208 episodes

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

In Our Time: History BBC Radio 4

    • History
    • 5.0 • 1 Rating

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

    Empress Dowager Cixi

    Empress Dowager Cixi

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the woman who, for almost fifty years, was the most powerful figure in the Chinese court. Cixi (1835-1908) started out at court as one of the Emperor's many concubines, yet was the only one who gave him a son to succeed him and who also possessed great political skill and ambition. When their son became emperor he was still a young child and Cixi ruled first through him and then, following his death, through another child emperor. This was a time of rapid change in China, when western powers and Japan humiliated the forces of the Qing empire time after time, and Cixi had the chance to push forward the modernising reforms the country needed to thrive. However, when she found those reforms conflicted with her own interests or those of the Qing dynasty, she was arguably obstructive or too slow to act and she has been personally blamed for some of those many humiliations even when the fault lay elsewhere.
    Yangwen Zheng
    Professor of Chinese History at the University of Manchester
    Rana Mitter
    The S.T. Lee Professor of US-Asia Relations at the Harvard Kennedy School
    Ronald Po
    Associate Professor in the Department of International History at London School of Economics and Visiting Professor at Leiden University
    Producer: Simon Tillotson
    In Our Time is a BBC Studios Audio Production
    Reading list:
    Pearl S. Buck, Imperial Woman: The Story of the Last Empress of China (first published 1956; Open Road Media, 2013)
    Katharine A. Carl, With the Empress Dowager (first published 1906; General Books LLC, 2009)
    Jung Chang, Empress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine Who Launched Modern China (Jonathan Cape, 2013)
    Princess Der Ling, Old Buddha (first published 1929; Kessinger Publishing, 2007)

    Joseph W. Esherick, The Origins of the Boxer Uprising (University of California Press, 1987)
    John K. Fairbank and Merle Goldman, China: A New History (Harvard University Press, 2006)
    Peter Gue Zarrow and Rebecca Karl (eds.), Rethinking the 1898 Reform Period: Political and Cultural Change in Late Qing China (Harvard University Press, 2002)
    Grant Hayter-Menzies, Imperial Masquerade: The Legend of Princess Der Ling (Hong Kong University Press, 2008)
    Keith Laidler, The Last Empress: The She-Dragon of China (Wiley, 2003)
    Keith McMahon, Celestial Women: Imperial Wives and Concubines in China from Song to Qing (Rowman & Littlefield, 2020)
    Anchee Min, The Last Empress (Bloomsbury, 2011)
    Ying-Chen Peng, Artful Subversion: Empress Dowager Cixi’s Image Making (Yale University Press, 2023).
    Sarah Pike Conger, Letters from China: with Particular Reference to the Empress Dowager and the Women of China (first published 1910; Forgotten Books, 2024)
    Stephen Platt, Imperial Twilight: The Opium War and the End of China's Last Golden Age (Atlantic Books, 2019)
    Liang Qichao (trans. Peter Zarrow), Thoughts From the Ice-Drinker's Studio: Essays on China and the World (Penguin Classics, 2023)
    Sterling Seagrave, Dragon Lady: The Life and Legend of the Last Empress of China (Vintage, 1993)
    Jonathan D. Spence, The Search for Modern China (first published 1991; W. W. Norton & Company, 2001)
    X. L. Woo, Empress Dowager Cixi: China's Last Dynasty and the Long Reign of a Formidable Concubine (Algora Publishing, 2003)
    Zheng Yangwen, Ten Lessons in Modern Chinese History (Manchester University Press, 2018)

