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In Our Time: Culture

In Our Time: Culture

Popular culture, poetry, music and visual arts and the roles they play in our society.

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The Rosetta Stone

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss one of the most famous museum objects in the world, shown in the image above in replica, and dating from around 196 BC. It is a damaged, dark granite block on which you can faintly see three scripts engraved: Greek at the bottom, Demotic in the middle and Hieroglyphs at the top. Napoleon?s soldiers found it in a Mamluk fort at Rosetta on the Egyptian coast, and soon realised the Greek words could be used to unlock the hieroglyphs. It was another 20 years before Champollion deciphered them, becoming the first to understand the hieroglyphs since they fell out of use 1500 years before and so opening up the written culture of ancient Egypt to the modern age. With Penelope Wilson Associate Professor of Egyptian Archaeology at Durham University Campbell Price Curator of Egypt and Sudan at the Manchester Museum And Richard Bruce Parkinson Professor of Egyptology and Fellow of The Queen?s College, University of Oxford Producer: Simon Tillotson
2021-02-11
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The Great Gatsby

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss F Scott Fitzgerald?s finest novel, published in 1925, one of the great American novels of the twentieth century. It is told by Nick Carraway, neighbour and friend of the mysteriously wealthy Jay Gatsby. In the age of jazz and prohibition, Gatsby hosts lavish parties at his opulent home across the bay from Daisy Buchanan, in the hope she?ll attend one of them and they can be reunited. They were lovers as teenagers but she had given him up for a richer man who she soon married, and Gatsby is obsessed with winning her back. The image above is of Robert Redford as Gatsby in a scene from the film 'The Great Gatsby', 1974. With Sarah Churchwell Professor of American Literature and Public Understanding of the Humanities at the University of London Philip McGowan Professor of American Literature at Queen?s University, Belfast And William Blazek Associate Professor and Reader in American Literature at Liverpool Hope University Produced by Simon Tillotson and Julia Johnson
2021-01-14
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Fernando Pessoa

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Portuguese poet Pessoa (1888-1935) who was largely unknown in his lifetime but who, in 1994, Harold Bloom included in his list of the 26 most significant western writers since the Middle Ages. Pessoa wrote in his own name but mainly in the names of characters he created, each with a distinctive voice and biography, which he called heteronyms rather than pseudonyms, notably Ricardo Reis, Alberto Caeiro, Álvaro de Campos and one who was closer to Pessoa's own identity, Bernardo Soares. Most of Pessoa's works were unpublished at his death, discovered in a trunk; as more and more was printed and translated, his fame and status grew. With Cláudia Pazos-Alonso Professor of Portuguese and Gender Studies and Senior Research Fellow at Wadham College, University of Oxford Juliet Perkins Visiting Senior Research Fellow in Portuguese Studies at King?s College London And Paulo de Medeiros Professor of English and Comparative Literary Studies at the University of Warwick Producer: Simon Tillotson
2020-12-03
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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
2020-11-12
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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
2020-10-29
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Macbeth

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss one of Shakespeare?s greatest tragedies. When three witches prophesy that Macbeth will be king one day, he is not prepared to wait and almost the next day he murders King Duncan as he sleeps, a guest at Macbeth?s castle. From there we explore their brutal world where few boundaries are distinct ? between safe and unsafe, friend and foe, real and unreal, man and beast ? until Macbeth too is slaughtered. The image above shows Nicol Williamson as Macbeth in a 1983 BBC TV adaptation. With: Emma Smith Professor of Shakespeare Studies at Hertford College, University of Oxford Kiernan Ryan Emeritus Professor of English Literature at Royal Holloway, University of London And David Schalkwyk, Professor of Shakespeare Studies and Director of Global Shakespeare at Queen Mary, University of London Producer: Simon Tillotson
2020-10-01
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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
2020-03-19
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George Sand

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
2020-02-06
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Catullus

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Catullus (c84-c54 BC) who wrote some of the most sublime poetry in the late Roman Republic, and some of the most obscene. He found a new way to write about love, in poems to the mysterious Lesbia, married and elusive, and he influenced Virgil and Ovid and others, yet his explicit poems were to blight his reputation for a thousand years. Once the one surviving manuscript was discovered in the Middle Ages, though, anecdotally as a plug in a wine butt, he inspired Petrarch and the Elizabethan poets, as he continues to inspire many today. The image above is of Lesbia and her Sparrow, 1860, artist unknown With Gail Trimble Brown Fellow and Tutor in Classics at Trinity College at the University of Oxford Simon Smith Reader in Creative Writing at the University of Kent, poet and translator of Catullus and Maria Wyke Professor of Latin at University College London Producer: Simon Tillotson
2020-01-09
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Auden

