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In Our Time

BBC

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the history of ideas

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the history of ideas

Location:

London, United Kingdom

Networks:

BBC

Description:

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the history of ideas

Language:

English


Episodes

Zeno's Paradoxes

5/28/2020
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Zeno of Elea, a pre-Socratic philosopher from c490-430 BC whose paradoxes were described by Bertrand Russell as "immeasurably subtle and profound." The best known argue against motion, such as that of an arrow in flight which is at a series of different points but moving at none of them, or that of Achilles who, despite being the faster runner, will never catch up with a tortoise with a head start. Aristotle and Aquinas engaged with these, as did Russell, yet...

Duration:00:47:00

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

5/21/2020
In a programme first broadcast in 2018, Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss one of the jewels of medieval English poetry. It was written c1400 by an unknown poet and then was left hidden in private collections until the C19th when it emerged. It tells the story of a giant green knight who disrupts Christmas at Camelot, daring Gawain to cut off his head with an axe if he can do the same to Gawain the following year. Much to the surprise of Arthur's court, who were kicking the green head around,...

Duration:00:52:10

Photosynthesis

5/14/2020
In a programme first broadcast in 2014, Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss photosynthesis, the process by which green plants and many other organisms use sunlight to synthesise organic molecules. Photosynthesis arose very early in evolutionary history and has been a crucial driver of life on Earth. In addition to providing most of the food consumed by organisms on the planet, it is also responsible for maintaining atmospheric oxygen levels, and is thus almost certainly the most important...

Duration:00:48:23

John Clare

5/7/2020
In a programme first broadcast in 2017, Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Northamptonshire poet John Clare who, according to one of Melvyn's guests Jonathan Bate, was 'the greatest labouring-class poet that England has ever produced'. Clare worked in a tavern, as a gardener and as a farm labourer in the early 19th century and achieved his first literary success with Poems Descriptive of Rural Life and Scenery. He was praised for his descriptions of rural England and his childhood there,...

Duration:00:49:02

Carl Friedrich Gauss (repeat)

4/30/2020
In a programme first broadcast in 2017, Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Gauss (1777-1855), widely viewed as one of the greatest mathematicians of all time. He was a child prodigy, correcting his father's accounts before he was 3, dumbfounding his teachers with the speed of his mental arithmetic, and gaining a wealthy patron who supported his education. He wrote on number theory when he was 21, with his Disquisitiones Arithmeticae, which has influenced developments since. Among his...

Duration:00:50:56

Wuthering Heights (repeat)

4/23/2020
In a programme first broadcast in 2017, Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Emily Brontë (1818-1848) and her only novel, published in 1847 under the name 'Ellis Bell' just a year before her death. It is the story of Heathcliff, a foundling from Liverpool brought up in the Earnshaw family at the remote Wuthering Heights, high on the moors, who becomes close to the young Cathy Earnshaw but hears her say she can never marry him. He disappears and she marries his rival, Edgar Linton, of Thrushcross...

Duration:00:50:06

Feathered Dinosaurs (repeat)

4/16/2020
In a programme first broadcast in 2017, Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the development of theories about dinosaur feathers, following discoveries of fossils which show evidence of feathers. All dinosaurs were originally thought to be related to lizards - the word 'dinosaur' was created from the Greek for 'terrible lizard' - but that now appears false. In the last century, discoveries of fossils with feathers established that at least some dinosaurs were feathered and that some of those...

Duration:00:48:28

Marie Antoinette (repeat)

4/9/2020
In a programme first broadcast in November 2018, Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Austrian princess Maria Antonia, child bride of the future French King Louis XVI. Their marriage was an attempt to bring about a major change in the balance of power in Europe and to undermine the influence of Prussia and Great Britain, but she had no say in the matter and was the pawn of her mother, the Empress Maria Theresa. She fulfilled her allotted role of supplying an heir, but was sent to the...

Duration:00:49:43

The Gin Craze (repeat)

4/2/2020
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the craze for gin in Britain in the mid-18th Century and the attempts to control it. With the arrival of William of Orange, it became an act of loyalty to drink Protestant, Dutch gin rather than Catholic brandy, and changes in tariffs made everyday beer less affordable. Within a short time, production increased and large sections of the population that had rarely or never drunk spirits before were consuming two pints of gin a week. As Hogarth indicated in his...

Duration:00:51:48

George and Robert Stephenson (repeat)

3/26/2020
In a programme first broadcast on 12 April 2018, Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the contribution of George Stephenson (1781-1848) and his son Robert (1803-59) to the development of the railways in the 19th Century. George became known as The Father of Railways and yet arguably Robert's contribution was even greater, with his engineering work going far beyond their collaboration. Robert is credited with the main role in the design of their locomotives. George had worked on stationary...

Duration:00:49:58

Frankenstein

3/19/2020
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...

Duration:00:55:17

The Covenanters

3/12/2020
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...

Duration:00:53:49

Paul Dirac

3/5/2020
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...

Duration:00:50:47

The Evolution of Horses

2/27/2020
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the origins of horses, from their dog sized ancestors to their proliferation in the New World until hunted to extinction, their domestication in Asia and their development since. The genetics of the modern horse are the most studied of any animal, after humans, yet it is still uncertain why they only have one toe on each foot when their wider family had more, or whether speed or stamina has been more important in their evolution. What is clear, though, is that...

Duration:00:50:10

The Valladolid Debate

2/20/2020
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...

Duration:00:53:00

Battle of the Teutoburg Forest

2/13/2020
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the great Roman military disaster of 9 AD when Germanic tribes under Arminius ambushed and destroyed three legions under Varus. According to Suetonius, emperor Augustus hit his head against the wall when he heard the news, calling on Varus to give him back his legions. The defeat ended Roman expansion east of the Rhine. Victory changed the development of the Germanic peoples, both in the centuries that followed and in the nineteenth century when Arminius, by...

Duration:00:51:10

George Sand

2/6/2020
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...

Duration:00:54:57

Alcuin

1/30/2020
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Alcuin of York, c735-804AD, who promoted education as a goal in itself, and had a fundamental role in the renaissance at Charlemagne's court. He wrote poetry and many letters, hundreds of which survive and provide insight into his life and times. He was born in or near York and spent most of his life in Northumbria before accepting an invitation to Charlemagne's court in Aachen. To this he brought Anglo-Saxon humanism, encouraging a broad liberal education for...

Duration:00:56:04

Solar Wind

1/23/2020
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the flow of particles from the outer region of the Sun which we observe in the Northern and Southern Lights, interacting with Earth's magnetosphere, and in comet tails that stream away from the Sun regardless of their own direction. One way of defining the boundary of the solar system is where the pressure from the solar wind is balanced by that from the region between the stars, the interstellar medium. Its existence was suggested from the C19th and Eugene...

Duration:00:55:13

The Siege of Paris 1870-71

1/16/2020
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the siege of Paris during the Franco-Prussian war and the social unrest that followed, as the French capital was cut off from the rest of the country and food was scarce. When the French government surrendered Paris to the Prussians, power gravitated to the National Guard in the city and to radical socialists, and a Commune established in March 1871 with the red flag replacing the trilcoleur. The French government sent in the army and, after bloody fighting,...

Duration:00:52:05