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In Our Time podcast

In Our Time

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the history of ideas

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the history of ideas

 

#300

The Evolution of Crocodiles

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the remarkable diversity of the animals that dominated life on land in the Triassic, before the rise of the dinosaurs in the Jurassic, and whose descendants are often described wrongly as 'living fossils'. For tens of millions of years, the ancestors of alligators and Nile crocodiles included some as large as a bus, some running on two legs like a T Rex and some that lived like whales. They survived and rebounded from a series of extinction events but, while the range of habitats of the dinosaur descendants such as birds covers much of the globe, those of the crocodiles have contracted, even if the animals themselves continue to evolve today as quickly as they ever have. With Anjali Goswami Research Leader in Life Sciences and Dean of Postgraduate Education at the Natural History Museum Philip Mannion Lecturer in the Department of Earth Sciences at University College London And Steve Brusatte Professor of Palaeontology and Evolution at the University of Edinburgh Producer Simon Tillotson ... Read more

16 Sep 2021

53 MINS

53:07

16 Sep 2021


#299

Samuel Beckett (Summer Repeat)

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Samuel Beckett (1906 - 1989), who lived in Paris and wrote his plays and novels in French, not because his French was better than his English, but because it was worse. In works such as Waiting for Godot, Endgame, Molloy and Malone Dies, he wanted to show the limitations of language, what words could not do, together with the absurdity and humour of the human condition. In part he was reacting to the verbal omnipotence of James Joyce, with whom he’d worked in Paris, and in part to his experience in the French Resistance during World War 2, when he used code, writing not to reveal meaning but to conceal it. With Steven Connor Professor of English at the University of Cambridge Laura Salisbury Professor of Modern Literature at the University of Exeter And Mark Nixon Associate Professor in Modern Literature at the University of Reading and co-director of the Beckett International Foundation Producer: Simon Tillotson ... Read more

09 Sep 2021

49 MINS

49:24

09 Sep 2021


#298

Bergson and Time (Summer Repeat)

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the French philosopher Henri Bergson (1859-1941) and his ideas about human experience of time passing and how that differs from a scientific measurement of time, set out in his thesis on 'Time and Free Will' in 1889. He became famous in France and abroad for decades, rivalled only by Einstein and, in the years after the Dreyfus Affair, was the first ever Jewish member of the Académie Française. It's thought his work influenced Proust and Woolf, and the Cubists. He died in 1941 from a cold which, reputedly, he caught while queuing to register as a Jew, refusing the Vichy government's offer of exemption. With Keith Ansell-Pearson Professor of Philosophy at the University of Warwick Emily Thomas Assistant Professor in Philosophy at Durham University And Mark Sinclair Reader in Philosophy at the University of Roehampton Producer: Simon Tillotson ... Read more

02 Sep 2021

51 MINS

51:50

02 Sep 2021


#297

The Treaty of Limerick (Summer Repeat)

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the 1691 peace treaty that ended the Williamite War in Ireland, between supporters of the deposed King James II and the forces of William III and his allies. It followed the battles at Aughrim and the Boyne and sieges at Limerick, and led to the disbanding of the Jacobite army in Ireland, with troops free to follow James to France for his Irish Brigade. The Catholic landed gentry were guaranteed rights on condition of swearing loyalty to William and Mary yet, while some Protestants thought the terms too lenient, it was said the victors broke those terms before the ink was dry. The image above is from British Battles on Land and Sea, Vol. I, by James Grant, 1880, and is meant to show Irish troops leaving Limerick as part of The Flight of the Wild Geese - a term used for soldiers joining continental European armies from C16th-C18th. With Jane Ohlmeyer Chair of the Irish Research Council and Erasmus Smith’s Professor of Modern History at Trinity College Dublin Dr Clare Jackson Senior Tutor, Trinity Hall, and Faculty of History, University of Cambridge and Thomas O'Connor Professor of History at Maynooth University Producer: Simon Tillotson ... Read more

26 Aug 2021

52 MINS

52:58

26 Aug 2021


#296

Shakespeare's Sonnets

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the collection of poems published in 1609 by Thomas Thorpe: Shakespeare’s Sonnets, “never before imprinted”. Yet, while some of Shakespeare's other poems and many of his plays were often reprinted in his lifetime, the Sonnets were not a publishing success. They had to make their own way, outside the main canon of Shakespeare’s work: wonderful, troubling, patchy, inspiring and baffling, and they have appealed in different ways to different times. Most are addressed to a man, something often overlooked and occasionally concealed; one early and notorious edition even changed some of the pronouns. With: Hannah Crawforth Senior Lecturer in Early Modern Literature at King’s College London Don Paterson Poet and Professor of Poetry at the University of St Andrews And Emma Smith Professor of Shakespeare Studies at Hertford College, Oxford Producer: Simon Tillotson ... Read more

24 Jun 2021

52 MINS

52:25

24 Jun 2021


#295

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


#294

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


#293

Kant's Copernican Revolution

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the insight into our relationship with the world that Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) shared in his book The Critique of Pure Reason in 1781. It was as revolutionary, in his view, as when the Polish astronomer Copernicus realised that Earth revolves around the Sun rather than the Sun around Earth. Kant's was an insight into how we understand the world around us, arguing that we can never know the world as it is, but only through the structures of our minds which shape that understanding. This idea, that the world depends on us even though we do not create it, has been one of Kant’s greatest contributions to philosophy and influences debates to this day. The image above is a portrait of Immanuel Kant by Friedrich Wilhelm Springer With Fiona Hughes Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Essex Anil Gomes Associate Professor and Fellow and Tutor in Philosophy at Trinity College, Oxford And John Callanan Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at King’s College London Producer: Simon Tillotson ... Read more