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the life and poetry of WH Auden (1907-1973) up to his departure from Europe for the USA in 1939. As well as his personal life, he addressed suffering and confusion, and the moral issues that affected the wider public in the 1930s and tried to unpick what was going wrong in society and to understand those times. He witnessed the rise of totalitarianism in the austerity of that decade, travelling through Germany to Berlin, seeing Spain in the Civil War and China during its wars with Japan, often collaborating with Christopher Isherwood. In his lifetime his work attracted high praise and intense criticism, and has found new audiences in the fifty years since his death, sometimes taking literally what he meant ironically. With Mark Ford Poet and Professor of English at University College London Janet Montefiore Professor Emerita of 20th Century English Literature at the University of Kent And Jeremy Noel-Tod Senior Lecturer in Literature and Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia Producer: Simon Tillotson
2019-12-19
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Crime and Punishment

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the novel written by Dostoevsky and published in 1866, in which Raskolnikov, a struggling student, justifies his murder of two women, as his future is more valuable than their lives. He thinks himself superior, above the moral laws that apply to others. The police have little evidence against him but trust him to confess, once he cannot bear the mental torture of his crime - a fate he cannot avoid, any more than he can escape from life in St Petersburg and his personal failures. The image above is from a portrait of Dostoevsky by Vasili Perov, 1872. With Sarah Hudspith Associate Professor in Russian at the University of Leeds Oliver Ready Lecturer in Russian at the University of Oxford, Research Fellow at St Antony?s College and a translator of this novel And Sarah Young Associate Professor in Russian at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University College London Producer: Simon Tillotson
2019-11-14
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Robert Burns

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the work of the man who, in his lifetime, was called The Caledonian Bard and whose fame and influence was to spread around the world. Burns (1759-1796) was born in Ayrshire and his work as a tenant farmer earned him the label The Ploughman Poet, yet it was the quality of his verse that helped his reputation endure and grow. His work inspired other Romantic poets and his personal story and ideas combined with that, giving his poems a broad strength and appeal - sung by revolutionaries and on Mao's Long March, as well as on New Year's Eve and at Burns Suppers. With Robert Crawford Professor of Modern Scottish Literature and Bishop Wardlaw Professor of Poetry at the University of St Andrews Fiona Stafford Professor of English at the University of Oxford and Murray Pittock Bradley Professor of English Literature and Pro Vice Principal at the University of Glasgow Producer: Simon Tillotson
2019-10-24
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The Time Machine

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the ideas explored in HG Wells' novella, published in 1895, in which the Time Traveller moves forward to 802,701 AD. There he finds humanity has evolved into the Eloi and Morlocks, where the Eloi are small but leisured fruitarians and the Morlocks live below ground, carry out the work and have a different diet. Escaping the Morlocks, he travels millions of years into the future, where the environment no longer supports humanity. The image above is from a painting by Anton Brzezinski of a scene from The Time Machine, with the Time Traveller meeting the Eloi With Simon Schaffer Professor of History of Science at Cambridge University Amanda Rees Historian of science at the University of York And Simon James Professor in the Department of English Studies at Durham University Producer: Simon Tillotson
2019-10-17
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Lorca

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Spanish poet and playwright Federico Garcia Lorca (1898-1936), author of Blood Wedding, Yerma and The House of Bernarda Alba, who mixed the traditions of Andalusia with the avant-garde. He found his first major success with his Gypsy Ballads, although Dali, once his close friend, mocked him for these, accusing Lorca of being too conservative. He preferred performing his poems to publishing them, and his plays marked a revival in Spanish theatre. He was captured and killed by Nationalist forces at the start of the Civil War, his body never recovered, and it's been suggested this was punishment for his politics and for being openly gay. He has since been seen as the most important Spanish playwright and poet of the last century. With Maria Delgado Professor of Creative Arts at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, University of London Federico Bonaddio Reader in Modern Spanish at King?s College London And Sarah Wright Professor of Hispanic Studies and Screen Arts at Royal Holloway, University of London Producer: Simon Tillotson
2019-07-04
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Sir Thomas Browne

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the range, depth and style of Browne (1605-82) , a medical doctor whose curious mind drew him to explore and confess his own religious views, challenge myths and errors in science and consider how humans respond to the transience of life. His Religio Medici became famous throughout Europe and his openness about his religion, in that work, was noted as rare when others either kept quiet or professed orthodox views. His Pseudodoxia Epidemica challenged popular ideas, whether about the existence of mermaids or if Adam had a navel, and his Hydriotaphia or Urn Burial was a meditation on what matters to humans when handling the dead. In 1923, Virginia Woolf wrote, "Few people love the writings of Sir Thomas Browne, but those that do are the salt of the earth." He also contributed more words to the English language than almost anyone, such as electricity, indigenous, medical, ferocious, carnivorous ambidextrous and migrant. With Claire Preston Professor of Renaissance Literature at Queen Mary University of London Jessica Wolfe Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill And Kevin Killeen Professor of English at the University of York Producer: Simon Tillotson
2019-06-06
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A Midsummer Night's Dream

