In Our Time

In Our Time

www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006qykl
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the history of ideas
Aphra Behn
Oct 12 • 49 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Aphra Behn (1640-1689), who made her name and her living as a playwright, poet and writer of fiction under the Restoration. Virginia Woolf wrote of her: ’ All women together, ought to let flowers fall upon the grave of…
Constantine the Great
Oct 5 • 48 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the life, reputation and impact of Constantine I, known as Constantine the Great (c280s -337AD). Born in modern day Serbia and proclaimed Emperor by his army in York in 306AD, Constantine became the first Roman Emperor to…
Wuthering Heights
Sep 28 • 49 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Emily Bronte (1818-1848) and her only novel, published in 1847 under the name ‘Ellis Bell’ just a year before her death. It is the story of Heathcliff, a foundling from Liverpool brought up in the Earnshaw family at the…
Kant’s Categorical Imperative
Sep 21 • 49 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss how, in the Enlightenment, Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) sought to define the difference between right and wrong by applying reason, looking at the intention behind actions rather than at consequences. He was inspired to find…
al-Biruni
Aug 31 • 41 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Central Asian polymath al-Biruni and his eleventh-century book the India.Born in around 973 in the central Asian region of Chorasmia, al-Biruni became an itinerant scholar of immense learning, a master of…
Bird Migration
Jul 6 • 51 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss why some birds migrate and others do not, how they select their destinations and how they navigate the great distances, often over oceans. For millennia, humans set their calendars to birds’ annual arrivals, and speculated…
Plato’s Republic
Jun 29 • 48 min
Is it always better to be just than unjust? That is the central question of Plato’s Republic, discussed here by Melvyn Bragg and guests. Writing in c380BC, Plato applied this question both to the individual and the city-state, considering earlier and…
Eugene Onegin
Jun 22 • 49 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Alexander Pushkin’s verse novel, the story of Eugene Onegin, widely regarded as his masterpiece. Pushkin (pictured above) began this in 1823 and worked on it over the next ten years, while moving around Russia, developing…
The American Populists
Jun 15 • 49 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss what, in C19th America’s Gilded Age, was one of the most significant protest movements since the Civil War with repercussions well into C20th. Farmers in the South and Midwest felt ignored by the urban and industrial elites…
Christine de Pizan
Jun 8 • 50 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the life and works of Christine de Pizan, who wrote at the French Court in the late Middle Ages and was celebrated by Simone de Beauvoir as the first woman to ‘take up her pen in defence of her sex.’ She wrote across a…
Enzymes
Jun 1 • 48 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss enzymes, the proteins that control the speed of chemical reactions in living organisms. Without enzymes, these reactions would take place too slowly to keep organisms alive: with their actions as catalysts, changes which…
Purgatory
May 25 • 48 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the flourishing of the idea of Purgatory from C12th, when it was imagined as a place alongside Hell and Heaven in which the souls of sinners would be purged of those sins by fire. In the West, there were new systems put in…
Louis Pasteur
May 18 • 51 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the life and work of Louis Pasteur (1822-1895) and his extraordinary contribution to medicine and science. It is said few people have saved more lives than Pasteur. A chemist, he showed that otherwise identical molecules…
Emily Dickinson
May 11 • 48 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the life and works of Emily Dickinson, arguably the most startling and original poet in America in the C19th. According to Thomas Wentworth Higginson, her correspondent and mentor, writing 15 years after her death, “Few…
The Battle of Lincoln 1217
May 4 • 53 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss The Battle of Lincoln on 20th May 1217, when two armies fought to keep, or to win, the English crown. This was a struggle between the Angevin and Capetian dynasties, one that followed Capetian successes over the Angevins in…
The Egyptian Book of the Dead
Apr 27 • 46 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the text and context of The Book of the Dead, also known as the Book of Coming Forth by Day, the ancient Egyptian collections of spells which were intended to help the recently deceased navigate the underworld. They…
Roger Bacon
Apr 20 • 50 min
The 13th-century English philosopher Roger Bacon is perhaps best known for his major work the Opus Maius. Commissioned by Pope Clement IV, this extensive text covered a multitude of topics from mathematics and optics to religion and moral philosophy. He…
Rosa Luxemburg
Apr 13 • 50 min
Melvyn Bragg discusses the life and times of Rosa Luxemburg (1871-1919), ‘Red Rosa’, who was born in Poland under the Russian Empire and became one of the leading revolutionaries in an age of revolution. She was jailed for agitation and for her campaign…
Pauli’s Exclusion Principle
Apr 6 • 48 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the life and ideas of Wolfgang Pauli (1900-1958), whose Exclusion Principle is one of the key ideas in quantum mechanics. A brilliant physicist, at 21 Pauli wrote a review of Einstein’s theory of general relativity and that…
Hokusai
Mar 30 • 48 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849), the Japanese artist whose views of Mt Fuji such as The Great Wave off Kanagawa (pictured) are some of the most iconic in world art. He worked as Japan was slowly moving towards greater…
The Battle of Salamis
Mar 23 • 50 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss what is often called one of the most significant battles in history. In 480BC in the Saronic Gulf near Athens, between the mainland and the island of Salamis, a fleet of Greek allies decisively defeated a larger Persian-led…
The Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum
Mar 16 • 49 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the high temperatures that marked the end of the Paleocene and start of the Eocene periods, about 50m years ago. Over c1000 years, global temperatures rose more than 5 C on average and stayed that way for c100,000 years…
North and South
Mar 9 • 48 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Elizabeth Gaskell’s novel North and South, published in 1855 after serialisation in Dickens’ Household Words magazine. It is the story of Margaret Hale, who was raised in the South in the New Forest and London’s Harley…
The Kuiper Belt
Mar 2 • 48 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Kuiper Belt, a vast region of icy objects at the fringes of our Solar System, beyond Neptune, in which we find the dwarf planet Pluto and countless objects left over from the origins of the solar system, some of which…
Seneca the Younger
Feb 23 • 51 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Seneca the Younger, who was one of the first great writers to live his entire life in the world of the new Roman empire, after the fall of the Republic. He was a Stoic philosopher, he wrote blood-soaked tragedies, he was an…
Maths in the Early Islamic World
Feb 16 • 49 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the flourishing of maths in the early Islamic world, as thinkers from across the region developed ideas in places such as Baghdad’s House of Wisdom. Among them were the Persians Omar Khayyam, who worked on equations, and…
John Clare
Feb 9 • 48 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Northamptonshire poet John Clare who, according to one of Melvyn’s guests Jonathan Bate, was ‘the greatest labouring-class poet that England has ever produced’. Clare worked in a tavern, as a gardener and as a farm…
Hannah Arendt
Feb 2 • 47 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the political philosophy of Hannah Arendt. She developed many of her ideas in response to the rise of totalitarianism in the C20th, partly informed by her own experience as a Jew in Nazi Germany before her escape to France…
Parasitism
Jan 26 • 45 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the relationship between parasites and hosts, where one species lives on or in another to the benefit of the parasite but at a cost to the host, potentially leading to disease or death of the host. Typical examples are…
Mary, Queen of Scots
Jan 19 • 52 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the history of Mary, Queen of Scots, who had potential to be one of the most powerful rulers in Europe, yet she was also one of the most vulnerable. In France, when she was the teenage bride to their future king, she was…
Nietzsche’s Genealogy of Morality
Jan 12 • 48 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Nietzsche’s On The Genealogy of Morality - A Polemic, which he published in 1887 towards the end of his working life and in which he considered the price humans have paid, and were still paying, to become civilised. In…
Johannes Kepler
Dec 29, 2016 • 48 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the German astronomer Johannes Kepler (1571 - 1630). Although he is overshadowed today by Isaac Newton and Galileo, he is considered by many to be one of the greatest scientists in history. The three laws of planetary…
Four Quartets
Dec 22, 2016 • 48 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Four Quartets, TS Eliot’s last great work which he composed, against a background of imminent and actual world war, as meditations on the relationship between time and humanity. With David Moody Emeritus Professor of…
The Gin Craze
Dec 15, 2016 • 52 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the craze for gin in Britain in the mid 18th Century and the attempts to control it. With the arrival of William of Orange, it became an act of loyalty to drink Protestant, Dutch gin rather than Catholic brandy, and changes…
Harriet Martineau
Dec 8, 2016 • 51 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Harriet Martineau who, from a non-conformist background in Norwich, became one of the best known writers in the C19th. She had a wide range of interests and used a new, sociological method to observe the world around her,…
Garibaldi and the Risorgimento
Dec 1, 2016 • 49 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Giuseppe Garibaldi and the Italian Risorgimento. According to the historian AJP Taylor, Garibaldi was the only wholly admirable figure in modern history. Born in Nice in 1807, one of Garibaldi’s aims in life was the…
Baltic Crusades
Nov 24, 2016 • 46 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Baltic Crusades, the name given to a series of overlapping attempts to convert the pagans of North East Europe to Christianity at the point of the sword. From the 12th Century, Papal Bulls endorsed those who fought on…
