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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

The Great Stink

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the stench from the River Thames in the hot summer of 1858 and how it appalled and terrified Londoners living and working beside it, including those in the new Houses of Parliament which were still under construction. There had been an outbreak of cholera a few years before in which tens of thousands had died, and a popular theory held that foul smells were linked to diseases. The source of the problem was that London's sewage, once carted off to fertilise fields had recently, thanks to the modern flushing systems, started to flow into the river and, thanks to the ebb and flow of the tides, was staying there and warming in the summer sun. The engineer Joseph Bazalgette was given the task to build huge new sewers to intercept the waste, a vast network, so changing the look of London and helping ensure there were no further cholera outbreaks from contaminated water. The image above is from Punch, July 10th 1858 and it has this caption: The 'Silent Highway'-Man. "Your Money or your Life!" With Rosemary Ashton Emeritus Quain Professor of English Language and Literature at University College London Stephen Halliday Author of ‘The Great Stink of London: Sir Joseph Bazalgette and the Cleansing of the Victorian Metropolis’ And Paul Dobraszczyk Lecturer at the Bartlett School of Architecture at University College London ... Read more

26 Jan 2023

50 MINS

50:12

26 Jan 2023


#299

Persuasion

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Jane Austen’s last complete novel, which was published just before Christmas in 1817, five months after her death. It is the story of Anne Elliot, now 27 and (so we are told), losing her bloom, and of her feelings for Captain Wentworth who she was engaged to, 8 years before – an engagement she broke off under pressure from her father and godmother. When Wentworth, by chance, comes back into Anne Elliot's life, he is still angry with her and neither she nor Austen's readers can know whether it is now too late for their thwarted love to have a second chance. The image above is from a 1995 BBC adaptation of the novel, with Amanda Root and Ciarán Hinds With Karen O’Brien Vice-Chancellor of Durham University Fiona Stafford Professor of English Language and Literature at the University of Oxford And Paddy Bullard Associate Professor of English Literature and Book History at the University of Reading Producer: Simon Tillotson ... Read more

19 Jan 2023

50 MINS

50:49

19 Jan 2023


#298

Citizen Kane

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Orson Welles' film, released in 1941, which is widely acclaimed as one of the greatest, if not the greatest, films yet made. Welles plays the lead role of Charles Foster Kane, a newspaper magnate, and Welles directed, produced and co-wrote this story of loneliness at the heart of a megalomaniac. The plot was partly inspired by the life of William Randolph Hearst, who then used the power of his own newspapers to try to suppress the film’s release. It was to take some years before Citizen Kane reached a fuller audience and, from that point, become so celebrated. The image above is of Kane addressing a public meeting while running for Governor. With Stella Bruzzi Professor of Film and Dean of Arts and Humanities at University College London Ian Christie Professor of Film and Media History at Birkbeck, University of London And John David Rhodes Professor of Film Studies and Visual Culture at the University of Cambridge Producer: Simon Tillotson ... Read more

12 Jan 2023

53 MINS

53:43

12 Jan 2023


#297

The Irish Rebellion of 1798

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the momentum behind rebellion in Ireland in 1798, the people behind the rebellion and the impact over the next few years and after. Amid wider unrest, the United Irishmen set the rebellion on its way, inspired by the French and American revolutionaries and their pursuit of liberty. When it broke out in May the United Irishmen had an estimated two hundred thousand members, Catholic and Protestant, and the prospect of a French invasion fleet to back them. Crucially for the prospects of success, some of those members were British spies who exposed the plans and the military were largely ready - though not in Wexford where the scale of rebellion was much greater. The fighting was initially fierce and brutal and marked with sectarianism but had largely been suppressed by the time the French arrived in August to declare a short-lived republic. The consequences of the rebellion were to be far reaching, not least in the passing of Acts of Union in 1800. The image above is of Theobald Wolfe Tone (1763 - 1798), prominent member of the United Irishmen With Ian McBride Foster Professor of Irish History at Hertford College, University of Oxford Catriona Kennedy Senior Lecturer in Modern History at the University of York And Liam Chambers Head of Department and Senior Lecturer in History at Mary Immaculate College, Limerick Producer: Simon Tillotson ... Read more