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss one of Shakespeare's most popular works, written c1595 in the last years of Elizabeth I. It is a comedy of love and desire and their many complications as well as their simplicity, and a reflection on society's expectations and limits. It is also a quiet critique of Elizabeth and her vulnerability and on the politics of the time, and an exploration of the power of imagination. With Helen Hackett Professor of English Literature and Leverhulme Research Fellow at University College London Tom Healy Professor of Renaissance Studies at the University of Sussex and Alison Findlay Professor of Renaissance Drama at Lancaster University and Chair of the British Shakespeare Association Producer: Simon Tillotson
2019-04-18
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Gerard Manley Hopkins

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the life and works of Hopkins (1844-89), a Jesuit priest who at times burned his poems and at others insisted they should not be published. His main themes are how he, nature and God relate to each other. His friend Robert Bridges preserved Hopkins' poetry and, once printed in 1918, works such as The Windhover, Pied Beauty and As Kingfishers Catch Fire were celebrated for their inventiveness and he was seen as a major poet, perhaps the greatest of the Victorian age. With Catherine Phillips R J Owens Fellow in English at Downing College, University of Cambridge Jane Wright Senior Lecturer in English Literature at the University of Bristol and Martin Dubois Assistant Professor in Nineteenth Century Literature at Durham University Producer: Simon Tillotson
2019-03-21
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Antarah ibn Shaddad

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the life, works, context and legacy of Antarah (525-608AD), the great poet and warrior. According to legend, he was born a slave; his mother was an Ethiopian slave, his father an elite Arab cavalryman. Antarah won his freedom in battle and loved a woman called Abla who refused him, and they were later celebrated in the saga of Antar and Abla. One of Antarah's poems was so esteemed in pre-Islamic Arabia that it is believed it was hung up on the wall of the Kaaba in Mecca. With James Montgomery Sir Thomas Adams's Professor of Arabic at the University of Cambridge Marlé Hammond Senior Lecturer in Arabic Popular Literature and Culture at SOAS, University of London And Harry Munt Lecturer in Medieval History at the University of York Producer: Simon Tillotson
2019-02-28
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Judith beheading Holofernes

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss how artists from the Middle Ages onwards have been inspired by the Bible story of the widow who killed an Assyrian general who was besieging her village, and so saved her people from his army and from his master Nebuchadnezzar. A symbol of a woman's power and the defiance of political tyranny, the image of Judith has been sculpted by Donatello, painted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and, in the case of Caravaggio, Liss and Artemisia Gentileschi, been shown with vivid, disturbing detail. What do these interpretations reveal of the attitudes to power and women in their time, and of the artists' own experiences? The image of Judith, above is from a tapestry in the Duomo, Milan, by Giovanni or Nicola Carcher, 1555 With Susan Foister Curator of Early Netherlandish, German and British Painting at the National Gallery John Gash Senior Lecturer in History of Art at the University of Aberdeen And Ela Nutu Hall Research Associate at the Sheffield Institute for Interdisciplinary Biblical Studies, at the University of Sheffield Producer: Simon Tillotson
2019-02-14
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Samuel Beckett

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Samuel Beckett (1906 - 1989), who lived in Paris and wrote his plays and novels in French, not because his French was better than his English, but because it was worse. In works such as Waiting for Godot, Endgame, Molloy and Malone Dies, he wanted to show the limitations of language, what words could not do, together with the absurdity and humour of the human condition. In part he was reacting to the verbal omnipotence of James Joyce, with whom he?d worked in Paris, and in part to his experience in the French Resistance during World War 2, when he used code, writing not to reveal meaning but to conceal it. With Steven Connor Professor of English at the University of Cambridge Laura Salisbury Professor of Modern Literature at the University of Exeter And Mark Nixon Associate Professor in Modern Literature at the University of Reading and co-director of the Beckett International Foundation Producer: Simon Tillotson
2019-01-17
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Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

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, the decapitated body reaches for his head and rides off, leaving Gawain to face his promise and his apparently inevitable death the following Christmas. The illustration above is ©British Library Board Cotton MS Nero A.x, article 3, ff.94v95 With Laura Ashe Professor of English Literature at Worcester College, University of Oxford Ad Putter Professor of Medieval English Literature at the University of Bristol And Simon Armitage Poet and Professor of Poetry at the Universities of Leeds and Oxford Producer: Simon Tillotson
2018-12-13
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Horace