    • 50 min
    Napoleon's Hundred Days

    Napoleon's Hundred Days

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Napoleon Bonaparte's temporary return to power in France in 1815, following his escape from exile on Elba . He arrived with fewer than a thousand men, yet three weeks later he had displaced Louis XVIII and taken charge of an army as large as any that the Allied Powers could muster individually. He saw that his best chance was to pick the Allies off one by one, starting with the Prussian and then the British/Allied armies in what is now Belgium. He appeared to be on the point of victory at Waterloo yet somehow it eluded him, and his plans were soon in tatters. His escape to America thwarted, he surrendered on 15th July and was exiled again but this time to Saint Helena. There he wrote his memoirs to help shape his legacy, while back in Europe there were still fears of his return.
    Michael Rowe
    Reader in European History at Kings College London
    Katherine Astbury
    Professor of French Studies at the University of Warwick
    Zack White
    Leverhulme Early Career Research Fellow at the University of Portsmouth
    Producer: Simon Tillotson
    In Our Time is a BBC Studios Audio production.
    Reading list:
    Katherine Astbury and Mark Philp (ed.), Napoleon's Hundred Days and the Politics of Legitimacy (Palgrave, 2018)
    Jeremy Black, The Battle of Waterloo: A New History (Icon Books, 2010)
    Michael Broers, Napoleon: The Decline and Fall of an Empire: 1811-1821 (Pegasus Books, 2022)
    Philip Dwyer, Citizen Emperor: Napoleon in power 1799-1815 (Bloomsbury, 2014)
    Charles J. Esdaile, Napoleon, France and Waterloo: The Eagle Rejected (Pen & Sword Military, 2016)
    Gareth Glover, Waterloo: Myth and Reality (Pen & Sword Military, 2014)
    Sudhir Hazareesingh, The Legend of Napoleon (Granta, 2014)
    John Hussey, Waterloo: The Campaign of 1815, Volume 1, From Elba to Ligny and Quatre Bras (Greenhill Books, 2017)
    Andrew Roberts, Napoleon the Great (Penguin Books, 2015)
    Brian Vick, The Congress of Vienna: Power and Politics after Napoleon (Harvard University Press, 2014)
    Zack White (ed.), The Sword and the Spirit: Proceedings of the first ‘War & Peace in the Age of Napoleon’ Conference (Helion and Company, 2021)

    • 58 min
    Julian the Apostate

    Julian the Apostate

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the last pagan ruler of the Roman Empire. Fifty years after Constantine the Great converted to Christianity and introduced a policy of tolerating the faith across the empire, Julian (c.331 - 363 AD) aimed to promote paganism instead, branding Constantine the worst of all his predecessors. Julian was a philosopher-emperor in the mould of Marcus Aurelius and was noted in his lifetime for his letters and his satires, and it was his surprising success as a general in his youth in Gaul that had propelled him to power barely twenty years after a rival had slaughtered his family. Julian's pagan mission and his life were brought to a sudden end while on campaign against the Sasanian Empire in the east, but he left so much written evidence of his ideas that he remains one of the most intriguing of all the Roman emperors and a hero to the humanists of the Enlightenment.
    James Corke-Webster
    Reader in Classics, History and Liberal Arts at King’s College, London
    Lea Niccolai
    Assistant Professor in Classics at the University of Cambridge and Fellow and Director of Studies in Classics, Trinity College
    Shaun Tougher
    Professor of Late Roman and Byzantine History at Cardiff University
    Producer: Simon Tillotson
    Reading list:
    Polymnia Athanassiadi, Julian: An Intellectual Biography (first published 1981; Routledge, 2014)
    Nicholas Baker-Brian and Shaun Tougher (eds.), Emperor and Author: The Writings of Julian the Apostate (Classical Press of Wales, 2012)
    Nicholas Baker-Brian and Shaun Tougher (eds.), The Sons of Constantine, AD 337-361: In the Shadows of Constantine and Julian, (Palgrave Macmillan, 2020)
    G.W. Bowersock, Julian the Apostate (first published 1978; Harvard University Press, 1997)
    Susanna Elm, Sons of Hellenism, Fathers of the Church: Emperor Julian, Gregory of Nazianzus, and the Vision of Rome (University of California Press, 2012)
    Ari Finkelstein, The Specter of the Jews: Emperor Julian and the Rhetoric of Ethnicity in Syrian Antioch (University of California Press, 2018)
    David Neal Greenwood, Julian and Christianity: Revisiting the Constantinian Revolution (Cornell University Press, 2021)
    Lea Niccolai, Christianity, Philosophy, and Roman Power: Constantine, Julian, and the Bishops on Exegesis and Empire (Cambridge University Press, 2023)
    Stefan Rebenich and Hans-Ulrich Wiemer (eds), A Companion to Julian the Apostate (Brill, 2020)
    Rowland Smith, Julian’s Gods: Religion and Philosophy in the Thought and Action of Julian the Apostate (Routledge, 1995)
    H.C. Teitler, The Last Pagan Emperor: Julian the Apostate and the War against Christianity (Oxford University Press, 2017)
    Shaun Tougher, Julian the Apostate (Edinburgh University Press, 2007)
    W. C. Wright, The Works of Emperor Julian of Rome (Loeb, 1913-23)

