300 episodes

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the history of ideas

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    • History
    • 4.7 • 19 Ratings

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the history of ideas

    Authenticity (Repeat)

    Authenticity (Repeat)

    In a programme first broadcast in 2019, Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss what it means to be oneself, a question explored by philosophers from Aristotle to the present day, including St Augustine, Kierkegaard, Heidegger and Sartre. In Hamlet, Polonius said 'To thine own self be true', but what is the self, and what does it mean to be true to it, and why should you be true? To Polonius, if you are true to yourself, ‘thou canst not be false to any man’ - but with the rise of the individual, authenticity became a goal in itself, regardless of how that affected others. Is authenticity about creating yourself throughout your life, or fulfilling the potential with which you were born, connecting with your inner child, or something else entirely? What are the risks to society if people value authenticity more than morality - that is, if the two are incompatible?

    The image above is of Sartre, aged 8 months, perhaps still connected to his inner child.

    With

    Sarah Richmond
    Associate Professor in Philosophy at University College London

    Denis McManus
    Professor of Philosophy at the University of Southampton

    and

    Irene McMullin
    Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Essex

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

    • 50 min
    Albrecht Dürer

    Albrecht Dürer

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the great German artist Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528) who achieved fame throughout Europe for the power of his images. These range from his woodcut of a rhinoceros, to his watercolour of a young hare, to his drawing of praying hands and his stunning self-portraits such as that above (albeit here in a later monochrome reproduction) with his distinctive A D monogram. He was expected to follow his father and become a goldsmith, but found his own way to be a great artist, taking public commissions that built his reputation but did not pay, while creating a market for his prints, and he captured the timeless and the new in a world of great change.

    With

    Susan Foister
    Deputy Director and Curator of German Paintings at the National Gallery

    Giulia Bartrum
    Freelance art historian and Former Curator of German Prints and Drawings at the British Museum

    And

    Ulinka Rublack
    Professor of Early Modern European History and Fellow of St John’s College, University of Cambridge

    Studio production: John Goudie

    • 54 min
    Mary Astell

    Mary Astell

    The philosopher Mary Astell (1666 – 1731) has been described as “the first English feminist”. Born in Newcastle in relatively poor circumstances in the aftermath of the upheaval of the English Civil War and the restoration of the monarchy, she moved to London as a young woman and became part of an extraordinary circle of intellectual and aristocratic women. In her pioneering publications, she argued that women’s education should be expanded, that men and women’s minds were the same and that no woman should be forced to marry against her will. Perhaps her most famous quotation is: “If all Men are born Free, why are all Women born Slaves?” Today, she is one of just a handful of female philosophers to be featured in the multi-volume Cambridge History of Political Thought.

    The image above is from Astell's "Reflections upon Marriage", 3rd edition, 1706, held by the British Library (Shelfmark 8415.bb.27)

    With:

    Hannah Dawson
    Senior Lecturer in the History of Ideas at King’s College London

    Mark Goldie
    Professor Emeritus of Intellectual History at the University of Cambridge

    Teresa Bejan
    Associate Professor of Political Theory at Oriel College, University of Oxford

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

    • 51 min
    Piers Plowman

    Piers Plowman

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss William Langland's poem, written around 1370, about a man called Will who fell asleep on the Malvern Hills and dreamed of Piers the Plowman. This was a time between the Black Death and The Peasants’ Revolt, when Christians wanted to save their souls but doubted how best to do it - and had to live with that uncertainty. Some call this the greatest medieval poem in English, one offering questions not answers, and it can be as unsettling now as it was then.

    With

    Laura Ashe
    Professor of English Literature at Worcester College, University of Oxford

    Lawrence Warner
    Professor of Medieval English at King’s College London

    And

    Alastair Bennett
    Lecturer in Medieval Literature at Royal Holloway, University of London

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

    • 51 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
    Alan Turing

    Alan Turing

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Alan Turing (1912-1954) whose 1936 paper On Computable Numbers effectively founded computer science. Immediately recognised by his peers, his wider reputation has grown as our reliance on computers has grown. He was a leading figure at Bletchley Park in the Second World War, using his ideas for cracking enemy codes, work said to have shortened the war by two years and saved millions of lives. That vital work was still secret when Turing was convicted in 1952 for having a sexual relationship with another man for which he was given oestrogen for a year, or chemically castrated. Turing was to kill himself two years later. The immensity of his contribution to computing was recognised in the 1960s by the creation of the Turing Award, known as the Nobel of computer science, and he is to be the new face on the £50 note.

    With

    Leslie Ann Goldberg
    Professor of Computer Science and Fellow of St Edmund Hall, University of Oxford

    Simon Schaffer
    Professor of the History of Science at the University of Cambridge and Fellow of Darwin College

    And

    Andrew Hodges
    Biographer of Turing and Emeritus Fellow of Wadham College, Oxford

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

    • 53 min

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