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Horace (65-8BC), who flourished under the Emperor Augustus. He was one of the greatest poets of his age and is one of the most quoted of any age. Carpe diem, nil desperandum, nunc est bibendum ? that?s Horace. He was the son of a freedman from southern Italy and, thanks to his talent, achieved high status in Rome despite fighting on the losing side in the civil wars. His Odes are widely thought his most enduring works, yet he also wrote his scurrilous Epodes, some philosophical Epistles and broad Satires. He?s influenced poets ever since, including those such as Wilfred Owen who rejected his line: ?dulce et decorum est pro patria mori?. With Emily Gowers Professor of Latin Literature at the University of Cambridge and Fellow of St John?s College William Fitzgerald Professor of Latin Language and Literature at King?s College London and Ellen O?Gorman Senior Lecturer in Classics at the University of Bristol Producer: Simon Tillotson
2018-11-15
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Is Shakespeare History? The Romans

In the second of two programmes marking In Our Time's 20th anniversary on 15th October, Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Shakespeare's versions of history, continuing with the Roman plays. Rome was the setting for Titus Andronicus, Julius Caesar, Coriolanus and parts of Antony and Cleopatra and these plays gave Shakespeare the chance to explore ideas too controversial for English histories. How was Shakespeare reimagining Roman history, and what impact has that had on how we see Rome today? The image above is of Marlon Brando playing Mark Antony in a scene from the film version of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, 1953 With Sir Jonathan Bate Provost of Worcester College, University of Oxford Catherine Steel Professor of Classics and Dean of Research in the College of Arts at the University of Glasgow And Patrick Gray Associate Professor of English Studies at Durham University Producer: Simon Tillotson
2018-10-18
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Is Shakespeare History? The Plantagenets

In the first of two programmes marking In Our Time's 20th anniversary on 15th October, Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Shakespeare's versions of history, starting with the English Plantagenets. His eight plays from Richard II to Richard III were written out of order, in the Elizabethan era, and have had a significant impact on the way we see those histories today. In the second programme, Melvyn discusses the Roman plays. The image above is of Richard Burton (1925 - 1984) as Henry V in the Shakespeare play of the same name, from 1951 With Emma Smith Professor of Shakespeare Studies at Hertford College, University of Oxford Gordon McMullan Professor of English at King?s College London and Director of the London Shakespeare Centre And Katherine Lewis Senior Lecturer in Medieval History at the University of Huddersfield Producer: Simon Tillotson
2018-10-11
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Edith Wharton

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the works of Wharton (1862-1937) such as The Age of Innocence for which she won the Pulitzer Prize and was the first woman to do so, The House of Mirth, and The Custom of the Country. Her novels explore the world of privileged New Yorkers in the Gilded Age of the late C19th, of which she was part, drawing on her own experiences and written from the perspective of the new century, either side of WW1 . Among her themes, she examined the choices available to women and the extent to which they could ever really be free, even if rich. With Dame Hermione Lee Biographer, former President of Wolfson College, Oxford Bridget Bennett Professor of American Literature and Culture at the University of Leeds And Laura Rattray Reader in North American Literature at the University of Glasgow Producer: Simon Tillotson
2018-10-04
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The Iliad

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the great epic poem attributed to Homer, telling the story of an intense episode in the Trojan War. It is framed by the wrath of the Greek hero Achilles, insulted by his leader Agamemnon and withdrawing from the battle that continued to rage, only returning when his close friend Patroclus is killed by the Trojan hero Hector. Achilles turns his anger from Agamemnon to Hector and the fated destruction of Troy comes ever closer. With Edith Hall Professor of Classics at King's College London Barbara Graziosi Professor of Classics at Princeton University And Paul Cartledge A.G. Leventis Senior Research Fellow and Emeritus Professor of Greek Culture at Clare College, Cambridge Producer: Simon Tillotson.
2018-09-13
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William Morris

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the ideas of William Morris, known in his lifetime for his poetry and then his contribution to the Arts and Crafts movement, and increasingly for his political activism. He felt the world had given in to drudgery and ugliness and he found inspiration in the time before industrialisation, in the medieval life which was about fellowship and association and ways of working which resisted the division of labour and allowed the worker to exercise his or her imagination. Seeing a disconnection between art and society, his solution was revolution which in his view was the only way to reset their relationship. The image above is from the Strawberry Thief wallpaper design by William Morris. With Ingrid Hanson Lecturer in 18th and 19th Century Literature at the University of Manchester Marcus Waithe University Senior Lecturer in English Literature at the University of Cambridge and Fellow of Magdalene College And Jane Thomas Professor of Victorian and Early 20th Century Literature at the University of Hull Producer: Simon Tillotson.
2018-07-05
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Henrik Ibsen