05 Jan 2023

55 MINS

55:25

05 Jan 2023


#296

The Nibelungenlied

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss The Song of the Nibelungs, a twelfth century German epic, full of blood, violence, fantasy and bleakness. It is a foundational work of medieval literature, drawing on the myths of Scandinavia and central Europe. The poem tells of two couples, Siegfried and Kriemhild and Gunther and Brunhilda, whose lives are destroyed by lies and revenge. It was extremely popular in its time, sometimes rewritten with happier endings, and was rediscovered by German Romantics and has since been drawn from selectively by Wagner, Fritz Lang and, infamously, the Nazis looking to support ideas on German heritage. The image above is of Siegfried seeing Kriemhild for the first time, a miniature from the Hundeshagenschen Code manuscript dating from 15th Century. With Sarah Bowden Reader in German and Medieval Studies at King’s College London Mark Chinca Professor of Medieval German and Comparative Literature at the University of Cambridge And Bettina Bildhauer Professor of Modern Languages at the University of St Andrews Producer: Simon Tillotson ... Read more

29 Dec 2022

54 MINS

54:49

29 Dec 2022


#295

The Challenger Expedition 1872-1876

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the voyage of HMS Challenger which set out from Portsmouth in 1872 with a mission a to explore the ocean depths around the world and search for new life. The scale of the enterprise was breath taking and, for its ambition, it has since been compared to the Apollo missions. The team onboard found thousands of new species, proved there was life on the deepest seabeds and plumbed the Mariana Trench five miles below the surface. Thanks to telegraphy and mailboats, its vast discoveries were shared around the world even while Challenger was at sea, and they are still being studied today, offering insights into the ever-changing oceans that cover so much of the globe and into the health of our planet. The image above is from the journal of Pelham Aldrich R.N. who served on the Challenger Surveying Expedition from 1872-5. With Erika Jones Curator of Navigation and Oceanography at Royal Museums Greenwich Sam Robinson Southampton Marine and Maritime Institute Research Fellow at the University of Southampton And Giles Miller Principal Curator of Micropalaeontology at the Natural History Museum London Producer: Simon Tillotson ... Read more

22 Dec 2022

51 MINS

51:14

22 Dec 2022


#294

Demosthenes' Philippics

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the speeches that became a byword for fierce attacks on political opponents. It was in the 4th century BC, in Athens, that Demosthenes delivered these speeches against the tyrant Philip II of Macedon, father of Alexander the Great, when Philip appeared a growing threat to Athens and its allies and Demosthenes feared his fellow citizens were set on appeasement. In what became known as The Philippics, Demosthenes tried to persuade Athenians to act against Macedon before it was too late; eventually he succeeded in stirring them, even if the Macedonians later prevailed. For these speeches prompting resistance, Demosthenes became famous as one of the Athenian democracy’s greatest freedom fighters. Later, in Rome, Cicero's attacks on Mark Antony were styled on Demosthenes and these too became known as Philippics. The image above is painted on the dome of the library of the National Assembly, Paris and is by Eugene Delacroix (1798-1863). It depicts Demosthenes haranguing the waves of the sea as a way of strengthening his voice for his speeches. With Paul Cartledge A. G. Leventis Senior Research Fellow at Clare College, University of Cambridge Kathryn Tempest Reader in Latin Literature and Roman History at the University of Roehampton And Jon Hesk Reader in Greek and Classical Studies at the University of St Andrews Producer: Simon Tillotson ... Read more

