrdom

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the accounts by Eusebius of Caesarea (c260-339 AD) and others of the killings of Christians in the first three centuries after the crucifixion of Jesus. Eusebius was writing in a time of peace, after The Great Persecution that had started with Emperor Diocletian in 303 AD and lasted around eight years. Many died under Diocletian, and their names are not preserved, but those whose deaths are told by Eusebius became especially celebrated and their stories became influential. Through his writings, Eusebius shaped perceptions of what it meant to be a martyr in those years, and what it meant to be a Christian. The image above is of The Martyrdom of Saint Blandina (1886) at the Church of Saint-Blandine de Lyon, France With: Candida Moss Edward Cadbury Professor of Theology at the University of Birmingham Kate Cooper Professor of History at Royal Holloway, University of London And James Corke-Webster Senior Lecturer in Classics, History and Liberal Arts at King’s College London Producer: Simon Tillotson ... Read more

26 May 2022

53 MINS

53:03

26 May 2022


#295

Olympe de Gouges

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 ... Read more

19 May 2022

49 MINS

49:10

19 May 2022


#294

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


#293

Polidori's The Vampyre

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 ... Read more

05 May 2022

51 MINS

51:17

05 May 2022


#292

The Sistine Chapel

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 ... Read more

28 Apr 2022

55 MINS

55:50

28 Apr 2022


#291

Antigone

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 ... Read more

21 Apr 2022

54 MINS

54:11

21 Apr 2022


#290

Charisma

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 ... Read more

14 Apr 2022

52 MINS

52:38

14 Apr 2022


#289

Seismology

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 ... Read more

07 Apr 2022

49 MINS

49:35

07 Apr 2022


#288

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


#287

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


#286

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


#285

Romeo and Juliet

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 ... Read more

17 Feb 2022

50 MINS

50:13

17 Feb 2022


#284

Walter Benjamin

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 ... Read more

10 Feb 2022

50 MINS

50:32

10 Feb 2022


#283

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


#282

Colette

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 ... Read more

27 Jan 2022

51 MINS

51:27

27 Jan 2022


#281

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