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the great Norwegian playwright and poet, best known for his middle class tragedies such as The Wild Duck, Hedda Gabler, A Doll's House and An Enemy of the People. These are set in a world where the middle class is dominant and explore the qualities of that life, its weaknesses and boundaries and the ways in which it takes away freedoms. It is the women who fare the worst in this society, something Ibsen explored in A Doll's House among others, a play that created a sensation with audiences shocked to watch a woman break free of her bourgeois family life to find her destiny. He explored dark secrets such as incest and, in Ghosts, hereditary syphilis, which attracted the censors. He gave actresses parts they had rarely had before, and audiences plays that, after Shakespeare, became the most performed in the world. With Tore Rem Professor of English Literature at the University of Oslo Kirsten Shepherd-Barr Professor of English and Theatre Studies and Tutorial Fellow, St Catherine's College at the University of Oxford And Dinah Birch Professor of English Literature and Pro-Vice Chancellor for Cultural Engagement at the University of Liverpool Producer: Simon Tillotson.
2018-05-31
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The Mabinogion

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the eleven stories of Celtic mythology and Arthurian romance known as The Mabinogion, most of which were told and retold for generations before being written down in C14th. Among them are stories of Pwyll and Rhiannon and their son Pryderi, of Culhwch and Olwen, of the dream of the Emperor Macsen, of Lludd and Llefelys, of magic and giants and imagined history. With common themes but no single author, they project an image of the Island of Britain before the Anglo-Saxons and Normans and before Edward I's conquest of Wales. They came to new prominence, worldwide, from C19th with the translation into English by Lady Charlotte Guest aided by William Owen Pughe. The image above is of Cynon ap Clydno approaching the Castle of Maidens from the tale of Owain, or the Lady of the Fountain With Sioned Davies Professor in the School of Welsh at Cardiff University Helen Fulton Professor of Medieval Literature at the University of Bristol And Juliette Wood Associate Lecturer in the School of Welsh at Cardiff University Producer: Simon Tillotson.
2018-05-10
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Middlemarch

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss what Virginia Woolf called 'one of the few English novels written for grown-up people'. It was written by George Eliot, the pen name of Mary Anne Evans (1819-80), published in 8 parts in 1871-72, and was originally two separate stories which became woven together. One, 'Middlemarch', focused on a doctor, Tertius Lydgate and the other, 'Miss Brooke', on Dorothea Brooke who became the central figure in the finished work. The events are set in a small town in the Midlands, surrounded by farmland, leading up to the Reform Act 1832, and the novel explores the potential to change in matters of religion, social status, marriage and politics, and is particularly concerned with the opportunities available to women to lead fulfilling lives. The image above shows Rufus Sewell and Juliet Aubrey in the BBC adaptation, from 1994 With Rosemary Ashton Emeritus Quain Professor of English Language and Literature at University College London Kathryn Hughes Professor of Life Writing at the University of East Anglia And John Bowen Professor of Nineteenth-Century Literature at the University of York Producer: Simon Tillotson.
2018-04-19
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Anna Akhmatova

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the work, ideas and life of the Russian poet whose work was celebrated in C20th both for its quality and for what it represented, written under censorship in the Stalin years. Her best known poem, Requiem, was written after her son was imprisoned partly as a threat to her and, to avoid punishment for creating it, she passed it on to her supporters to be memorised, line by line, rather than written down. She was a problem for the authorities and became significant internationally, as her work came to symbolise resistance to political tyranny and the preservation of pre-Revolutionary liberal values in the Soviet era. The image above is based on 'Portrait of Anna Akhmatova' by N.I. Altman, 1914, Moscow With Katharine Hodgson Professor in Russian at the University of Exeter Alexandra Harrington Reader in Russian Studies at Durham University And Michael Basker Professor of Russian Literature and Dean of Arts at the University of Bristol Producer: Simon Tillotson.
2018-01-18
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Hamlet

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Shakespeare's best known, most quoted and longest play, written c1599 - 1602 and rewritten throughout his lifetime. It is the story of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, encouraged by his father's ghost to take revenge on his uncle who murdered him, and is set at the court of Elsinore. In soliloquies, the Prince reveals his inner self to the audience while concealing his thoughts from all at the Danish court, who presume him insane. Shakespeare gives him lines such as 'to be or not to be,' 'alas, poor Yorick,' and 'frailty thy name is woman', which are known even to those who have never seen or read the play. And Hamlet has become the defining role for actors, men and women, who want to show their mastery of Shakespeare's work. The image above is from the 1964 film adaptation, directed by Grigori Kozintsev, with Innokenty Smoktunovsky as Hamlet. With Sir Jonathan Bate Provost of Worcester College, University of Oxford Carol Rutter Professor of Shakespeare and Performance Studies at the University of Warwick And Sonia Massai Professor of Shakespeare Studies at King's College London Producer: Simon Tillotson.
2017-12-28
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Beethoven