    • 50 min
    The Mokrani Revolt

    The Mokrani Revolt

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the revolt that broke out in 1871 in Algeria against French rule, spreading over hundreds of miles and countless towns and villages before being brutally suppressed. It began with the powerful Cheikh Mokrani and his family and was taken up by hundreds of thousands, becoming the last major revolt there before Algeria’s war of independence in 1954. In the wake of its swift suppression though came further waves of French migrants to settle on newly confiscated lands, themselves displaced by French defeat in Europe and the loss of Alsace-Lorraine, and their arrival only increased tensions. The Mokrani Revolt came to be seen as a watershed between earlier Ottoman rule and full national identity, an inspiration to nationalists in the 1950s.
    Natalya Benkhaled-Vince
    Associate Professor of the History of Modern France and the Francophone World, Fellow of University College, University of Oxford
    Hannah-Louise Clark
    Senior Lecturer in Global Economic and Social History at the University of Glasgow
    Jim House
    Senior Lecturer in French and Francophone History at the University of Leeds
    Producer: Simon Tillotson
    Reading list:
    Mahfoud Bennoune, The Making of Contemporary Algeria: 1830-1987 (Cambridge University Press, 1988)
    Julia Clancy-Smith, Rebel and Saint: Muslim Notables, Populist Protest, Colonial Encounters, Algeria and Tunisia 1800–1904 (University of California Press, 1994)
    Hannah-Louise Clark, ‘The Islamic Origins of the French Colonial Welfare State: Hospital Finance in Algeria’ (European Review of History, vol. 28, nos 5-6, 2021)
    Hannah-Louise Clark, ‘Of jinn theories and germ theories: translating microbes, bacteriological medicine, and Islamic law in Algeria’ (Osiris, vol. 36, 2021)
    Brock Cutler, Ecologies of Imperialism in Algeria (University of Nebraska Press, 2023)
    Didier Guignard, 1871: L’Algérie sous Séquestre (CNRS Éditions, 2023)
    Idir Hachi, ‘Histoire social de l’insurrection de 1871 et du procès de ses chefs (PhD diss., University of Aix-Marseille, 2017)
    Abdelhak Lahlou, Idir Hachi, Isabelle Guillaume, Amélie Gregório and Peter Dunwoodie, ‘L'insurrection kabyle de 1871’ (Etudes françaises volume 57, no 1, 2021)
    James McDougall, A History of Algeria (Cambridge University Press (2017)
    John Ruedy, Modern Algeria: The Origins and Development of a Nation (Indiana University Press, 2005, 2nd edition)
    Jennifer E Sessions, By Sword and Plow: France and the Conquest of Algeria (Cornell University Press, 2011)
    Samia Touati, ‘Lalla Fatma N’Soumer, 1830–1863: Spirituality, Resistance and Womanly Leadership in Colonial Algeria (Societies vol. 8, no. 4, 2018)
    Natalya Vince, Our Fighting Sisters: Nation, Memory and Gender in Algeria, 1954-2012 (Manchester University Press, 2015)

    • 57 min
    The Sack of Rome 1527

    The Sack of Rome 1527

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the infamous assault of an army of the Holy Roman Emperor on the city of Rome in 1527. The troops soon broke through the walls of this holy city and, with their leader shot dead early on, they brought death and destruction to the city on an epic scale. Later writers compared it to the fall of Carthage or Jerusalem and soon the mass murder, torture, rape and looting were followed by disease which was worsened by starvation and opened graves. It has been called the end of the High Renaissance, a conflict between north and south, between Lutherans and Catholics, and a fulfilment of prophecy of divine vengeance and, perhaps more persuasively, a consequence of military leaders not feeding or paying their soldiers other than by looting.
    Stephen Bowd
    Professor of Early Modern History at the University of Edinburgh
    Jessica Goethals
    Associate Professor of Italian at the University of Alabama
    Catherine Fletcher
    Professor of History at Manchester Metropolitan University
    Producer: Simon Tillotson
    Reading list:
    Stephen Bowd, Renaissance Mass Murder: Civilians and Soldiers during the Italian Wars (Oxford University Press, 2018)
    Benvenuto Cellini, Autobiography (Penguin Classics, 1999)
    Benvenuto Cellini (trans. Julia Conaway Bondanella and Peter Bondanella), My Life (Oxford University Press, 2009)
    André Chastel (trans. Beth Archer), The Sack of Rome 1527 (Princeton University Press, 1983
    Catherine Fletcher, The Beauty and the Terror: An Alternative History of the Italian Renaissance (Bodley Head, 2020)
    Kenneth Gouwens and Sheryl E. Reiss (eds), The Pontificate of Clement VII: History, Politics, Culture (Routledge, 2005)
    Francesco Guicciardini (trans. Sidney Alexander), The History of Italy (first published 1561; Princeton University Press, 2020)
    Luigi Guicciardini (trans. James H. McGregor), The Sack of Rome (first published 1537; Italica Press, 2008)
    Judith Hook, The Sack of Rome (2nd edition, Palgrave Macmillan, 2004)
    Geoffrey Parker, Emperor: A New Life of Charles V (Yale University Press, 2019)