15 Dec 2022

56 MINS

56:56

15 Dec 2022


#293

Bauhaus

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Bauhaus which began in 1919 in Weimar, Germany, as a school for arts and crafts combined, and went on to be famous around the world. Under its first director, Walter Gropius, the Bauhaus moved to Dessau and extended its range to architecture and became associated with a series of white, angular, flat-roofed buildings reproduced from Shanghai to Chicago, aimed for modern living. The school closed after only 14 years while at a third location, Berlin, under pressure from the Nazis, yet its students and teachers continued to spread its ethos in exile, making it even more influential. The image above is of the Bauhaus Building, Dessau, designed by Gropius and built in 1925-6 With Robin Schuldenfrei Tangen Reader in 20th Century Modernism at The Courtauld Institute of Art Alan Powers History Leader at the London School of Architecture And Michael White Professor of the History of Art at the University of York Producer: Simon Tillotson ... Read more

08 Dec 2022

56 MINS

56:45

08 Dec 2022


#292

The Morant Bay Rebellion

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the rebellion that broke out in Jamaica on 11th October 1865 when Paul Bogle (1822-65) led a protest march from Stony Gut to the courthouse in nearby Morant Bay. There were many grounds for grievance that day and soon anger turned to bloodshed. Although the British had abolished slavery 30 years before, the plantation owners were still dominant and the conditions for the majority of people on Jamaica were poor. The British governor suppressed this rebellion brutally and soon people in Jamaica lost what right they had to rule themselves. Some in Britain, like Charles Dickens, supported the governor's actions while others, like Charles Darwin, wanted him tried for murder. The image above is from a Jamaican $2 banknote, printed after Paul Bogle became a National Hero in 1969. With Matthew J Smith Professor of History and Director of the Centre for the Study of the Legacies of British Slavery at University College London Diana Paton The William Robertson Professor of History at the University of Edinburgh And Lawrence Goldman Emeritus Fellow in History at St Peter’s College, University of Oxford Producer: Simon Tillotson ... Read more

01 Dec 2022

53 MINS

53:42

01 Dec 2022


#291

Wilfred Owen

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the celebrated British poet of World War One. Wilfred Owen (1893-1918) had published only a handful of poems when he was killed a week before the end of the war, but in later decades he became seen as the essential British war poet. His works such as Anthem for Doomed Youth, Strange Meeting and Dulce et Decorum Est went on to be inseparable from the memory of the war and its futility. However, while Owen is best known for his poetry of the trenches, his letters offer a more nuanced insight into him such as his pride in being an officer in charge of others and in being a soldier who fought alongside his comrades. With Jane Potter Reader in The School of Arts at Oxford Brookes University Fran Brearton Professor of Modern Poetry at Queen’s University Belfast And Guy Cuthbertson Professor of British Literature and Culture at Liverpool Hope University Producer: Simon Tillotson ... Read more

24 Nov 2022

56 MINS

56:39

24 Nov 2022


#290

The Fish-Tetrapod Transition

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss one of the greatest changes in the history of life on Earth. Around 400 million years ago some of our ancestors, the fish, started to become a little more like humans. At the swampy margins between land and water, some fish were turning their fins into limbs, their swim bladders into lungs and developed necks and eventually they became tetrapods, the group to which we and all animals with backbones and limbs belong. After millions of years of this transition, these tetrapod descendants of fish were now ready to leave the water for a new life of walking on land, and with that came an explosion in the diversity of life on Earth. The image above is a representation of Tiktaalik Roseae, a fish with some features of a tetrapod but not one yet, based on a fossil collected in the Canadian Arctic. With Emily Rayfield Professor of Palaeobiology at the University of Bristol Michael Coates Chair and Professor of Organismal Biology and Anatomy at the University of Chicago And Steve Brusatte Professor of Palaeontology and Evolution at the University of Edinburgh Producer: Simon Tillotson ... Read more

17 Nov 2022

55 MINS

55:33

17 Nov 2022


#289

Berthe Morisot

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss one of the influential painters at the heart of the French Impressionist movement: Berthe Morisot (1841-1895). The men in her circle could freely paint in busy bars and public spaces, while Morisot captured the domestic world and found new, daring ways to paint quickly in the open air. Her work shows women as they were, to her: informal, unguarded, and not transformed or distorted for the eyes of men. The image above is one of her few self-portraits, though several portraits of her survive by other artists, chiefly her sister Edma and her brother-in-law Edouard Manet. With Tamar Garb Professor of History of Art at University College London Lois Oliver Curator at the Royal Academy and Adjunct Professor of Art History at the American University of Notre Dame London. And Claire Moran Reader in French at Queen's University Belfast Producer: Simon Tillotson ... Read more