Justinian’s Legal Code
Nov 17, 2016 • 47 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the ideas brought together under Justinian I, Byzantine emperor in the 6th century AD, which were rediscovered in Western Europe in the Middle Ages and became very influential in the development of laws in many European…
The Fighting Temeraire
Nov 10, 2016 • 45 min
This image: Joseph Mallord William Turner, The Fighting Temeraire, 1839 (c) The National Gallery, London Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss “The Fighting Temeraire”, one of Turner’s greatest works and the one he called his ‘darling’. It shows one of the most…
Epic of Gilgamesh
Nov 3, 2016 • 46 min
“He who saw the Deep” are the first words of the standard version of The Epic of Gilgamesh, the subject of this discussion between Melvyn Bragg and his guests. Gilgamesh is often said to be the oldest surviving great work of literature, with origins in…
John Dalton
Oct 27, 2016 • 45 min
The scientist John Dalton was born in North England in 1766. Although he came from a relatively poor Quaker family, he managed to become one of the most celebrated scientists of his age. Through his work, he helped to establish Manchester as a place where…
The 12th Century Renaissance
Oct 20, 2016 • 49 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the changes in the intellectual world of Western Europe in the 12th Century, and their origins. This was a time of Crusades, the formation of states, the start of Gothic architecture, a reconnection with Roman and Greek…
Plasma
Oct 13, 2016 • 45 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss plasma, the fourth state of matter after solid, liquid and gas. As over ninety-nine percent of all observable matter in the Universe is plasma, planets like ours, with so little plasma and so much solid, liquid and gas,…
Lakshmi
Oct 6, 2016 • 47 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the origins of the Hindu goddess Lakshmi, and of the traditions that have built around her for over 3,000 years. According to the creation story of the Puranas, she came to existence in the churning of the ocean of milk.…
Animal Farm
Sep 29, 2016 • 51 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Animal Farm, which Eric Blair published under his pen name George Orwell in 1945. A biting critique of totalitarianism, particularly Stalinism, the essay sprung from Orwell’s experiences fighting Fascists in Spain: he…
Zeno’s Paradoxes
Sep 22, 2016 • 46 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Zeno of Elea, a pre-Socratic philosopher from c490-430 BC whose paradoxes were described by Bertrand Russell as “immeasurably subtle and profound.” The best known argue against motion, such as that of an arrow in flight…
The Invention of Photography
Jul 7, 2016 • 48 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the development of photography in the 1830s, when techniques for ‘drawing with light’ evolved to the stage where, in 1839, both Louis Daguerre and William Henry Fox Talbot made claims for its invention. These followed the…
Sovereignty
Jun 30, 2016 • 47 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the history of the idea of Sovereignty, the authority of a state to govern itself and the relationship between the sovereign and the people. These ideas of external and internal sovereignty were imagined in various ways in…
Songs of Innocence and of Experience
Jun 23, 2016 • 49 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss William Blake’s collection of illustrated poems “Songs of Innocence and of Experience.” He published Songs of Innocence first in 1789 with five hand-coloured copies and, five years later, with additional Songs of Experience…
The Bronze Age Collapse
Jun 16, 2016 • 47 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss The Bronze Age Collapse, the name given by many historians to what appears to have been a sudden, uncontrolled destruction of dominant civilizations around 1200 BC in the Aegean, Eastern Mediterranean and Anatolia. Among…
Penicillin
Jun 9, 2016 • 46 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss penicillin, discovered by Alexander Fleming in 1928. It is said he noticed some blue-green penicillium mould on an uncovered petri dish at his hospital laboratory, and that this mould had inhibited bacterial growth around…
Margery Kempe and English Mysticism
Jun 2, 2016 • 44 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the English mystic Margery Kempe (1373-1438) whose extraordinary life is recorded in a book she dictated, The Book of Margery Kempe. She went on pilgrimage to Jerusalem, to Rome and Santiago de Compostela, purchasing…
The Gettysburg Address
May 26, 2016 • 48 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, ten sentences long, delivered at the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery at Gettysburg after the Union forces had won an important battle with the Confederates. Opening with ”…
The Muses
May 19, 2016 • 45 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Muses and their role in Greek mythology, when they were goddesses of poetry, song, music and dance: what the Greeks called mousike, ‘the art of the Muses’ from which we derive our word ‘music.’ While the number of…
Titus Oates and his ‘Popish Plot’
May 12, 2016 • 49 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Titus Oates (1649-1705) who, with Israel Tonge, spread rumours of a Catholic plot to assassinate Charles II. From 1678, they went to great lengths to support their scheme, forging evidence and identifying the supposed…
Tess of the d’Urbervilles
May 5, 2016 • 46 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Tess of the d’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy, originally serialised in The Graphic in 1891 and, with some significant changes, published as a complete novel in 1892. The book was controversial even before serialisation,…
Euclid’s Elements
Apr 28, 2016 • 45 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Euclid’s Elements, a mathematical text book attributed to Euclid and in use from its appearance in Alexandria, Egypt around 300 BC until modern times, dealing with geometry and number theory. It has been described as the…
1816, the Year Without a Summer
Apr 21, 2016 • 45 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the impact of the eruption of Mt Tambora, in 1815, on the Indonesian island of Sambawa. This was the largest volcanic eruption in recorded history and it had the highest death toll, devastating people living in the…
The Neutron
Apr 14, 2016 • 45 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the neutron, one of the particles found in an atom’s nucleus. Building on the work of Ernest Rutherford, the British physicist James Chadwick won the Nobel Prize for Physics for his discovery of the neutron in 1932.…
The Sikh Empire
Apr 7, 2016 • 44 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the rise of the Sikh Empire at the end of the 18th Century under Ranjit Singh, pictured above, who unified most of the Sikh kingdoms following the decline of the Mughal Empire. He became Maharaja of the Punjab at Lahore in…
Agrippina the Younger
Mar 31, 2016 • 46 min
Agrippina the Younger was one of the most notorious and influential of the Roman empresses in the 1st century AD. She was the sister of the Emperor Caligula, a wife of the Emperor Claudius and mother of the Emperor Nero. Through careful political…
Aurora Leigh
Mar 24, 2016 • 46 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s epic “Aurora Leigh” which was published in 1856. It is the story of an orphan, Aurora, born in Italy to an English father and Tuscan mother, who is brought up by an aunt in rural Shropshire. She…
Bedlam
Mar 17, 2016 • 46 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the early years of Bedlam, the name commonly used for the London hospital of St Mary of Bethlehem outside Bishopsgate, described in 1450 by the Lord Mayor of London as a place where may “be found many men that be fallen out…
The Maya Civilization
Mar 10, 2016 • 46 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Maya Civilization, developed by the Maya people, which flourished in central America from around 250 AD in great cities such as Chichen Itza and Uxmal with advances in mathematics, architecture and astronomy. Long…
The Dutch East India Company
Mar 3, 2016 • 46 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie or VOC, known in English as the Dutch East India Company. The VOC dominated the spice trade between Asia and Europe for two hundred years, with the British East India Company a distant…
Mary Magdalene
Feb 25, 2016 • 44 min
Mary Magdalene is one of the best-known figures in the Bible and has been a frequent inspiration to artists and writers over the last 2000 years. According to the New Testament, she was at the foot of the cross when Jesus was crucified and was one of the…
Robert Hooke
Feb 18, 2016 • 48 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the life and work of Robert Hooke (1635-1703) who worked for Robert Boyle and was curator of experiments at the Royal Society. The engraving of a flea, above, is taken from his Micrographia which caused a sensation when…
Rumi’s Poetry
Feb 11, 2016 • 46 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the poetry of Rumi, the Persian scholar and Sufi mystic of the 13th Century. His great poetic works are the Masnavi or “spiritual couplets” and the Divan, a collection of thousands of lyric poems. He is closely connected…
Chromatography
Feb 4, 2016 • 47 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the origins, development and uses of chromatography. In its basic form, it is familiar to generations of schoolchildren who put a spot of ink at the bottom of a strip of paper, dip it in water and then watch the pigments…
Eleanor of Aquitaine
Jan 28, 2016 • 44 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the life, times and influence of Eleanor of Aquitaine (c1122-1204) who was one of the most powerful women in Twelfth Century Europe, possibly in the entire Middle Ages. She inherited land from the Loire down to the…
Thomas Paine’s Common Sense
Jan 21, 2016 • 45 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Thomas Paine and his pamphlet “Common Sense” which was published in Philadelphia in January 1776 and promoted the argument for American independence from Britain. Addressed to The Inhabitants of America, it sold one hundred…
Saturn
Jan 14, 2016 • 46 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the planet Saturn with its rings of ice and rock and over 60 moons. In 1610, Galileo used an early telescope to observe Saturn, one of the brightest points in the night sky, but could not make sense of what he saw: perhaps…
Tristan and Iseult
Dec 31, 2015 • 45 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Tristan and Iseult, one of the most popular stories of the Middle Ages. From roots in Celtic myth, it passed into written form in Britain a century after the Norman Conquest and almost immediately spread throughout northern…
Michael Faraday
Dec 24, 2015 • 45 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the eminent 19th-century scientist Michael Faraday. Born into a poor working-class family, he received little formal schooling but became interested in science while working as a bookbinder’s apprentice. He is celebrated…