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss one of the great composers, who was born into a family of musicians in Bonn. His grandfather was an eminent musician and also called Ludwig van Beethoven. His father, who was not as talented as Beethoven's grandfather, drank heavily and died when Beethoven was still young. It was his move to Vienna that allowed him to flourish, with the support at first of aristocratic patrons, when that city was the hub of European music. He is credited with developing the symphony further than any who preceded him, with elevating instrumental above choral music and with transforming music to the highest form of art. He composed his celebrated works while, from his late twenties onwards, becoming increasingly deaf. (Before the live broadcast, BBC Radio 3's Breakfast programme played selections from Beethoven, with Essential Classics playing more, immediately after, on the same network.) With Laura Tunbridge Professor of Music and Henfrey Fellow, St Catherine's College, University of Oxford John Deathridge Emeritus King Edward Professor of Music at King's College London And Erica Buurman Senior Lecturer in Music, Canterbury Christchurch University Producer: Simon Tillotson.
2017-12-21
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Moby Dick

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Herman Melville's (1819-1891) epic novel, published in London in 1851, the story of Captain Ahab's pursuit of a great white sperm whale that had bitten off his leg. He risks his own life and that of his crew on the Pequod, single-mindedly seeking his revenge, his story narrated by Ishmael who was taking part in a whaling expedition for the first time. This is one of the c1000 ideas which listeners sent in this autumn for our fourth Listener Week, following Kafka's The Trial in 2014, Captain Cook in 2015 and Garibaldi and the Risorgimento in 2016. With Bridget Bennett Professor of American Literature and Culture at the University of Leeds Katie McGettigan Lecturer in American Literature at Royal Holloway, University of London And Graham Thompson Associate Professor of American Studies at the University of Nottingham Producer: Simon Tillotson.
2017-12-07
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Germaine de Stael

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the life and impact of Germaine de Staël (1766-1817) who Byron praised as Europe's greatest living writer, and was at the heart of intellectual and literary life in the France of revolution and of Napoleon. As well as attracting and inspiring others in her salon, she wrote novels, plays. literary criticism, political essays, and poems and developed the ideas behind Romanticism. She achieved this while regularly exiled from the Paris in which she was born, having fallen out with Napoleon who she opposed, becoming a towering figure in the history of European ideas. With Catriona Seth, Marshal Foch Professor of French Literature at the University of Oxford Alison Finch, Professor Emerita of French Literature at the University of Cambridge and Katherine Astbury, Associate Professor and Reader in French Studies at the University of Warwick. Producer: Simon Tillotson.
2017-11-16
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Picasso's Guernica

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the context and impact of Pablo Picasso's iconic work, created soon after the bombing on 26th April 1937 that obliterated much of the Basque town of Guernica, and its people. The attack was carried out by warplanes of the German Condor Legion, joined by the Italian air force, on behalf of Franco's Nationalists. At first the Nationalists denied responsibility, blaming their opponents for creating the destruction themselves for propaganda purposes, but the accounts of journalists such as George Steer, and the prominence of Picasso's work, kept the events of that day under close scrutiny. Picasso's painting has gone on to become a symbol warning against the devastation of war. With Mary Vincent Professor of Modern European History at the University of Sheffield Gijs van Hensbergen Historian of Spanish Art and Fellow of the LSE Cañada Blanch Centre for Contemporary Spanish Studies and Dacia Viejo Rose Lecturer in Heritage in the Department of Archaeology at the University of Cambridge Fellow of Selwyn College Producer: Simon Tillotson.
2017-11-02
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Aphra Behn

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Aphra Behn (1640-1689), who made her name and her living as a playwright, poet and writer of fiction under the Restoration. Virginia Woolf wrote of her: ' All women together, ought to let flowers fall upon the grave of Aphra Behn... for it was she who earned them the right to speak their minds'. Behn may well have spent some of her early life in Surinam, the setting for her novel Oroonoko, and there are records of her working in the Netherlands as a spy for Charles II. She was loyal to the Stuart kings, and refused to write a poem on the coronation of William of Orange. She was regarded as an important writer in her lifetime and inspired others to write, but fell out of favour for two centuries after her death when her work was seen as too bawdy, the product of a disreputable age. The image above is from the Yale Center for British Art and is titled 'Aphra Behn, by Sir Peter Lely, 1618-1680' With Janet Todd Former President of Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge University Ros Ballaster Professor of 18th Century Literature at Mansfield College, University of Oxford and Claire Bowditch Post-doctoral Research Associate in English and Drama at Loughborough University Producer: Simon Tillotson.
2017-10-12
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Wuthering Heights (repeat)

In a programme first broadcast in 2017, Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Emily Bronte (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 Grange even though she feels inextricably linked with Heathcliff, exclaiming to her maid 'I am Heathcliff!' On his return, Heathcliff steadily works through his revenge on all who he believes wronged him, and their relations. When Cathy dies, Heathcliff longs to be united with her in the grave. The raw passions and cruelty of the story unsettled Emily's sister Charlotte Bronte, whose novel Jane Eyre had been published shortly before, and who took pains to explain its roughness, jealousy and violence when introducing it to early readers. Over time, with its energy, imagination and scope, Wuthering Heights became celebrated as one of the great novels in English. The image above is of Laurence Olivier as Heathcliff and Merle Oberon as Cathy on the set of the Samuel Goldwyn Company movie 'Wuthering Heights', circa 1939. With Karen O'Brien Professor of English Literature at the University of Oxford John Bowen Professor of Nineteenth Century Literature at the University of York and Alexandra Lewis Lecturer in English Literature at the University of Aberdeen Producer: Simon Tillotson.
2017-09-28
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al-Biruni

Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Central Asian polymath al-Biruni and his eleventh-century book the India.Born in around 973 in the central Asian region of Chorasmia, al-Biruni became an itinerant scholar of immense learning, a master of mathematics, medicine, astronomy and many languages. He corresponded with the age's greatest scientist, Avicenna, and made significant contributions to many fields of knowledge.In 1017 al-Biruni became a member of the court of the ruler Mahmud of Ghazna. Over the course of the next thirteen years he wrote the India, a comprehensive account of Hindu culture which was the first book about India by a Muslim scholar. It contains detailed information about Hindu religion, science and everyday life which have caused some to call it the first work of anthropology.With:James MontgomeryProfessor of Classical Arabic at the University of CambridgeHugh KennedyProfessor of Arabic in the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of LondonAmira BennisonSenior Lecturer in Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies at the University of CambridgeProducer: Thomas Morris.
2017-08-31
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Eugene Onegin

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Alexander Pushkin's verse novel, the story of Eugene Onegin, widely regarded as his masterpiece. Pushkin (pictured above) began this in 1823 and worked on it over the next ten years, while moving around Russia, developing the central character of a figure all too typical of his age, the so-called superfluous man. Onegin is cynical, disillusioned and detached, his best friend Lensky is a romantic poet and Tatyana, whose love for Onegin is not returned until too late, is described as a poetic ideal of a Russian woman, and they are shown in the context of the Russian landscape and society that has shaped them. Onegin draws all three into tragic situations which, if he had been willing and able to act, he could have prevented, and so becomes the one responsible for the misery of himself and others as well as the death of his friend. With Andrew Kahn Professor of Russian Literature at the University of Oxford and Fellow of St Edmund Hall Emily Finer Lecturer in Russian and Comparative Literature at the University of St Andrews and Simon Dixon The Sir Bernard Pares Professor of Russian History at University College London Producer: Simon Tillotson.
2017-06-22
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Christine de Pizan

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the life and works of Christine de Pizan, who wrote at the French Court in the late Middle Ages and was celebrated by Simone de Beauvoir as the first woman to 'take up her pen in defence of her sex.' She wrote across a broad range, and was particularly noted for challenging the depiction of women by famous writers such as Jean de Meun, author of the Romance of the Rose. She has been characterised as an early feminist who argued that women could play a much more important role in society than the one they were allotted, reflected in arguably her most important work, The Book of the City of Ladies, a response to the seemingly endless denigration of women in popular texts of the time. The image above, of Christine de Pizan lecturing, is (c)The British Library Board. Harley 4431, f.259v. With Helen Swift Associate Professor of Medieval French at the University of Oxford and Fellow of St Hilda's College Miranda Griffin Lecturer in French and Fellow of St Catharine's College, Cambridge and Marilynn Desmond Distinguished Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Binghamton University Producer: Simon Tillotson.
2017-06-08
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Emily Dickinson

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the life and works of Emily Dickinson, arguably the most startling and original poet in America in the C19th. According to Thomas Wentworth Higginson, her correspondent and mentor, writing 15 years after her death, "Few events in American literary history have been more curious than the sudden rise of Emily Dickinson into a posthumous fame only more accentuated by the utterly recluse character of her life and by her aversion to even a literary publicity." That was in 1891 and, as more of Dickinson's poems were published, and more of her remaining letters, the more the interest in her and appreciation of her grew. With her distinctive voice, her abundance, and her exploration of her private world, she is now seen by many as one of the great lyric poets. With Fiona Green Senior Lecturer in English at the University of Cambridge and a Fellow of Jesus College Linda Freedman Lecturer in English and American Literature at University College London and Paraic Finnerty Reader in English and American Literature at the University of Portsmouth Producer: Simon Tillotson.
2017-05-11
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Hokusai

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849), the Japanese artist whose views of Mt Fuji such as The Great Wave off Kanagawa (pictured) are some of the most iconic in world art. He worked as Japan was slowly moving towards greater contact with the outside world, trading with China and allowing two Dutch ships to dock each year. From these ships he picked up new synthetic colours and illustrations with Western compositions, which he incorporated in his traditional wood block prints. The quality of his images helped drive demand for prints among the highly literate Japanese public, particularly those required to travel to Edo under feudal obligations and who wanted to collect all his prints. As well as the quality of his work, Hokusai's success stems partly from his long life and career. He completed some of his most memorable works in his 70s and 80s and claimed he would not reach his best until he was 110. With Angus Lockyer Lecturer in Japanese History at SOAS University of London Rosina Buckland Senior Curator of Japanese Collections at the National Museum of Scotland And Ellis Tinios Honorary Lecturer in the School of History, University of Leeds Producer: Simon Tillotson.
2017-03-30
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North and South

