300 episodes

Historical themes, events and key individuals from Akhenaten to Xenophon.

In Our Time: History BBC

    • History

Historical themes, events and key individuals from Akhenaten to Xenophon.

    The Zong Massacre

    The Zong Massacre

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the notorious events off Jamaica in 1781 and their background. The British slave ship Zong, having sailed across the Atlantic towards Jamaica, threw 132 enslaved Africans from its human cargo into the sea to drown. Even for a slave ship, the Zong was overcrowded; those murdered were worth more to the ship dead than alive. The crew said there was not enough drinking water to go round and they had no choice, which meant they could claim for the deaths on insurance. The main reason we know of this atrocity now is that the owners took their claim to court in London, and the insurers were at first told to pay up as if the dead slaves were any other lost goods, not people. Abolitionists in Britain were scandalised: if courts treated mass murder in the slave trade as just another business transaction and not a moral wrong, the souls of the nation would be damned. But nobody was ever prosecuted.

    The image above is of sailors throwing slaves overboard, from Torrey's 'American Slave Trade', 1822

    With

    Vincent Brown
    Charles Warren, professor of American history and professor of African and African American studies at Harvard University

    Bronwen Everill
    Class of 1973, lecturer in history and fellow at Gonville and Caius College, University of Cambridge

    And

    Jake Subryan Richards
    assistant professor of History at the London School of Economics

    Studio production: Hannah Sander

    • 52 min
    Maria Theresa

    Maria Theresa

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Maria Theresa (1717-1780) who inherited the Austrian throne in 1740 at the age of 23. Her neighbours circled like wolves and, within two months, Frederick the Great had seized one of her most prized lands, Silesia, exploiting her vulnerability. Yet over the next forty years through political reforms, alliances and marriages, she built Austria up into a formidable power, and she would do whatever it took to save the souls of her Catholic subjects, with a rigidity and intolerance that Joseph II, her son and heir, could not wait to challenge.

    With

    Catriona Seth
    Marshal Foch Professor of French Literature at the University of Oxford

    Martyn Rady
    Professor of Central European History at University College London

    And

    Thomas Biskup
    Lecturer in Early Modern History at the University of Hull

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

    • 50 min
    Cave Art

    Cave Art

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss ideas about the Stone Age people who created the extraordinary images found in caves around the world, from hand outlines to abstract symbols to the multicoloured paintings of prey animals at Chauvet and, as shown above, at Lascaux. In the 19th Century, it was assumed that only humans could have made these, as Neanderthals would have lacked the skills or imagination, but new tests suggest otherwise. How were the images created, were they meant to be for private viewing or public spaces, and what might their purposes have been? And, if Neanderthals were capable of creative work, in what ways were they different from humans? What might it have been like to experience the paintings, so far from natural light?

    With

    Alistair Pike
    Professor of Archaeological Sciences at the University of Southampton

    Chantal Conneller
    Senior Lecturer in Early Pre-History at Newcastle University

    And

    Paul Pettitt
    Professor of Palaeolithic Archaeology at Durham University

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

    • 48 min
    Pericles

    Pericles

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Pericles (495-429BC), the statesman who dominated the politics of Athens for thirty years, the so-called Age of Pericles, when the city’s cultural life flowered, its democracy strengthened as its empire grew, and the Acropolis was adorned with the Parthenon. In 431 BC he gave a funeral oration for those Athenians who had already died in the new war with Sparta which has been celebrated as one of the greatest speeches of all time, yet within two years he was dead from a plague made worse by Athenians crowding into their city to avoid attacks. Thucydides, the historian, knew him and was in awe of him, yet few shared that view until the nineteenth century, when they found much in Pericles to praise, an example for the Victorian age.

    With

    Edith Hall
    Professor of Classics at King's College London.

    Paul Cartledge
    AG Leventis Senior Research Fellow at Clare College, University of Cambridge

    And

    Peter Liddel
    Senior Lecturer in Ancient History at the University of Manchester

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

    • 48 min
    The Covenanters

    The Covenanters

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the bonds that Scottish Presbyterians made between themselves and their monarchs in the 16th and 17th Centuries, to maintain their form of worship. These covenants bound James VI of Scotland to support Presbyterians yet when he became James I he was also expected to support episcopacy. That tension came to a head under Charles I who found himself on the losing side of a war with the Covenanters, who later supported Parliament before backing the future Charles II after he had pledged to support them. Once in power, Charles II failed to deliver the religious settlement the Covenanters wanted, and set about repressing them violently. Those who refused to renounce the covenants were persecuted in what became known as The Killing Times, as reflected in the image above.

    With

    Roger Mason
    Professor of Scottish History at the University of St Andrews

    Laura Stewart
    Professor of Early Modern British History at the University of York

    And

    Scott Spurlock
    Professor of Scottish and Early Modern Christianities at the University of Glasgow

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

    • 53 min
    The Valladolid Debate

    The Valladolid Debate

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the debate in Valladolid, Spain in 1550, over Spanish rights to enslave the native peoples in the newly conquered lands. Bartolomé de Las Casas (pictured above), the Bishop of Chiapas, Mexico, was trying to end the encomienda system in which those who now owned the land could also take the people in forced labour. Juan Gines Sepulveda, a philosopher, argued for the colonists' property rights over people, asserting that some native Americans were 'natural slaves' as defined by Aristotle. Valladolid became seen as the first open attempt by European colonists to discuss the ethics of slavery, and Las Casas became known as 'Saviour of the Indians' and an advocate for human rights, although for some time he argued that African slaves be imported to do the work in place of the native people, before repenting.

    With

    Caroline Dodds Pennock
    Senior Lecturer in International History at the University of Sheffield

    John Edwards
    Faculty Fellow in Spanish at the University of Oxford

    And

    Julia McClure
    Lecturer in Late Medieval and Early Modern Global History at the University of Glasgow

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

    • 53 min

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