Circadian Rhythms
Dec 17, 2015 • 48 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the evolution and role of Circadian Rhythms, the so-called body clock that influences an organism’s daily cycle of physical, behavioural and mental changes. The rhythms are generated within organisms and also in…
Chinese Legalism
Dec 10, 2015 • 45 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the origins and rise of Legalism in China, from the start of the Warring States Period (c475 - 221 BC) to the time of The First Emperor Qin Shi Huang (pictured), down to Chairman Mao and the present day. Advanced by the Qin…
Voyages of James Cook
Dec 3, 2015 • 47 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the scientific advances made in the three voyages of Captain James Cook, from 1768 to 1779. Cook’s voyages astonished Europeans, bringing back detailed knowledge of the Pacific and its people, from the Antarctic to the…
The Salem Witch Trials
Nov 26, 2015 • 45 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the outbreak of witch trials in Massachusetts in 1692-3, centred on Salem, which led to the execution of twenty people, with more dying in prison before or after trial. Some were men, including Giles Corey who died after…
Emma
Nov 19, 2015 • 47 min
“Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her.” So begins…
The Battle of Lepanto
Nov 12, 2015 • 48 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss The Battle of Lepanto, 1571, the last great sea battle between galleys, in which the Catholic fleet of the Holy League of principally Venice, Spain, the Papal States, Malta, Genoa, and Savoy defeated the Ottoman forces of…
P v NP
Nov 5, 2015 • 45 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the problem of P versus NP, which has a bearing on online security. There is a $1,000,000 prize on offer from the Clay Mathematical Institute for the first person to come up with a complete solution. At its heart is the…
The Empire of Mali
Oct 29, 2015 • 47 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Empire of Mali which flourished from 1200 to 1600 and was famous in the wider world for the wealth of rulers such as Mansa Musa. Mali was the largest empire in west Africa and for almost 400 years controlled the flow of…
Simone de Beauvoir
Oct 22, 2015 • 46 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Simone de Beauvoir. “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman,” she wrote in her best known and most influential work, The Second Sex, her exploration of what it means to be a woman in a world defined by men. Published…
Holbein at the Tudor Court
Oct 15, 2015 • 46 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the life and work of Hans Holbein the Younger (1497-1543) during his two extended stays in England, when he worked at the Tudor Court and became the King’s painter. Holbein created some of the most significant portraits of…
Alexander the Great
Oct 1, 2015 • 47 min
Alexander the Great is one of the most celebrated military commanders in history. Born into the Macedonian royal family in 356 BC, he gained control of Greece and went on to conquer the Persian Empire, defeating its powerful king, Darius III. At its peak,…
Perpetual Motion
Sep 24, 2015 • 45 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the rise of the idea of perpetual motion and its decline, in the 19th Century, with the Laws of Thermodynamics. For hundreds of years, some of the greatest names in science thought there might be machines that could power…
Frida Kahlo
Jul 9, 2015 • 45 min
Born near Mexico City in 1907, Frida Kahlo is considered one of Mexico’s greatest artists. She took up painting after a bus accident left her severely injured, was a Communist, married Diego Rivera, a celebrated muralist, became friends with Trotsky and…
Frederick the Great
Jul 2, 2015 • 48 min
Frederick the Great ruled Prussia from 1740 until his death in 1786. Born in 1712, he increased the power of the state, he made Prussia the leading military power in Europe and his bold campaigns had great implications for the European political…
Extremophiles
Jun 25, 2015 • 46 min
In 1977, scientists in the submersible “Alvin” were exploring the deep ocean bed off the Galapagos Islands. In the dark, they discovered hydrothermal vents, like chimneys, from which superheated water flowed. Around the vents there was an extraordinary…
Jane Eyre
Jun 18, 2015 • 45 min
The story of Jane Eyre is one of the best-known in English fiction. Jane is the orphan who survives a miserable early life, first with her aunt at Gateshead Hall and then at Lowood School. She leaves the school for Thornfield Hall, to become governess to…
Utilitarianism
Jun 11, 2015 • 43 min
A moral theory that emphasises ends over means, Utilitarianism holds that a good act is one that increases pleasure in the world and decreases pain. The tradition flourished in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries with Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart…
Prester John
Jun 4, 2015 • 44 min
In the Middle Ages, Prester John was seen as the great hope for Crusaders struggling to hold on to, then regain, Jerusalem. He was thought to rule a lost Christian kingdom somewhere in the East and was ready to attack Muslim opponents with his enormous…
The Science of Glass
May 28, 2015 • 45 min
While glass items have been made for at least 5,000 years, scientists are yet to explain, conclusively, what happens when the substance it’s made from moves from a molten state to its hard, transparent phase. It is said to be one of the great unsolved…
Josephus
May 21, 2015 • 45 min
It is said that, in Britain from the 18th Century, copies of Josephus’ works were as widespread and as well read as The Bible. Christians valued “The Antiquities of the Jews” in particular, for the retelling of parts of the Old Testament and apparently…
The Lancashire Cotton Famine
May 14, 2015 • 45 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Cotton Famine in Lancashire from 1861-65. The Famine followed the blockade of Confederate Southern ports during the American Civil War which stopped the flow of cotton into mills in Britain and Europe. Reports at the…
Tagore
May 7, 2015 • 46 min
Rabindranath Tagore was the first non-European to win a Nobel Prize for Literature. He has been called one of the outstanding thinkers of the 20th century and the greatest poet India has ever produced. His Nobel followed publication of Gitanjali, his…
The Earth’s Core
Apr 30, 2015 • 46 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Earth’s Core. The inner core is an extremely dense, solid ball of iron and nickel, the size of the Moon, while the outer core is a flowing liquid, the size of Mars. Thanks to the magnetic fields produced within the…
Fanny Burney
Apr 23, 2015 • 44 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the life and work of the 18th-century novelist, playwright and diarist Fanny Burney, also known as Madame D’Arblay and Frances Burney. Her first novel, Evelina, was published anonymously and caused a sensation,…
Matteo Ricci and the Ming Dynasty
Apr 16, 2015 • 45 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the life of Matteo Ricci, a Jesuit priest who in the 16th century led a Christian mission to China. An accomplished scholar, Ricci travelled extensively and came into contact with senior officials of the Ming Dynasty…
Sappho
Apr 9, 2015 • 46 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Greek poet Sappho. Born in the late seventh century BC, Sappho spent much of her life on the island of Lesbos. In antiquity she was famed as one of the greatest lyric poets, but owing to a series of accidents the…
The California Gold Rush
Apr 2, 2015 • 45 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the California Gold Rush. In 1849 the recent discovery of gold at Coloma, near Sacramento in California, led to a massive influx of prospectors seeking to make their fortunes. Within a couple of years the tiny…
The Curies
Mar 26, 2015 • 47 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the scientific achievements of the Curie family. In 1903 Marie and Pierre Curie shared a Nobel Prize in Physics with Henri Becquerel for their work on radioactivity, a term which Marie coined. Marie went on to win a…
Al-Ghazali
Mar 19, 2015 • 44 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the life and work of Al-Ghazali, a major philosopher and theologian of the late 11th century. Born in Persia, he was one of the most prominent intellectuals of his age, working in such centres of learning as Baghdad,…
Dark Matter
Mar 12, 2015 • 45 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss dark matter, the mysterious and invisible substance which is believed to make up most of the Universe. In 1932 the Dutch astronomer Jan Oort noticed that the speed at which galaxies moved was at odds with the amount of…
Beowulf
Mar 5, 2015 • 46 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the epic poem Beowulf, one of the masterpieces of Anglo-Saxon literature. Composed in the early Middle Ages by an anonymous poet, the work tells the story of a Scandinavian hero whose feats include battles with the…
The Eunuch
Feb 26, 2015 • 46 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the history and significance of eunuchs, castrated men who were a common feature of many civilisations for at least three thousand years. Eunuchs were typically employed as servants in royal households in the ancient…
The Wealth of Nations
Feb 19, 2015 • 46 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Adam Smith’s celebrated economic treatise The Wealth of Nations. Smith was one of Scotland’s greatest thinkers, a moral philosopher and pioneer of economic theory whose 1776 masterpiece has come to define classical…
The Photon
Feb 12, 2015 • 45 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the photon, one of the most enigmatic objects in the Universe. Generations of scientists have struggled to understand the nature of light. In the late nineteenth century it seemed clear that light was an electromagnetic…
Ashoka the Great
Feb 5, 2015 • 46 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Indian Emperor Ashoka. Active in the 3rd century BC, Ashoka conquered almost all of the landmass covered by modern-day India, creating the largest empire South Asia had ever known. After his campaign of conquest he…
Thucydides
Jan 29, 2015 • 45 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the ancient Greek historian Thucydides. In the fifth century BC Thucydides wrote The History of the Peloponnesian War, an account of a conflict in which he had himself taken part. This work is now seen as one of the…
Phenomenology
Jan 22, 2015 • 46 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss phenomenology, a style of philosophy developed by the German thinker Edmund Husserl in the first decades of the 20th century. Husserl’s initial insights underwent a radical transformation in the work of his student Martin…
Bruegel’s The Fight Between Carnival and Lent
Jan 15, 2015 • 45 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s painting of 1559, ‘The Fight Between Carnival And Lent’. Created in Antwerp at a time of religious tension between Catholics and Protestants, the painting is rich in detail and seems ripe for…
