300 episodes

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

In Our Time BBC Podcasts

    • History
    • 4.6 • 3.8K Ratings

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

    Homo erectus

    Homo erectus

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss one of our ancestors, Homo erectus, who thrived on Earth for around two million years whereas we, Homo sapiens, emerged only in the last three hundred thousand years. Homo erectus, or Upright Man, spread from Africa to Asia and it was on the Island of Java that fossilised remains were found in 1891 in an expedition led by Dutch scientist Eugène Dubois. Homo erectus people adapted to different habitats, ate varied food, lived in groups, had stamina to outrun their prey; and discoveries have prompted many theories on the relationship between their diet and the size of their brains, on their ability as seafarers, on their creativity and on their ability to speak and otherwise communicate.

    The image above is from a diorama at the Moesgaard Museum in Denmark, depicting the Turkana Boy referred to in the programme.

    With

    Peter Kjærgaard
    Director of the Natural History Museum of Denmark and Professor of Evolutionary History at the University of Copenhagen

    José Joordens
    Senior Researcher in Human Evolution at Naturalis Biodiversity Centre and Professor of Human Evolution at Maastricht University

    And

    Mark Maslin
    Professor of Earth System Science at University College London

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

    • 51 min
    Polidori's The Vampyre

    Polidori's The Vampyre

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the influential novella of John Polidori (1795-1821) published in 1819 and attributed first to Lord Byron (1788-1824) who had started a version of it in 1816 at the Villa Diodati in the Year Without A Summer. There Byron, his personal physician Polidori, Mary and Percy Shelley and Claire Clairmont had whiled away the weeks of miserable weather by telling ghost stories, famously giving rise to Mary Shelley's 'Frankenstein'. Emerging soon after, 'The Vampyre' thrilled readers with its aristocratic Lord Ruthven who glutted his thirst with the blood of his victims, his status an abrupt change from the stories of peasant vampires of eastern and central Europe that had spread in the 18th Century with the expansion of the Austro-Hungarian empire. The connection with Lord Byron gave the novella a boost, and soon 'The Vampyre' spawned West End plays, penny dreadfuls such as 'Varney the Vampire', Bram Stoker’s 'Dracula', F.W Murnau's film 'Nosferatu A Symphony of Horror', and countless others.

    The image above is of Bela Lugosi (1882-1956) as Count Mora in Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer's 'Vampires of Prague' (1935)

    With

    Nick Groom
    Professor of Literature in English at the University of Macau

    Samantha George
    Associate Professor of Research in Literature at the University of Hertfordshire

    And

    Martyn Rady
    Professor Emeritus of Central European History at University College London

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

    • 51 min
    The Sistine Chapel

    The Sistine Chapel

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the astonishing work of Michelangelo (1477-1564) in this great chapel in the Vatican, firstly the ceiling with images from Genesis (of which the image above is a detail) and later The Last Judgement on the altar wall. For the Papacy, Michelangelo's achievement was a bold affirmation of the spiritual and political status of the Vatican, of Rome and of the Catholic Church. For the artist himself, already famous as the sculptor of David in Florence, it was a test of his skill and stamina, and of the potential for art to amaze which he realised in his astonishing mastery of the human form.

    With

    Catherine Fletcher
    Professor of History at Manchester Metropolitan University

    Sarah Vowles
    The Smirnov Family Curator of Italian and French Prints and Drawings at the British Museum

    And

    Matthias Wivel
    The Aud Jebsen Curator of Sixteenth-Century Italian Paintings at the National Gallery

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

    • 55 min
    Antigone

    Antigone

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss what is reputedly the most performed of all Greek tragedies. Antigone, by Sophocles (c496-c406 BC), is powerfully ambiguous, inviting the audience to reassess its values constantly before the climax of the play resolves the plot if not the issues. Antigone is barely a teenager and is prepared to defy her uncle Creon, the new king of Thebes, who has decreed that nobody should bury the body of her brother, a traitor, on pain of death. This sets up a conflict between generations, between the state and the individual, uncle and niece, autocracy and pluralism, and it releases an enormous tragic energy that brings sudden death to Antigone, her fiance Haemon who is also Creon's son, and to Creon's wife Eurydice, while Creon himself is condemned to a living death of grief.

    With

    Edith Hall
    Professor of Classics at Durham University

    Oliver Taplin
    Emeritus Professor of Classics, University of Oxford

    And

    Lyndsay Coo
    Senior Lecturer in Ancient Greek Language and Literature at the University of Bristol


    Producer: Simon Tillotson

    • 54 min
    Charisma

    Charisma

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the idea of charismatic authority developed by Max Weber (1864-1920) to explain why people welcome some as their legitimate rulers and follow them loyally, for better or worse, while following others only dutifully or grudgingly. Weber was fascinated by those such as Napoleon (above) and Washington who achieved power not by right, as with traditional monarchs, or by law as with the bureaucratic world around him in Germany, but by revolution or insurrection. Drawing on the experience of religious figures, he contended that these leaders, often outsiders, needed to be seen as exceptional, heroic and even miraculous to command loyalty, and could stay in power for as long as the people were enthralled and the miracles they had promised kept coming. After the Second World War, Weber's idea attracted new attention as a way of understanding why some reviled leaders once had mass support and, with the arrival of television, why some politicians were more engaging and influential on screen than others.

    With

    Linda Woodhead
    The FD Maurice Professor and Head of the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at King's College London

    David Bell
    The Lapidus Professor in the Department of History at Princeton University

    And

    Tom Wright
    Reader in Rhetoric at the University of Sussex

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

    • 52 min
    Seismology

    Seismology

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the study of earthquakes. A massive earthquake in 1755 devastated Lisbon, and this disaster helped inspire a new science of seismology which intensified after San Francisco in 1906 and advanced even further with the need to monitor nuclear tests around the world from 1945 onwards. While we now know so much more about what lies beneath the surface of the Earth, and how rocks move and crack, it remains impossible to predict when earthquakes will happen. Thanks to seismology, though, we have a clearer idea of where earthquakes will happen and how to make some of them less hazardous to lives and homes.

    With

    Rebecca Bell
    Senior lecturer in Geology and Geophysics at Imperial College London

    Zoe Mildon
    Lecturer in Earth Sciences and Future Leaders Fellow at the University of Plymouth

    And

    James Hammond
    Reader in Geophysics at Birkbeck, University of London

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

    • 49 min

Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5
3.8K Ratings

3.8K Ratings

johnmercer ,

Indispensible

This is probalby one of the most important radio series ever conceived. The content is not dumbed down - it is up to date, challenging and thought provoking. The whole series needs to be made available as a national treasure.
Actually here is a request (if anybody reads this) why can we not download all the programmes (since most of us only just got an ipod!) - would love to catch up.

Daveski newt ,

Essential listening

Don’t listen to the detractors: this is just one of the best shows around. The specialist guests really know their stuff, and get the chance to share their enthusiasm. I have learned such a lot, both about things I thought I knew well (and in some cases have studied at degree level) and even things I had no interest in become fascinating and relevant. Open your mind and broaden your knowledge… it’s great.

Khalid 20 ,

Ali123

I used to listen a lot and still do sometimes .. it’s so Eurocentric in its choice of topics. Once in a while something from outside the West comes along … but it’s so rare… so now getting quite boring…

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