10 Nov 2022

1 HR 00 MINS

1:00:20

10 Nov 2022


#288

The Knights Templar

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the military order founded around 1119, twenty years after the Crusaders captured Jerusalem. For almost 200 years the Knights Templar were a notable fighting force and financial power in the Crusader States and Western Europe. Their mission was to protect pilgrims in the Holy Land, and they became extremely wealthy yet, as the crusader grip on Jerusalem slipped, their political fortune declined steeply. They were to be persecuted out of existence, with their last grand master burned at the stake in Paris in 1314, and that sudden end has contributed to the strength of the legends that have grown up around them. With Helen Nicholson Professor of Medieval History at Cardiff University Mike Carr Lecturer in Late Medieval History at the University of Edinburgh And Jonathan Phillips Professor of Crusading History at Royal Holloway, University of London Producer: Simon Tillotson ... Read more

03 Nov 2022

49 MINS

49:59

03 Nov 2022


#287

The Electron

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss an atomic particle that's become inseparable from modernity. JJ Thomson discovered the electron 125 years ago, so revealing that atoms, supposedly the smallest things, were made of even smaller things. He pictured them inside an atomic ball like a plum pudding, with others later identifying their place outside the nucleus - and it is their location on the outer limit that has helped scientists learn so much about electrons and with electrons. We can use electrons to reveal the secrets of other particles and, while electricity exists whether we understand electrons or not, the applications of electricity and electrons grow as our knowledge grows. Many questions, though, remain unanswered. With Victoria Martin Professor of Collider Physics at the University of Edinburgh Harry Cliff Research Fellow in Particle Physics at the University of Cambridge And Frank Close Professor Emeritus of Theoretical Physics and Fellow Emeritus at Exeter College at the University of Oxford Producer: Simon Tillotson ... Read more

27 Oct 2022

49 MINS

49:47

27 Oct 2022


#286

Plato's Atlantis

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Plato's account of the once great island of Atlantis out to the west, beyond the world known to his fellow Athenians, and why it disappeared many thousands of years before his time. There are no sources for this story other than Plato, and he tells it across two of his works, the Timaeus and the Critias, tantalizing his readers with evidence that it is true and clues that it is a fantasy. Atlantis, for Plato, is a way to explore what an ideal republic really is, and whether Athens could be (or ever was) one; to European travellers in the Renaissance, though, his story reflected their own encounters with distant lands, previously unknown to them, spurring generations of explorers to scour the oceans and in the hope of finding a lost world. The image above is from an engraving of the legendary island of Atlantis after a description by Athanasius Kircher (1602-1680). With Edith Hall Professor of Classics at Durham University Christopher Gill Emeritus Professor of Ancient Thought at the University of Exeter And Angie Hobbs Professor of the Public Understanding of Philosophy at the University of Sheffield Producer: Simon Tillotson ... Read more

20 Oct 2022

54 MINS

54:15

20 Oct 2022


#285

Nineteen Eighty-Four

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss George Orwell's (1903-1950) final novel, published in 1949, set in a dystopian London which is now found in Airstrip One, part of the totalitarian superstate of Oceania which is always at war and where the protagonist, Winston Smith, works at the Ministry of Truth as a rewriter of history: 'Who controls the past,' ran the Party slogan, 'controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.' The influence of Orwell's novel is immeasurable, highlighting threats to personal freedom with concepts he named such as doublespeak, thoughtcrime, Room 101, Big Brother, memory hole and thought police. With David Dwan Professor of English Literature and Intellectual History at the University of Oxford Lisa Mullen Teaching Associate in Modern Contemporary Literature at the University of Cambridge And John Bowen Professor of English Literature at the University of York Producer: Simon Tillotson ... Read more