Truth
Dec 18, 2014 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the philosophy of truth. Pontius Pilate famously asked: what is truth? In the twentieth century, the nature of truth became a subject of particular interest to philosophers, but they preferred to ask a slightly…
Behavioural Ecology
Dec 11, 2014 • 45 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Behavioural Ecology, the scientific study of animal behaviour. What factors influence where and what an animal chooses to eat? Why do some animals mate for life whilst others are promiscuous? Behavioural ecologists approach…
Zen
Dec 4, 2014 • 45 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Zen. It’s often thought of as a form of Buddhism that emphasises the practice of meditation over any particular set of beliefs. In fact Zen belongs to a particular intellectual tradition within Buddhism that took root in…
Kafka’s The Trial
Nov 27, 2014 • 43 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Franz Kafka’s novel of power and alienation ‘The Trial’, in which readers follow the protagonist Joseph K into a bizarre, nightmarish world in which he stands accused of an unknown crime; courts of interrogation convene in…
Aesop
Nov 20, 2014 • 45 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Aesop. According to some accounts, Aesop was a strikingly ugly slave who was dumb until granted the power of speech by the goddess Isis. In stories of his life he’s often found outwitting his masters using clever wordplay,…
Brunel
Nov 13, 2014 • 44 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the Victorian engineer responsible for bridges, tunnels and railways still in use today more than 150 years after they were built. Brunel represented the cutting edge of technological innovation in…
Hatshepsut
Nov 6, 2014 • 45 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Egyptian pharaoh Hatshepsut, whose name means ‘foremost of noble ladies’. She ruled Egypt from about 1479 - 1458 BC and some scholars argue that she was one of the most successful and influential pharaohs. When she came…
Nuclear Fusion
Oct 30, 2014 • 46 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss nuclear fusion, the process that powers stars. In the 1920s physicists predicted that it might be possible to generate huge amounts of energy by fusing atomic nuclei together, a reaction requiring enormous temperatures…
The Haitian Revolution
Oct 23, 2014 • 46 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Haitian Revolution. In 1791 an uprising began in the French colonial territory of St Domingue. Partly a consequence of the French Revolution and partly a backlash against the brutality of slave owners, it turned…
Rudyard Kipling
Oct 16, 2014 • 45 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the life and work of Rudyard Kipling. Born in Bombay in 1865, Kipling has been described as the poet of Empire, celebrated for fictional works including Kim and The Jungle Book. Today his poem ‘If—’ remains one of the…
The Battle of Talas
Oct 9, 2014 • 45 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Battle of Talas, a significant encounter between Arab and Chinese forces which took place in central Asia in 751 AD. It brought together two mighty empires, the Abbasid Caliphate and the Tang Dynasty, and although…
Julius Caesar
Oct 2, 2014 • 46 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the life, work and reputation of Julius Caesar. Famously assassinated as he entered the Roman senate on the Ides of March, 44 BC, Caesar was an inspirational general who conquered much of Europe. He was a ruthless and…
e
Sep 25, 2014 • 45 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Euler’s number, also known as e. First discovered in the seventeenth century by the Swiss mathematician Jacob Bernoulli when he was studying compound interest, e is now recognised as one of the most important and…
The Sun
Jul 10, 2014 • 47 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Sun. The object that gives the Earth its light and heat is a massive ball of gas and plasma 93 million miles away. Thanks to the nuclear fusion reactions taking place at its core, the Sun has been shining for four…
Mrs Dalloway
Jul 3, 2014 • 45 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Virginia Woolf’s novel Mrs Dalloway. First published in 1925, it charts a single day in the life of Clarissa Dalloway, a prosperous member of London society, as she prepares to throw a party. Writing in her diary during…
Hildegard of Bingen
Jun 26, 2014 • 44 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss one of the most remarkable figures of the Middle Ages, Hildegard of Bingen. The abbess of a Benedictine convent, Hildegard experienced a series of mystical visions which she documented in her writings. She was an…
The Philosophy of Solitude
Jun 19, 2014 • 47 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the philosophy of solitude. The state of being alone can arise for many different reasons: imprisonment, exile or personal choice. It can be prompted by religious belief, personal necessity or a philosophical need for…
Robert Boyle
Jun 12, 2014 • 46 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the life and work of Robert Boyle, a pioneering scientist and a founder member of the Royal Society. Born in Ireland in 1627, Boyle was one of the first natural philosophers to conduct rigorous experiments, laid the…
The Bluestockings
Jun 5, 2014 • 46 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Bluestockings. Around the middle of the eighteenth century a small group of intellectual women began to meet regularly to discuss literature and other matters, inviting some of the leading thinkers of the day to…
The Talmud
May 29, 2014 • 47 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the history and contents of the Talmud, one of the most important texts of Judaism. The Talmud was probably written down over a period of several hundred years, beginning in the 2nd century. It contains the…
The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam
May 22, 2014 • 47 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. In 1859 the poet Edward FitzGerald published a long poem based on the verses of the 11th-century Persian scholar Omar Khayyam. Not a single copy was sold in the first few months after the…
Photosynthesis
May 15, 2014 • 46 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss photosynthesis, the process by which green plants and many other organisms use sunlight to synthesise organic molecules. Photosynthesis arose very early in evolutionary history and has been a crucial driver of life on…
The Sino-Japanese War
May 8, 2014 • 46 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Sino-Japanese War of 1937-45. After several years of rising tension, and the Japanese occupation of Manchuria, full-scale war between Japan and China broke out in the summer of 1937. The Japanese captured many major…
The Tale of Sinuhe
May 1, 2014 • 47 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss The Tale of Sinuhe, one of the most celebrated works of ancient Egyptian literature. Written around four thousand years ago, the poem narrates the story of an Egyptian official who is exiled to Syria before returning to…
Tristram Shandy
Apr 24, 2014 • 47 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Laurence Sterne’s novel Tristram Shandy. Sterne’s comic masterpiece is an extravagantly inventive work which was hugely popular when first published in 1759. Its often bawdy humour, and numerous digressions, are…
The Domesday Book
Apr 17, 2014 • 47 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Domesday Book, a vast survey of the land and property of much of England and Wales completed in 1086. Twenty years after the Battle of Hastings, William the Conqueror sent officials to most of his new territories to…
Strabo’s Geographica
Apr 10, 2014 • 47 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Strabo’s Geographica. Written almost exactly two thousand years ago by a Greek scholar living in Rome, the Geographica is an ambitious attempt to describe the entire world known to the Romans and Greeks at that time.…
States of Matter
Apr 3, 2014 • 47 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the science of matter and the states in which it can exist. Most people are familiar with the idea that a substance like water can exist in solid, liquid and gaseous forms. But as much as 99% of the matter in the…
Weber’s The Protestant Ethic
Mar 27, 2014 • 50 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Max Weber’s book the Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Published in 1905, Weber’s essay proposed that Protestantism had been a significant factor in the emergence of capitalism, making an explicit…
Bishop Berkeley
Mar 20, 2014 • 47 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the work of George Berkeley, an Anglican bishop who was one of the most important philosophers of the eighteenth century. Bishop Berkeley believed that objects only truly exist in the mind of somebody who perceives them…
The Trinity
Mar 13, 2014 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Trinity. The idea that God is a single entity, but one known in three distinct forms - Father, Son and Holy Spirit - has been a central belief for most Christians since the earliest years of the religion. The…
Spartacus
Mar 6, 2014 • 41 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the life of Spartacus, the gladiator who led a major slave rebellion against the Roman Republic in the 1st century BC. He was an accomplished military leader, and the campaign he led contributed significantly to the…
The Eye
Feb 27, 2014 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the eye. Humans have been attempting to understand the workings and significance of the organ for at least 2500 years. Some ancient philosophers believed that the eye enabled creatures to see by emitting its own light.…
Social Darwinism
Feb 20, 2014 • 41 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Social Darwinism. After the publication of Charles Darwin’s masterpiece On the Origin of Species in 1859, some thinkers argued that Darwin’s ideas about evolution could also be applied to human society. One thinker…
Chivalry
Feb 13, 2014 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss chivalry, the moral code observed by knights of the Middle Ages. Chivalry originated in the military practices of aristocratic French and German soldiers, but developed into an elaborate system governing many different…
The Phoenicians
Feb 6, 2014 • 41 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Phoenicians. The Greek historian Herodotus wrote about a people from the Levant who were accomplished sailors and traders, and who taught the Greeks their alphabet. He called them the Phoenicians, the Greek word for…
Catastrophism
Jan 30, 2014 • 41 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Catastrophism, the idea that natural disasters have had a significant influence in moulding the Earth’s geological features. In 1822 William Buckland, the first reader of Geology at the University of Oxford, published…
Sources of Early Chinese History
