300 episodes

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the history of ideas

In Our Time BBC

    • History
    • 4.6 • 3.9K Ratings

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the history of ideas

    Doggerland (Summer Repeat)

    Doggerland (Summer Repeat)

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the people, plants and animals once living on land now under the North Sea, now called Doggerland after Dogger Bank, inhabited up to c7000BC or roughly 3000 years before the beginnings of Stonehenge. There are traces of this landscape at low tide, such as the tree stumps at Redcar (above); yet more is being learned from diving and seismic surveys which are building a picture of an ideal environment for humans to hunt and gather, with rivers and wooded hills. Rising seas submerged this land as glaciers melted, and the people and animals who lived there moved to higher ground, with the coasts of modern-day Britain on one side and Denmark, Germany, The Netherlands, Belgium and France on the other.

    With

    Vince Gaffney
    Anniversary Professor of Landscape Archaeology at the University of Bradford

    Carol Cotterill
    Marine Geoscientist at the British Geological Survey

    And

    Rachel Bynoe
    Lecturer in Archaeology at the University of Southampton

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

    • 54 min
    Automata (Summer Repeat)

    Automata (Summer Repeat)

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the history of real and imagined machines that appear to be living, and the questions they raise about life and creation. Even in myth they are made by humans, not born. The classical Greeks built some and designed others, but the knowledge of how to make automata and the principles behind them was lost in the Latin Christian West, remaining in the Greek-speaking and Arabic-speaking world. Western travellers to those regions struggled to explain what they saw, attributing magical powers. The advance of clockwork raised further questions about what was distinctly human, prompting Hobbes to argue that humans were sophisticated machines, an argument explored in the Enlightenment and beyond.

    The image above is Jacques de Vaucanson's mechanical duck (1739), which picked up grain, digested and expelled it. If it looks like a duck...

    with

    Simon Schaffer
    Professor of History of Science at Cambridge University

    Elly Truitt
    Associate Professor of Medieval History at Bryn Mawr College

    And

    Franziska Kohlt
    Doctoral Researcher in English Literature and the History of Science at the University of Oxford

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

    • 52 min
    George Sand (Summer Repeat)

    George Sand (Summer Repeat)

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the works and life of one of the most popular writers in Europe in C19th, Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin (1804-1876) who wrote under the name George Sand. When she wrote her first novel under that name, she referred to herself as a man. This was in Indiana (1832), which had the main character breaking away from her unhappy marriage. It made an immediate impact as it overturned the social conventions of the time and it drew on her own early marriage to an older man, Casimir Dudevant. Once Sand's identity was widely known, her works became extremely popular in French and in translation, particularly her rural novels, outselling Hugo and Balzac in Britain, perhaps buoyed by an interest in her personal life, as well as by her ideas on the rights and education of women and strength of her writing.

    With

    Belinda Jack
    Fellow and Tutor in French at Christ Church, University of Oxford

    Angela Ryan
    Senior Lecturer in French at University College Cork

    And

    Nigel Harkness
    Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Humanities and Social Sciences and Professor of French at Newcastle University

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

    • 55 min
    Paul Dirac (Summer Repeat)

    Paul Dirac (Summer Repeat)

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the theoretical physicist Dirac (1902-1984), whose achievements far exceed his general fame. To his peers, he was ranked with Einstein and, when he moved to America in his retirement, he was welcomed as if he were Shakespeare. Born in Bristol, he trained as an engineer before developing theories in his twenties that changed the understanding of quantum mechanics, bringing him a Nobel Prize in 1933 which he shared with Erwin Schrödinger. He continued to make deep contributions, bringing abstract maths to physics, beyond predicting anti-particles as he did in his Dirac Equation.

    With

    Graham Farmelo
    Biographer of Dirac and Fellow at Churchill College, Cambridge

    Valerie Gibson
    Professor of High Energy Physics at the University of Cambridge and Fellow of Trinity College

    And

    David Berman
    Professor of Theoretical Physics at Queen Mary University of London

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

    • 50 min
    Shakespeare's Sonnets

    Shakespeare's Sonnets

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the collection of poems published in 1609 by Thomas Thorpe: Shakespeare’s Sonnets, “never before imprinted”. Yet, while some of Shakespeare's other poems and many of his plays were often reprinted in his lifetime, the Sonnets were not a publishing success. They had to make their own way, outside the main canon of Shakespeare’s work: wonderful, troubling, patchy, inspiring and baffling, and they have appealed in different ways to different times. Most are addressed to a man, something often overlooked and occasionally concealed; one early and notorious edition even changed some of the pronouns.

    With:

    Hannah Crawforth
    Senior Lecturer in Early Modern Literature at King’s College London

    Don Paterson
    Poet and Professor of Poetry at the University of St Andrews

    And

    Emma Smith
    Professor of Shakespeare Studies at Hertford College, Oxford

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

    • 52 min
    Edward Gibbon

    Edward Gibbon

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the life and ideas of one of the great historians, best known for his History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (published 1776-89). According to Gibbon (1737-94) , the idea for this work came to him on 15th of October 1764 as he sat musing amidst the ruins of Rome, while barefooted friars were singing vespers in the Temple of Jupiter. Decline and Fall covers thirteen centuries and is an enormous intellectual undertaking and, on publication, it became a phenomenal success across Europe.

    The image above is of Edward Gibbon by Henry Walton, oil on mahogany panel, 1773.

    With

    David Womersley
    The Thomas Wharton Professor of English Literature at St Catherine’s College, University of Oxford

    Charlotte Roberts
    Lecturer in English at University College London

    And

    Karen O’Brien
    Professor of English Literature at the University of Oxford

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

    • 52 min

Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5
3.9K Ratings

3.9K Ratings

pluperfect ,

Smart and engrossing

This is my favorite podcast by far. Melvyn Bragg is the consummate host who reads up on the subject, asks good questions, and assembles intelligent guests. I enjoy the history episodes the best. Each week it’s like attending a lecture at a fine university.

esssjeee ,

Great informative program

Real experts are induced to explain their subjects in non-technical language. I especially like range of subjects historical scientific biographical etc.

BTMule ,

Top notch!

BBC has a good selection of scholars who the host gets to spit it out, all in a conversational manner. The show comprises fun primers for interesting and important topics.

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