03 Jun 2021

53 MINS

53:17

03 Jun 2021


#292

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


#291

Journey to the West

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss one of the great novels of China’s Ming era, and perhaps the most loved. Written in 1592, it draws on the celebrated travels of a real monk from China to India a thousand years before, and on a thousand years of retellings of that story, especially the addition of a monkey as companion who, in the novel, becomes supersimian. For most readers the monk, Tripitaka, is upstaged by this irrepressible Monkey with his extraordinary powers, accompanied by the fallen but recovering deities, Pigsy and Sandy. The image above, from the caricature series Yoshitoshi ryakuga or Sketches by Yoshitoshi, is of Monkey creating an army by plucking out his fur and blowing it into the air, and each hair becomes a monkey-warrior. With Julia Lovell Professor of Modern Chinese History and Literature at Birkbeck, University of London Chiung-yun Evelyn Liu Associate Research Fellow at the Institute of Chinese Literature and Philosophy, Academia Sinica, Taiwan And Craig Clunas Professor Emeritus of the History of Art at Trinity College, University of Oxford Producer: Simon Tillotson ... Read more

20 May 2021

51 MINS

51:49

20 May 2021


#290

Longitude

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the search for Longitude while at sea. Following efforts by other maritime nations, the British Government passed the Longitude Act in 1714 to reward anyone who devised reliable means for ships to determine their longitude at sea. Mariners could already calculate how far they were north or south, the Latitude, using the Pole Star, but voyaging across the Atlantic to the Caribbean was much less predictable as navigators could not be sure how far east or west they were, a particular problem when heading for islands. It took fifty years of individual genius and collaboration in Britain and across Europe, among astronomers, clock makers, mathematicians and sailors, for the problem to be resolved. With Rebekah Higgitt Principal Curator of Science at National Museums Scotland Jim Bennett Keeper Emeritus at the Science Museum And Simon Schaffer Professor of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Cambridge Producer: Simon Tillotson ... Read more

13 May 2021

50 MINS

50:28

13 May 2021


#289

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


#288

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


#287

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


#286

Arianism

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the form of Christianity adopted by Ostrogoths in the 4th century AD, which they learned from Roman missionaries and from their own contact with the imperial court at Constantinople. This form spread to the Vandals and the Visigoths, who took it into Roman Spain and North Africa, and the Ostrogoths brought it deeper into Italy after the fall of the western Roman empire. Meanwhile, with the Roman empire in the east now firmly committed to the Nicene Creed not the Arian, the Goths and Vandals faced conflict or conversion, as Arianism moved from an orthodox view to being a heresy that would keep followers from heaven and delay the Second Coming for all. The image above is the ceiling mosaic of the Arian Baptistry in Ravenna, commissioned by Theodoric, ruler of the Ostrogothic Kingdom of Italy, around the end of the 5th century With Judith Herrin Professor of Late Antique and Byzantine Studies, Emeritus, at King's College London Robin Whelan Lecturer in Mediterranean History at the University of Liverpool And Martin Palmer Visiting Professor in Religion, History and Nature at the University of Winchester Producer: Simon Tillotson ... Read more

15 Apr 2021

50 MINS

50:06

15 Apr 2021


#285

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


#284

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


#283

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


#282

The Bacchae

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Euripides' great tragedy, which was first performed in Athens in 405 BC when the Athenians were on the point of defeat and humiliation in a long war with Sparta. The action seen or described on stage was brutal: Pentheus, king of Thebes, is torn into pieces by his mother in a Bacchic frenzy and his grandparents condemned to crawl away as snakes. All this happened because Pentheus had denied the divinity of his cousin Dionysus, known to the audience as god of wine, theatre, fertility and religious ecstasy. The image above is a detail of a Red-Figure Cup showing the death of Pentheus (exterior) and a Maenad (interior), painted c. 480 BC by the Douris painter. This object can be found at the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas. With Edith Hall Professor of Classics at King’s College London Emily Wilson Professor of Classical Studies at the University of Pennsylvania And Rosie Wyles Lecturer in Classical History and Literature at the University of Kent Producer: Simon Tillotson ... Read more

18 Mar 2021

52 MINS

52:11

18 Mar 2021


#281

The Late Devonian Extinction

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the devastating mass extinctions of the Late Devonian Period, roughly 370 million years ago, when around 70 percent of species disappeared. Scientists are still trying to establish exactly what happened, when and why, but this was not as sudden as when an asteroid hits Earth. The Devonian Period had seen the first trees and soils and it had such a diversity of sea life that it’s known as the Age of Fishes, some of them massive and armoured, and, in one of the iconic stages in evolution, some of them moving onto land for the first time. One of the most important theories for the first stage of this extinction is that the new soils washed into oceans, leading to algal blooms that left the waters without oxygen and suffocated the marine life. The image above is an abstract group of the huge, armoured Dunkleosteus fish, lost in the Late Devonian Extinction With Jessica Whiteside Associate Professor of Geochemistry in the Department of Ocean and Earth Science at the University of Southampton David Bond Professor of Geology at the University of Hull And Mike Benton Professor of Vertebrate Paleontology at the School of Life Sciences, University of Bristol. ... Read more

11 Mar 2021

49 MINS

49:05

11 Mar 2021