Jan 23, 2014 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the sources for early Chinese history. The first attempts to make a record of historical events in China date from the Shang dynasty of the second millennium BC. The earliest surviving records were inscribed on bones or…
The Battle of Tours
Jan 16, 2014 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Battle of Tours. In 732 a large Arab army invaded Gaul from northern Spain, and travelled as far north as Poitiers. There they were defeated by Charles Martel, whose Frankish and Burgundian forces repelled the…
Plato’s Symposium
Jan 2, 2014 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Plato’s Symposium, one of the Greek philosopher’s most celebrated works. Written in the 4th century BC, it is a dialogue set at a dinner party attended by a number of prominent ancient Athenians, including the…
The Medici
Dec 26, 2013 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Medici family, who dominated Florence’s political and cultural life for three centuries. The House of Medici came to prominence in Italy in the fifteenth century as a result of the wealth they had built up through…
Complexity
Dec 19, 2013 • 41 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss complexity and how it can help us understand the world around us. When living beings come together and act in a group, they do so in complicated and unpredictable ways: societies often behave very differently from the…
Pliny the Younger
Dec 12, 2013 • 41 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the life and work of Pliny the Younger, famous for his letters. A prominent lawyer in Rome in the first century AD, Pliny later became governor of the province of Bithynia, on the Black Sea coast of modern Turkey.…
Hindu Ideas of Creation
Dec 5, 2013 • 41 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Hindu ideas about Creation. According to most Western religious traditions, a deity was the original creator of the Universe. Hinduism, on the other hand, has no single creation story. For thousands of years, Hindu…
The Microscope
Nov 28, 2013 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the development of the microscope, an instrument which has revolutionised our knowledge of the world and the organisms that inhabit it. In the seventeenth century the pioneering work of two scientists, the Dutchman…
Pocahontas
Nov 21, 2013 • 41 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the life of Pocahontas, the Native American woman who to English eyes became a symbol of the New World. During the colonisation of Virginia in the first years of the seventeenth century, Pocahontas famously saved the…
The Tempest
Nov 14, 2013 • 41 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Shakespeare’s play The Tempest. Written in around 1610, it is thought to be one of the playwright’s final works and contains some of the most poetic and memorable passages in all his output. It was influenced by…
Ordinary Language Philosophy
Nov 7, 2013 • 41 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Ordinary Language Philosophy, a school of thought which emerged in Oxford in the years following World War II. With its roots in the work of Ludwig Wittgenstein, Ordinary Language Philosophy is concerned with the…
The Berlin Conference
Oct 31, 2013 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Berlin Conference of 1884. In the 1880s, as colonial powers attempted to increase their spheres of influence in Africa, tensions began to grow between European nations including Britain, Belgium and France. In 1884…
The Corn Laws
Oct 24, 2013 • 41 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Corn Laws. In 1815 the British Government passed legislation which artificially inflated the price of corn. The measure was supported by landowners but strongly opposed by manufacturers and the urban working class.…
The Book of Common Prayer
Oct 17, 2013 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Book of Common Prayer. In 1549, at the height of the English Reformation, a new prayer book was published containing versions of the liturgy in English. Generally believed to have been supervised by Thomas Cranmer,…
Galen
Oct 10, 2013 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Roman physician and medical theorist Galen. The most celebrated doctor in the ancient world, Galen was Greek by birth but spent most of his career in Rome, where he was personal physician to three Emperors. He was…
Exoplanets
Oct 3, 2013 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss exoplanets. Astronomers have speculated about the existence of planets beyond our solar system for centuries. Although strenuous efforts were made to find such planets orbiting distant stars, it was not until the 1990s…
The Mamluks
Sep 26, 2013 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Mamluks, who ruled Egypt and Syria from about 1250 to 1517. Originally slave soldiers who managed to depose their masters, they went on to repel the Mongols and the Crusaders to become the dominant force in the…
Pascal
Sep 19, 2013 • 41 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests begin a new series of the programme with a discussion of the French polymath Blaise Pascal. Born in 1623, Pascal was a brilliant mathematician and scientist, inventing one of the first mechanical calculators and making…
The Invention of Radio
Jul 4, 2013 • 41 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the invention of radio. In the early 1860s the Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell derived four equations which together describe the behaviour of electricity and magnetism. They predicted the existence of a…
Romance of the Three Kingdoms
Jun 27, 2013 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, widely regarded as one of the greatest works of Chinese literature. Written 600 years ago, it is an historical novel that tells the story of a tumultuous period in Chinese history, the…
The Physiocrats
Jun 20, 2013 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Physiocrats, an important group of economic thinkers in eighteenth-century France. The Physiocrats believed that the land was the ultimate source of all wealth, and crucially that markets should not be constrained…
Prophecy
Jun 13, 2013 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the meaning and significance of prophecy in the Abrahamic religions. Prophets, those with the ability to convey divinely-inspired revelation, are significant figures in the Hebrew Bible and later became important not…
Relativity
Jun 6, 2013 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Einstein’s theories of relativity. Between 1905 and 1917 Albert Einstein formulated a theoretical framework which transformed our understanding of the Universe. The twin theories of Special and General Relativity…
Queen Zenobia
May 30, 2013 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Queen Zenobia, a famous military leader of the ancient world. Born in around 240 AD, Zenobia was Empress of the Palmyrene Empire in the Middle East. A highly educated, intelligent and militarily accomplished leader, she…
Lévi-Strauss
May 23, 2013 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the work of the anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss. One of twentieth-century France’s most celebrated intellectuals, Lévi-Strauss attempted to show in his work that thought processes were a feature universal to humans,…
Cosmic Rays
May 16, 2013 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss cosmic rays. In 1912 the physicist Victor Hess discovered that the Earth is under constant bombardment from radiation coming from outside our atmosphere. These so-called cosmic rays have been known to cause damage to…
Icelandic Sagas
May 9, 2013 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Icelandic Sagas. First written down in the 13th century, the sagas tell the stories of the Norse settlers of Iceland, who began to arrive on the island in the late 9th century. They contain some of the richest and…
Gnosticism
May 2, 2013 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Gnosticism, a sect associated with early Christianity. The Gnostics divided the universe into two domains: the visible world and the spiritual one. They believed that a special sort of knowledge, or gnosis, would enable…
Montaigne
Apr 25, 2013 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Essays of Michel de Montaigne. Born near Bordeaux in 1533, Montaigne retired from a life of public service aged 38 and began to write. He called these short works ‘essais’, or ‘attempts’; they deal with an eclectic…
The Putney Debates
Apr 18, 2013 • 41 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Putney Debates. For several weeks in late 1647, after the defeat of King Charles I in the first hostilities of the Civil War, representatives of the New Model Army and the radical Levellers met in a church in Putney…
The Amazons
Apr 11, 2013 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Amazons, a tribe of formidable female warriors first described in Greek literature. They appear in the Homeric epics and were described by Herodotus, and featured prominently in the decoration of Greek vases and…
Japan’s Sakoku Period
Apr 4, 2013 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Japan’s Sakoku period, two centuries when the country deliberately isolated itself from the Western world. Sakoku began with a series of edicts in the 1630s which restricted the rights of Japanese to leave their country…
Water
Mar 28, 2013 • 39 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss one of the simplest and most remarkable of all molecules: water. Water is among the most abundant substances on Earth, covering more than two-thirds of the planet. Consisting of just three atoms, the water molecule is…
Alfred Russel Wallace
Mar 21, 2013 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the work of Alfred Russel Wallace, a pioneer of evolutionary theory. Born in 1823, Wallace travelled extensively, charting the distribution of animal species throughout the world. This fieldwork in the Amazon and later…
Chekhov
Mar 14, 2013 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the life and work of Anton Chekhov. Born in 1860, Chekhov trained as a doctor and for most of his adult life divided his time between medicine and writing. Best known for plays including The Cherry Orchard and Three…
Absolute Zero
Mar 7, 2013 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss absolute zero, the lowest conceivable temperature. In the early eighteenth century the French physicist Guillaume Amontons suggested that temperature had a lower limit. The subject of low temperature became a fertile…
Pitt-Rivers
Feb 28, 2013 • 41 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the life and work of the Victorian anthropologist and archaeologist Augustus Pitt-Rivers. Over many years he amassed thousands of ethnographic and archaeological objects, some of which formed the founding collection of…
Decline and Fall
Feb 21, 2013 • 41 min
David Bradshaw, John Bowen and Ann Pasternak Slater join Melvyn Bragg to discuss Evelyn Waugh’s comic novel Decline and Fall. Set partly in a substandard boys’ public school, the novel is a vivid, often riotous portrait of 1920s Britain. Its themes,…
Ice Ages
Feb 14, 2013 • 42 min