    • 46 min
    The Hanseatic League

    The Hanseatic League

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Hanseatic League or Hansa which dominated North European trade in the medieval period. With a trading network that stretched from Iceland to Novgorod via London and Bruges, these German-speaking Hansa merchants benefitted from tax exemptions and monopolies. Over time, the Hansa became immensely influential as rulers felt the need to treat it well. Kings and princes sometimes relied on loans from the Hansa to finance their wars and an embargo by the Hansa could lead to famine. Eventually, though, the Hansa went into decline with the rise in the nation state’s power, greater competition from other merchants and the development of trade across the Atlantic.
    Justyna Wubs-Mrozewicz
    Associate Professor of Medieval History at the University of Amsterdam
    Georg Christ
    Senior Lecturer in Medieval and Early Modern History at the University of Manchester
    Sheilagh Ogilvie
    Chichele Professor of Economic History at All Souls College, University of Oxford
    Producer: Victoria Brignell
    Reading list:
    James S. Amelang and Siegfried Beer, Public Power in Europe: Studies in Historical Transformations (Plus-Pisa University Press, 2006), especially `Trade and Politics in the Medieval Baltic: English Merchants and England’s Relations to the Hanseatic League 1370–1437`
    Nicholas R. Amor, Late Medieval Ipswich: Trade and Industry (Boydell & Brewer, 2011)
    B. Ayers, The German Ocean: Medieval Europe around the North Sea (Equinox, 2016)
    H. Brand and P. Brood, The German Hanse in Past & Present Europe: A medieval league as a model for modern interregional cooperation? (Castel International Publishers, 2007)
    Wendy R. Childs, The Trade and Shipping of Hull, 1300-1500 (East Yorkshire Local History Society, 1990)
    Alexander Cowan, Hanseatic League: Oxford Bibliographies (Oxford University Press, 2010)
    Philippe Dollinger, The German Hansa (Macmillan, 1970)
    John D. Fudge, Cargoes, Embargoes and Emissaries: The Commercial and Political Interaction of England and the German Hanse, 1450-1510 (University of Toronto Press, 1995)
    Donald J. Harreld, A Companion to the Hanseatic League (Brill, 2015)
    T.H. Lloyd, England and the German Hanse, 1157 – 1611: A Study of their Trade and Commercial Diplomacy (first published 1991; Cambridge University Press, 2002)
    Giampiero Nigro (ed.), Maritime networks as a factor in European integration (Fondazione Istituto Internazionale Di Storia Economica “F. Datini” Prato, University of Firenze, 2019), especially ‘Maritime Networks and Premodern Conflict Management on Multiple Levels. The Example of Danzig and the Giese Family’ by Justyna Wubs-Mrozewicz
    Sheilagh Ogilvie, Institutions and European Trade: Merchant Guilds, 1000-1800 (Cambridge University Press, 2011)
    Paul Richards (ed.), Six Essays in Hanseatic History (Poppyland Publishing, 2017)
    Paul Richards, King’s Lynn and The German Hanse 1250-1550: A Study in Anglo-German Medieval Trade and Politics (Poppyland Publishing, 2022)
    Stephen H. Rigby, The Overseas Trade of Boston, 1279-1548 (Böhlau Verlag, 2023)
    Justyna Wubs-Mrozewicz and Stuart Jenks (eds.), The Hanse in Medieval & Early Modern Europe (Brill, 2012)

    Justyna Wubs-Mrozewicz, ‘The late medieval and early modern Hanse as an institution of conflict management’ (Continuity and Change 32/1, Cambridge University Press, 2017)

    • 49 min

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