300 episodes

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the history of ideas

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    • History

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the history of ideas

    1816, the Year Without a Summer (Summer Repeat)

    1816, the Year Without a Summer (Summer Repeat)

    In a programme first broadcast in 2016, Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the impact of the eruption of Mt Tambora, in 1815, on the Indonesian island of Sambawa. This was the largest volcanic eruption in recorded history and it had the highest death toll, devastating people living in the immediate area. Tambora has been linked with drastic weather changes in North America and Europe the following year, with frosts in June and heavy rains throughout the summer in many areas. This led to food shortages, which may have prompted westward migration in America and, in a Europe barely recovered from the Napoleonic Wars, led to widespread famine.

    With

    Clive Oppenheimer
    Professor of Volcanology at the University of Cambridge

    Jane Stabler
    Professor in Romantic Literature at the University of St Andrews

    And

    Lawrence Goldman
    Director of the Institute of Historical Research at the University of London

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

    • 46 min
    Mary, Queen of Scots

    Mary, Queen of Scots

    In a programme first broadcast in 2017, Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the history of Mary, Queen of Scots, who had potential to be one of the most powerful rulers in Europe, yet she was also one of the most vulnerable. In France, when she was the teenage bride to their future king, she was seen as rightful heir to the thrones of England and Ireland, as well as Queen of Scotland and one day of France, which would have been an extraordinary union. She was widowed too young, though and, a Catholic returning to Protestant Scotland, she struggled to overcome rivalries in her own country. She fled to Protestant England, where she was implicated in plots to overthrow Elizabeth, and it was Elizabeth herself who signed Mary's death warrant.


    With

    David Forsyth
    Principal Curator, Scottish Medieval-Early Modern Collections at National Museums Scotland

    Anna Groundwater
    Teaching Fellow in Historical Skills and Methods at the University of Edinburgh

    And

    John Guy
    Fellow of Clare College, University of Cambridge

    Producer: Simon Tillotson.

    • 52 min
    Hannah Arendt

    Hannah Arendt

    In a programme first broadcast in 2017, Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the political philosophy of Hannah Arendt. She developed many of her ideas in response to the rise of totalitarianism in the C20th, partly informed by her own experience as a Jew in Nazi Germany before her escape to France and then America. She wanted to understand how politics had taken such a disastrous turn and, drawing on ideas of Greek philosophers as well as her peers, what might be done to create a better political life. Often unsettling, she wrote of 'the banality of evil' when covering the trial of Eichmann, one of the organisers of the Holocaust.

    With

    Lyndsey Stonebridge
    Professor of Modern Literature and History at the University of East Anglia

    Frisbee Sheffield
    Lecturer in Philosophy at Girton College, University of Cambridge

    and

    Robert Eaglestone
    Professor of Contemporary Literature and Thought at Royal Holloway, University London

    Producer: Simon Tillotson.

    • 47 min
    Bird Migration

    Bird Migration

    In a programme first broadcast in 2017, Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss why some birds migrate and others do not, how they select their destinations and how they navigate the great distances, often over oceans. For millennia, humans set their calendars to birds' annual arrivals, and speculated about what happened when they departed, perhaps moving deep under water, or turning into fish or shellfish, or hibernating while clinging to trees upside down. Ideas about migration developed in C19th when, in Germany, a stork was noticed with an African spear in its neck, indicating where it had been over the winter and how far it had flown. Today there are many ideas about how birds use their senses of sight and smell, and magnetic fields, to find their way, and about why and how birds choose their destinations and many questions. Why do some scatter and some flock together, how much is instinctive and how much is learned, and how far do the benefits the migrating birds gain outweigh the risks they face?

    With

    Barbara Helm
    Reader at the Institute of Biodiversity, Animal Health and Comparative Medicine at the University of Glasgow

    Tim Guilford
    Professor of Animal Behaviour and Tutorial Fellow of Zoology at Merton College, Oxford

    and

    Richard Holland
    Senior Lecturer in Animal Cognition at Bangor University

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

    • 52 min
    Frankenstein

    Frankenstein

    In a programme first broadcast in May 2019, Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Mary Shelley's (1797-1851) Gothic story of a Swiss natural philosopher, Victor Frankenstein, and the creature he makes from parts of cadavers and which he then abandons, horrified by his appearance, and never names. Rejected by all humans who see him, the monster takes his revenge on Frankenstein, killing those dear to him. Shelley started writing Frankenstein when she was 18, prompted by a competition she had with Byron and her husband Percy Shelley to tell a ghost story while they were rained in in the summer of 1816 at the Villa Diodati by Lake Geneva.

    The image of Mary Shelley, above, was first exhibited in 1840.

    With

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

    Michael Rossington
    Professor of Romantic Literature at Newcastle University

    And

    Jane Thomas
    Professor of Victorian and Early 20th Century Literature at the University of Hull

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

    This programme is a repeat

    • 55 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

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