Jane Francis, Richard Corfield and Carrie Lear join Melvyn Bragg to discuss ice ages, periods when a reduction in the surface temperature of the Earth has resulted in ice sheets at the Poles. Although the term ‘ice age’ is commonly associated with…
Epicureanism
Feb 7, 2013 • 42 min
Angie Hobbs, David Sedley and James Warren join Melvyn Bragg to discuss Epicureanism, the system of philosophy based on the teachings of Epicurus and founded in Athens in the fourth century BC. Epicurus outlined a comprehensive philosophical system based…
The War of 1812
Jan 31, 2013 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the War of 1812, the conflict between America and the British Empire sometimes referred to as the second American War of Independence. In June 1812, President James Madison declared war on Britain, angered by the…
Romulus and Remus
Jan 24, 2013 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Romulus and Remus, the central figures of the foundation myth of Rome. According to tradition, the twins were abandoned by their parents as babies, but were saved by a she-wolf who found and nursed them. Romulus killed…
Comets
Jan 17, 2013 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss comets, the ‘dirty snowballs’ of the Solar System. In the early 18th century the Astronomer Royal Sir Edmond Halley compiled a list of appearances of comets, bright objects like stars with long tails which are…
Le Morte d’Arthur
Jan 10, 2013 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Thomas Malory’s “Le Morte Darthur”, the epic tale of King Arthur and his knights of the Round Table. Sir Thomas Malory was a knight from Warwickshire, a respectable country gentleman and MP in the 1440s who later turned…
The Cult of Mithras
Dec 27, 2012 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the cult of Mithras, a mystery religion that existed in the Roman Empire from the 1st to the 4th centuries AD. Also known as the Mysteries of Mithras, its origins are uncertain. Academics have suggested a link with the…
The South Sea Bubble
Dec 20, 2012 • 41 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss The South Sea Bubble, the speculation mania in early 18th-century England which ended in the financial ruin of many of its investors. The South Sea Company was founded in 1711 with a view to restructuring government…
Shahnameh of Ferdowsi
Dec 13, 2012 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the epic poem the Shahnameh of Ferdowsi, the ‘Book of Kings’, which has been at the heart of Persian culture for the past thousand years. The poem recounts a legendary history of Iran from the dawn of time to the fall…
Bertrand Russell
Dec 6, 2012 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the influential British philosopher Bertrand Russell. Born in 1872 into an aristocratic family, Russell is widely regarded as one of the founders of Analytic philosophy, which is today the dominant philosophical…
Crystallography
Nov 28, 2012 • 41 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the history of crystallography, the study of crystals and their structure. The discovery in the early 20th century that X-rays could be diffracted by a crystal revolutionised our knowledge of materials. This crystal…
The Borgias
Nov 22, 2012 • 41 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Borgias, the most notorious family in Renaissance Italy. Famed for their treachery and corruption, the Borgias produced two popes during their time of dominance in Rome in the late 15th century. The most well-known…
Simone Weil
Nov 15, 2012 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the French philosopher and social activist Simone Weil. Born in Paris in 1909 into a wealthy, agnostic Jewish family, Weil was a precocious child and attended the prestigious Ecole Normale Superieure in Paris, achieving…
The Upanishads
Nov 8, 2012 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Upanishads, the ancient sacred texts of Hinduism. Dating from about 700 BC, the Upanishads were passed down through an oral tradition in priestly castes and were not written down until the 6th century AD. They…
The Anarchy
Nov 1, 2012 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss The Anarchy, the civil war that took place in mid-twelfth century England. The war began as a succession dispute between the Empress Matilda, daughter of Henry I, and her cousin, Stephen of Blois. On Henry’s death…
Fermat’s Last Theorem
Oct 25, 2012 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Fermat’s Last Theorem. In 1637 the French mathematician Pierre de Fermat scribbled a note in the margin of one of his books. He claimed to have proved a remarkable property of numbers, but gave no clue as to how he’d…
Caxton and the Printing Press
Oct 18, 2012 • 41 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the life and influence of William Caxton, the merchant who brought the printing press to the British Isles. After spending several years working as a printer in Bruges, Caxton returned to London and in 1476 set up his…
Hannibal
Oct 11, 2012 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the life and achievements of Hannibal. One of the most celebrated military leaders in history, Hannibal was the Carthaginian general who led an entire army, complete with elephants, across the Alps in order to attack…
Gerald of Wales
Oct 4, 2012 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the medieval scholar Gerald of Wales. Born around the middle of the twelfth century, Gerald was a cleric and courtier. For much of his life he was close to Henry II and the Church hierarchy, and wrote accounts of…
The Ontological Argument
Sep 27, 2012 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Ontological Argument. In the eleventh century St Anselm of Canterbury proposed that it was possible to prove the existence of God using reason alone. His argument was ridiculed by some of his contemporaries, but was…
The Druids
Sep 20, 2012 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Druids, the priests of ancient Europe. Active in Ireland, Britain and Gaul, the Druids were first written about by Roman authors including Julius Caesar and Pliny, who described them as wearing white robes and…
The Cell
Sep 13, 2012 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the cell, the fundamental building block of life. First observed by Robert Hooke in 1665, cells occur in nature in a bewildering variety of forms. Every organism alive today consists of one or more cells: a single human…
Hadrian’s Wall
Jul 12, 2012 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Hadrian’s Wall, the largest Roman structure and one of the most important archaeological monuments in Britain. Stretching for eighty miles from the mouth of the River Tyne to the Solway Firth and classified today as a…
Scepticism
Jul 5, 2012 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Scepticism, the idea that it may be impossible to know anything with complete certainty. Scepticism was first outlined by ancient Greek philosophers: Socrates is reported to have said that the only thing he knew for…
Al-Kindi
Jun 28, 2012 • 41 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the life and work of the Arab philosopher al-Kindi. Born in the early ninth century, al-Kindi was heavily influenced by Greek philosophy and supervised the translation of many works by Aristotle and others into Arabic.…
Annie Besant
Jun 21, 2012 • 41 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the life of the prominent 19th-century social reformer Annie Besant. Born in 1847, Annie Besant espoused a range of causes including secularism, women’s rights, Socialism, Irish Home Rule, birth control and better…
James Joyce’s Ulysses
Jun 14, 2012 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss James Joyce’s novel Ulysses. First published ninety years ago in Paris, Joyce’s masterpiece is a sprawling and startlingly original work charting a single day in the life of the Dubliner Leopold Bloom. Some early…
King Solomon
Jun 7, 2012 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the biblical king Solomon, celebrated for his wisdom and as the architect of the First Temple in Jerusalem. According to the Old Testament account of his life, Solomon was chosen as his father David’s successor as…
The Trojan War
May 31, 2012 • 41 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Trojan War, one of the best known events of Greek mythology. According to the traditional version of the story, the war began when a Trojan prince, Paris, eloped with the Spartan queen Helen. A Greek army besieged…
Marco Polo
May 24, 2012 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the celebrated Venetian explorer Marco Polo. In 1271 Polo set off on an epic journey through Asia. He was away for more than twenty years, and when he returned to Venice he told extraordinary tales of his adventures. He…
Clausewitz and On War
May 17, 2012 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss On War, a treatise on the theory and practice of warfare written by the Prussian soldier and intellectual Carl von Clausewitz. First published in 1832, Clausewitz’s magnum opus is commonly regarded as the most important…
Game Theory
May 10, 2012 • 41 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss game theory, the mathematical study of decision-making. First formulated in the 1940s, the discipline entails devising ‘games’ to simulate situations of conflict or cooperation. It allows researchers to unravel…
Voltaire’s Candide
May 3, 2012 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Voltaire’s novel Candide. First published in 1759, the novel follows the adventures of a young man, Candide, and his mentor, the philosopher Pangloss. Candide was written in the aftermath of a major earthquake in Lisbon…
The Battle of Bosworth Field
Apr 26, 2012 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Battle of Bosworth Field, the celebrated encounter between Lancastrian and Yorkist forces in August 1485. The battle, the penultimate of the Wars of the Roses, resulted in the death of Richard III. The victory of…
Neoplatonism
Apr 19, 2012 • 41 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Neoplatonism, the school of thought founded in the 3rd century AD by the philosopher Plotinus. Born in Egypt, Plotinus was brought up in the Platonic tradition, studying and reinterpreting the works of the Greek thinker…
Early Geology
Apr 12, 2012 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the emergence of geology as a scientific discipline. A little over two hundred years ago a small group of friends founded the Geological Society of London. This organisation was the first devoted to furthering the…
George Fox and the Quakers
Apr 5, 2012 • 41 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the origins of Quakerism. In the mid-seventeenth century an itinerant preacher, George Fox, became the central figure of a group known as the Religious Society of Friends, whose members believed it was possible to…
The Measurement of Time
Mar 29, 2012 • 41 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the measurement of time. Early civilisations used the movements of heavenly bodies to tell the time, but even in the ancient world more sophisticated timekeeping devices such as waterclocks were known. The development…
Moses Mendelssohn