13 Oct 2022

52 MINS

52:33

13 Oct 2022


#284

John Bull

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the origin of this personification of the English everyman and his development as both British and Britain in the following centuries. He first appeared along with Lewis Baboon (French) and Nicholas Frog (Dutch) in 1712 in a pamphlet that satirised the funding of the War of the Spanish Succession. The author was John Arbuthnot (1667-1735), a Scottish doctor and satirist who was part of the circle of Swift and Pope, and his John Bull was the English voter, overwhelmed by taxes that went not so much into the war itself but into the pockets of its financiers. For the next two centuries, Arbuthnot’s John Bull was a gift for cartoonists and satirists, especially when they wanted to ridicule British governments for taking advantage of the people’s patriotism. The image above is by William Charles, a Scottish engraver who emigrated to the United States, and dates from 1814 during the Anglo-American War of 1812. With Judith Hawley Professor of 18th Century Literature at Royal Holloway, University of London Miles Taylor Professor of British History and Society at Humboldt, University of Berlin And Mark Knights Professor of History at the University of Warwick Producer: Simon Tillotson ... Read more

28 Jul 2022

53 MINS

53:46

28 Jul 2022


#283

Angkor Wat

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the largest and arguably the most astonishing religious structure on Earth, built for Suryavarman II in the 12th Century in modern-day Cambodia. It is said to have more stone in it than the Great Pyramid of Giza, and much of the surface is intricately carved and remarkably well preserved. For the last 900 years Angkor Wat has been a centre of religion, whether Hinduism, Buddhism or Animism or a combination of those, and a source of wonder to Cambodians and visitors from around the world. With Piphal Heng Postdoctoral scholar at the Cotsen Institute and the Programme for Early Modern Southeast Asia at UCLA Ashley Thompson Hiram W Woodward Chair of Southeast Asian Art at SOAS University of London And Simon Warrack A stone conservator who has worked extensively at Angkor Wat Producer: Simon Tillotson ... Read more

21 Jul 2022

49 MINS

49:18

21 Jul 2022


#282

Dylan Thomas

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the celebrated Welsh poet, Dylan Thomas (1914 - 1953). He wrote some of his best poems before he was twenty in the first half of his short, remarkable life, and was prolific in the second half too with poems such as those set in London under the Blitz and reworkings of his childhood in Swansea, and his famous radio play Under Milk Wood (performed after his death). He was read widely and widely heard: with his reading tours in America and recordings of his works that sold in their hundreds of thousands after his death, he is credited with reviving the act of poetry as performance in the 20th century. With Nerys Williams Associate Professor of Poetry and Poetics at University College Dublin John Goodby Professor of Arts and Culture at Sheffield Hallam University And Leo Mellor The Roma Gill Fellow in English at Murray Edwards College, University of Cambridge Producer: Simon Tillotson ... Read more

14 Jul 2022

50 MINS

50:06

14 Jul 2022


#281

The Death of Stars

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the abrupt transformation of stars after shining brightly for millions or billions of years, once they lack the fuel to counter the force of gravity. Those like our own star, the Sun, become red giants, expanding outwards and consuming nearby planets, only to collapse into dense white dwarves. The massive stars, up to fifty times the mass of the Sun, burst into supernovas, visible from Earth in daytime, and become incredibly dense neutron stars or black holes. In these moments of collapse, the intense heat and pressure can create all the known elements to form gases and dust which may eventually combine to form new stars, new planets and, as on Earth, new life. The image above is of the supernova remnant Cassiopeia A, approximately 10,000 light years away, from a once massive star that died in a supernova explosion that was first seen from Earth in 1690 With Martin Rees Astronomer Royal, Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge Carolin Crawford Emeritus Member of the Institute of Astronomy and Emeritus Fellow of Emmanuel College, University of Cambridge And Mark Sullivan Professor of Astrophysics at the University of Southampton Producer: Simon Tillotson ... Read more

07 Jul 2022

58 MINS

58:09

07 Jul 2022