Mar 22, 2012 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the work and influence of the eighteenth-century philosopher Moses Mendelssohn. A prominent figure at the court of Frederick the Great, Mendelssohn was one of the most significant thinkers of his age. He came from a…
Vitruvius and De Architectura
Mar 15, 2012 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Vitruvius’ De Architectura. Written almost exactly two thousand years ago, Vitruvius’ work is a ten-volume treatise on engineering and architecture, the only surviving work on the subject from the ancient world. This…
Lyrical Ballads
Mar 8, 2012 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Lyrical Ballads, the collection of poems by William Wordsworth and Samuel Coleridge first published in 1798. The work was conceived as an attempt to cast off the stultifying conventions of formal 18th-century poetry.…
Benjamin Franklin
Mar 1, 2012 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the life and work of Benjamin Franklin. A printer, statesman, diplomat, writer and scientist, Franklin was one of the most remarkable individuals of the eighteenth century. His discoveries relating to the nature of…
Conductors and Semiconductors
Feb 23, 2012 • 41 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the physics of electrical conduction. Although electricity has been known for several hundred years, it was only in the early twentieth century that physicists first satisfactorily explained the phenomenon. Electric…
The An Lushan Rebellion
Feb 16, 2012 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the An Lushan Rebellion, a major uprising against the imperial rule of the Chinese Tang Dynasty. In 755 AD a senior general, An Lushan, orchestrated a plot against Emperor Xuanzong, taking the regime’s capital city…
Erasmus
Feb 9, 2012 • 41 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the life and work of the Dutch humanist scholar Desiderius Erasmus. In his lifetime Erasmus was almost universally recognised as the greatest classical scholar of his age, the translator and editor of numerous Latin and…
The Kama Sutra
Feb 2, 2012 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Kama Sutra, one of the most celebrated and often misunderstood texts of Indian literature. Probably composed during the reign of the Gupta dynasty around 1800 years ago, the work is a collection of writings about…
The Scientific Method
Jan 26, 2012 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the evolution of the Scientific Method, the systematic and analytical approach to scientific thought. In 1620 the great philosopher and scientist Francis Bacon published the Novum Organum, a work outlining a new system…
1848: Year of Revolution
Jan 19, 2012 • 41 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss 1848, the year that saw Europe engulfed in revolution. Across the continent, from Paris to Palermo, liberals rose against conservative governments. The first stirrings of rebellion came in January, in Sicily; in…
The Safavid Dynasty
Jan 12, 2012 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Safavid Dynasty, rulers of the Persian empire between the 16th and 18th centuries.In 1501 Shah Ismail, a boy of fifteen, declared himself ruler of Azerbaijan. Within a year he had expanded his territory to include…
Macromolecules
Dec 29, 2011 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the giant molecules that form the basis of all life. Macromolecules, also known as polymers, are long chains of atoms. They form the proteins that make up our bodies, as well as many of the materials of modern life. Man’s…
Robinson Crusoe
Dec 22, 2011 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Daniel Defoe’s novel Robinson Crusoe. Published in 1719, it was an immediate success and is considered the classic adventure story. There are several incidents that may have inspired the tale, although none of them…
The Concordat of Worms
Dec 15, 2011 • 41 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Concordat of Worms. This treaty between the papacy and the Holy Roman Empire, signed in 1122, put an end, at least for a time, to years of power struggle and bloodshed. The wrangling between the German kings and the…
Heraclitus
Dec 8, 2011 • 41 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus. Writing in the 5th century BC, Heraclitus believed that everything is constantly changing or, as he put it, in flux. He expressed this thought in a famous epigram: “No man ever…
Christina Rossetti
Dec 1, 2011 • 41 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the life and work of the Victorian poet Christina Rossetti. Rossetti was born into an artistic family and her siblings included Dante Gabriel, one of the leading lights of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, to whose…
Judas Maccabeus
Nov 24, 2011 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the revolutionary Jewish leader Judas Maccabeus. Born in the second century BC, Judas led his followers, the Maccabees, in a rebellion against the Seleucid Empire, which was attempting to impose the Greek culture and…
Ptolemy and Ancient Astronomy
Nov 17, 2011 • 41 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the ancient Greek astronomer and mathematician Ptolemy, and consider how and why his geocentric theory of the universe held sway for so many centuries. In his seminal astronomical work, the Almagest, written in the 2nd…
The Continental-Analytic Split
Nov 10, 2011 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Continental-Analytic split in Western philosophy. Around the beginning of the last century, philosophy began to go down two separate paths, as thinkers from Continental Europe explored the legacy of figures…
The Moon
Nov 3, 2011 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the origins, science and mythology of the moon. Humans have been fascinated by our only known satellite since prehistory. In some cultures the Moon has been worshipped as a deity; in recent centuries there has been…
The Siege of Tenochtitlan
Oct 27, 2011 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Siege of Tenochtitlan. In 1521 the Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes led an army of Spanish and native forces against the city of Tenochtitlan, the spectacular island capital of the Aztec civilisation. At first…
Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People
Oct 20, 2011 • 41 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Delacroix’s painting Liberty Leading the People. In 1830 revolution once more overtook France, when a popular uprising toppled the French king Charles X. A few months later, the artist Eugene Delacroix immortalised the…
The Ming Voyages
Oct 13, 2011 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Ming Voyages. In 1405 a Chinese admiral, Zheng He, set sail with an enormous fleet of ships carrying more than 27,000 people. This was the first of seven voyages of discovery which took Zheng and his ships all over…
David Hume
Oct 6, 2011 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the work of the philosopher David Hume. A key figure in the Scottish Enlightenment of the eighteenth century, Hume was an empiricist who believed that humans can only have knowledge of things they have themselves…
The Etruscan Civilisation
Sep 29, 2011 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Etruscan civilisation.Around 800 BC a sophisticated civilisation began to emerge in the area of Italy now known as Tuscany. The Etruscans thrived for the next eight hundred years, extracting and trading copper and…
Shinto
Sep 22, 2011 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Japanese belief system Shinto.A religion without gods, scriptures or a founder, Shinto is perhaps better described as a system of belief. Central to it is the idea of kami, spirits or deities associated with places,…
The Hippocratic Oath
Sep 15, 2011 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Hippocratic Oath. The Greek physician Hippocrates, active in the fifth century BC, has been described as the father of medicine, although little is known about his life and some scholars even argue that he was not…
The Minoan Civilisation
Jul 7, 2011 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Minoan Civilisation.In 1900 the British archaeologist Arthur Evans began excavating some ancient ruins at Knossos on the island of Crete. He uncovered an enormous palace complex which reminded him of the mythical…
Tennyson’s In Memoriam
Jun 29, 2011 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s long poem In Memoriam.In 1850, shortly before his appointment as Poet Laureate, Tennyson published a work which many critics regard as his masterpiece. In Memoriam A.H.H. was written in tribute…
Malthusianism
Jun 22, 2011 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Malthusianism.In the eighteenth century, as expanding agriculture and industry resulted in a rapid increase in the European population, a number of writers began to consider the implications of this rise in numbers.…
Wyclif and the Lollards
Jun 16, 2011 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss John Wyclif and the Lollards.John Wyclif was a medieval philosopher and theologian who in the fourteenth century instigated the first complete English translation of the Bible. One of the most important thinkers of the…
The Origins of Infectious Disease
Jun 8, 2011 • 41 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the origins of infectious disease. Infectious disease has been with us for millennia. There are reports of ancient outbreaks of plague in the Bible, and in numerous historical sources from China, the Middle East and…
The Battle of Stamford Bridge
Jun 2, 2011 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Battle of Stamford Bridge.In the first week of 1066 the English king, Edward the Confessor, died. A young nobleman, Harold Godwinson, claimed that Edward had nominated him his successor, and seized the throne. But…
Xenophon
May 26, 2011 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the life and work of Xenophon.Xenophon, an aristocratic Athenian, was one of the most celebrated writers of the ancient world. Born in around 430 BC, he was a friend and pupil of the great philosopher Socrates. In his…
Custer’s Last Stand
May 19, 2011 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Battle of the Little Bighorn, also known as Custer’s Last Stand.In 1876 a dispute between the American federal government and Native Americans over land rights led to an armed conflict now known as the Great Sioux…
The Anatomy of Melancholy
May 12, 2011 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Robert Burton’s masterpiece The Anatomy of Melancholy.In 1621 the priest and scholar Robert Burton published a book quite unlike any other. The Anatomy of Melancholy brings together almost two thousand years of…
Islamic Law and its Origins
May 5, 2011 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the origins and early development of Islamic law. The legal code of Islam is known as Sharia, an Arabic word meaning “the way”. Its sources include the Islamic holy book the Qur’an, the words and actions of the Prophet…
Cogito Ergo Sum
Apr 28, 2011 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss one of the most famous statements in philosophy: “Cogito ergo sum”.In his Discourse on the Method, published in 1637, the French polymath Rene Descartes wrote a sentence which remains familiar today even to many people…
The Pelagian Controversy
Apr 21, 2011 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Pelagian Controversy.In the late 4th century a British monk, Pelagius, travelled to Rome, where he became a theologian and teacher, revered for his learning and ascetic lifestyle. But he soon aroused the ire of some…
The Neutrino
Apr 14, 2011 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the neutrino.In 1930 the physicist Wolfgang Pauli proposed the existence of an as-yet undiscovered subatomic particle. He also bet his colleagues a case of champagne that it would never be detected. He lost his bet when…
Octavia Hill
Apr 7, 2011 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Victorian social reformer Octavia Hill.From the 1850s until her death in 1912, Octavia Hill was an energetic campaigner who did much to improve the lot of impoverished city dwellers. She was a pioneer of social…
The Bhagavad Gita
Mar 31, 2011 • 41 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Bhagavad Gita.The Bhagavad Gita, a 700-verse section of the Sanskrit epic the Mahabharata, is one of the most revered texts of Hinduism. Written in around 200 BC, it narrates a conversation between Krishna, an…
The Iron Age
Mar 24, 2011 • 41 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the dawn of the European Iron Age.In around 3000 BC European metalworkers started to make tools and weapons out of bronze. A complex trading network evolved to convey this valuable metal and other goods around the…
The Medieval University
Mar 17, 2011 • 41 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the medieval universities.In the 11th and 12th centuries a new type of institution started to appear in the major cities of Europe. The first universities were those of Bologna and Paris; within a hundred years similar…
Free Will
Mar 10, 2011 • 42 min
In the 500th edition of the programme, Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the philosophical idea of free will.Free will - the extent to which we are free to choose our own actions - is one of the most absorbing philosophical problems, debated by almost…
The Age of the Universe
Mar 3, 2011 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the age of the Universe.Since the 18th century, when scientists first realised that the Universe had existed for more than a few thousand years, cosmologists have debated its likely age. The discovery that the Universe…
The Taiping Rebellion
Feb 24, 2011 • 41 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Taiping Rebellion.In 1850 a Chinese Christian convert, Hong Xiuquan, proclaimed himself leader of a new dynasty, the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom. He and his followers marched against the ruling Qing dynasty, gathering…
Maimonides
Feb 15, 2011 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the work and influence of Maimonides.Widely regarded as the greatest Jewish philosopher of the medieval period, Maimonides was also a physician and rabbinical authority. Also known as Rambam, his writings include a…
The Nervous System
Feb 10, 2011 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the nervous system. Most animals have a nervous system, a network of nerve tissues which allows parts of the body to communicate with each other. In humans the most significant parts of this network are the brain,…
The Battle of Bannockburn
Feb 2, 2011 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Battle of Bannockburn.On June 23rd 1314, Scottish forces under their king Robert the Bruce confronted a larger army commanded by the English monarch Edward II at Bannockburn. It was the culmination of a war of…
Aristotle’s Poetics
Jan 27, 2011 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Aristotle’s Poetics. The Poetics is, as far as we know, the first ever work of literary theory. Written in the 4th century BC, it is the work of a scholar who was also a biologist, and treats literary works with the…
The Mexican Revolution
Jan 20, 2011 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Mexican Revolution.In 1908 the President of Mexico, Porfirio Diaz, gave an interview to an American journalist. He was 77 and had ruled the country in autocratic fashion for over thirty years. He discussed the…
Random and Pseudorandom
Jan 13, 2011 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss randomness and pseudorandomness.Randomness is the mathematics of the unpredictable. Dice and roulette wheels produce random numbers: those which are unpredictable and display no pattern. But mathematicians also talk of…
Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage
Jan 6, 2011 • 41 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Byron’s poem Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage.In 1812 the 24-year-old Lord Byron published the first part of a long narrative poem. It caused an instant sensation. “I awoke one morning and found myself famous”, wrote Byron in…
Consequences of the Industrial Revolution
Dec 30, 2010 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the far-reaching consequences of the Industrial Revolution. After more than a century of rapid technological change, and the massive growth of its urban centres, Britain was changed forever. Lifestyles changed as…
The Industrial Revolution
Dec 22, 2010 • 42 min
In the first of two programmes, Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Industrial Revolution.Between the middle of the eighteenth century and the early years of the nineteenth, Britain was transformed. This was a revolution, but not a political one: over…
Daoism
Dec 15, 2010 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Daoism. An ancient Chinese tradition of philosophy and religious belief, Daoism first appeared more than two thousand years ago. For centuries it was the most popular religion in China; in the West its religious aspects…
Thomas Edison
Dec 9, 2010 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the innovations and influence of Thomas Edison, one of the architects of the modern age.Edison is popularly remembered as the man who made cheap electric light possible. Born in 1847, he began his career working in the…
Cleopatra
Dec 2, 2010 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Cleopatra. The last pharaoh to rule Egypt, Cleopatra was a woman of intelligence and charisma, later celebrated as a great beauty. During an eventful life she was ousted from her throne and later restored to it with the…
History of Metaphor
Nov 25, 2010 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the history of metaphor. In Shakespeare’s As You Like It, the melancholy Jaques declares: “All the world’s a stage/And all the men and women merely players.” This is a celebrated use of metaphor, a figure of speech in…
Foxe’s Book of Martyrs
Nov 18, 2010 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss John Foxe and his book Actes and Monuments, better known today as Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. Born in 1517, John Foxe was an early Protestant who was forced to flee the persecutions which ensued when the Catholic Mary came…
The Volga Vikings
Nov 11, 2010 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Volga Vikings. Between the 8th and the 10th centuries AD, fierce Scandinavian warriors raided and then settled large swathes of Europe, particularly Britain, Ireland and parts of northern France. These were the…
Women and Enlightenment Science
Nov 4, 2010 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the role played by women in Enlightenment science. During the eighteenth century the opportunities for women to gain a knowledge of science were minimal. Universities and other institutions devoted to research were the…
The Unicorn
Oct 28, 2010 • 41 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the unicorn. In the 5th century BC a Greek historian, Ctesias, described a strange one-horned beast which he believed to live in a remote area of India. Later classical scholars, including Aristotle and Pliny, added to…
Logic
Oct 21, 2010 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the history of logic. Logic, the study of reasoning and argument, first became a serious area of study in the 4th century BC through the work of Aristotle. He created a formal logical system, based on a type of argument…
Sturm und Drang
Oct 14, 2010 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the artistic movement known as Sturm und Drang.In the 1770s a small group of German writers started to produce plays, poetry and novels which were radically different from what had gone before. These writers were all…
The Spanish Armada
Oct 7, 2010 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Spanish Armada. On May 28th, 1588, a fleet of a hundred and fifty-one Spanish ships set out from Lisbon, bound for England. Its mission was to transport a huge invasion force across the Channel: the Spanish King,…
The Delphic Oracle
Sep 30, 2010 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Delphic Oracle, the most important source of prophecies in the ancient world. In central Greece, on the flank of Mount Parnassus, lies the ruined city of Delphi. For over a thousand years, between approximately 800…
Imaginary Numbers
Sep 23, 2010 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss imaginary numbers. In the sixteenth century, a group of mathematicians in Bologna found a solution to a problem that had puzzled generations before them: a completely new kind of number. For more than a century this…
Pliny’s Natural History
Jul 8, 2010 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Pliny’s Natural History.Some time in the first century AD, the Roman scholar Pliny the Elder published his Naturalis Historia, or Natural History, an enormous reference work which attempted to bring together knowledge…
Athelstan
Jul 1, 2010 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the reign of King Athelstan.Athelstan, the grandson of Alfred the Great, came to the throne of Wessex in 925. A few years later he unified the kingdoms of England, and a decade after that defeated the Scots and styled…
Antarctica
Jun 24, 2010 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the history of Antarctica.The most southerly of the continents is the bleakest and coldest place on Earth. Almost entirely covered in ice, Antarctica spends much of the winter in total darkness.Antarctica was first…
The Neanderthals
Jun 17, 2010 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Neanderthals.In 1856, quarry workers in Germany found bones in a cave which seemed to belong to a bear or other large mammal. They were later identified as being from a previously unknown species of hominid similar…
Edmund Burke
Jun 3, 2010 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the work of the eighteenth-century philosopher, politician and writer Edmund Burke.Born in Dublin, Burke began his career in London as a journalist and made his name with two works of philosophy before entering…
Giorgio Vasari’s Lives of the Artists
May 27, 2010 • 41 min
Melvyn Bragg discusses ‘Lives of the Artists’ - the great biographer Giorgio Vasari’s study of Renaissance painters, sculptors and architects. In 1550 a little known Italian artist, Giorgio Vasari, published a revolutionary book entitled ‘Lives of the…