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Elizabeth Gaskell's novel North and South, published in 1855 after serialisation in Dickens' Household Words magazine. It is the story of Margaret Hale, who was raised in the South in the New Forest and London's Harley Street, and then moves North to a smokey mill town, Milton, in Darkshire. As well as Margaret's emotional life and her growing sense of independence, the novel explores the new ways of living thrown up by industrialisation, and the relationships between 'masters and men'. Many of Margaret Hale's experiences echo Gaskell's own life, as she was born in Chelsea and later moved to Manchester, and the novel has become valued for its insights into social conflicts and the changing world in which Gaskell lived. With Sally Shuttleworth Professor of English Literature at the University of Oxford Dinah Birch Pro-vice Chancellor for Research and Professor of English Literature at the University of Liverpool And Jenny Uglow Biographer of Elizabeth Gaskell Producer: Simon Tillotson.
2017-03-09
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Seneca the Younger

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Seneca the Younger, who was one of the first great writers to live his entire life in the world of the new Roman empire, after the fall of the Republic. He was a Stoic philosopher, he wrote blood-soaked tragedies, he was an orator, and he navigated his way through the reigns of Caligula, Claudius and Nero, sometimes exercising power at the highest level and at others spending years in exile. Agrippina the Younger was the one who called for him to tutor Nero, and it is thought Seneca helped curb some of Nero's excesses. He was later revered within the Christian church, partly for what he did and partly for what he was said to have done in forged letters to St Paul. His tragedies, with their ghosts and high body count, influenced Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus and Hamlet, and Kyd's Spanish Tragedy. The image above is the so-called bust of Seneca, a detail from Four Philosophers by Peter Paul Rubens. With Mary Beard Professor of Classics at the University of Cambridge Catharine Edwards Professor of Classics and Ancient History at Birkbeck, University of London and Alessandro Schiesaro Professor of Classics at the University of Manchester Producer: Simon Tillotson.
2017-02-23
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John Clare

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, and his reaction to the changes he saw in the Agricultural Revolution with its enclosures, displacement and altered, disrupted landscape. Despite poor mental health and, from middle age onwards, many years in asylums, John Clare continued to write and he is now seen as one of the great poets of his age. With Sir Jonathan Bate Provost of Worcester College, University of Oxford Mina Gorji Senior Lecturer in the English Faculty and fellow of Pembroke College, Cambridge and Simon Kövesi Professor of English Literature at Oxford Brookes University Producer: Simon Tillotson.
2017-02-09
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Four Quartets

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Four Quartets, TS Eliot's last great work which he composed, against a background of imminent and actual world war, as meditations on the relationship between time and humanity. With David Moody Emeritus Professor of English and American Literature at the University of York Fran Brearton Professor of Modern Poetry at Queen's University, Belfast And Mark Ford Professor of English and American Literature at University College London Producer: Simon Tillotson Jeremy Irons will be reading TS Eliot's greatest poems, from Prufrock to The Waste Land to Four Quartets, across New Year's Day here on Radio 4.
2016-12-22
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The Fighting Temeraire

This image: Joseph Mallord William Turner, The Fighting Temeraire, 1839 (c) The National Gallery, London Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss "The Fighting Temeraire", one of Turner's greatest works and the one he called his 'darling'. It shows one of the most famous ships of the age, a hero of Trafalgar, being towed up the Thames to the breakers' yard, sail giving way to steam. Turner displayed this masterpiece to a public which, at the time, was deep in celebration of the Temeraire era, with work on Nelson's Column underway, and it was an immediate success, with Thackeray calling the painting 'a national ode'. With Susan Foister Curator of Early Netherlandish, German and British Painting at the National Gallery David Blayney Brown Manton Curator of British Art 1790-1850 at Tate Britain and James Davey Curator of Naval History at the National Maritime Museum Producer: Simon Tillotson.
2016-11-10
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Epic of Gilgamesh

"He who saw the Deep" are the first words of the standard version of The Epic of Gilgamesh, the subject of this discussion between Melvyn Bragg and his guests. Gilgamesh is often said to be the oldest surviving great work of literature, with origins in the third millennium BC, and it passed through thousands of years on cuneiform tablets. Unlike epics of Greece and Rome, the intact story of Gilgamesh became lost to later generations until tablets were discovered by Hormuzd Rassam in 1853 near Mosul and later translated. Since then, many more tablets have been found and much of the text has been reassembled to convey the story of Gilgamesh, king of Uruk the sheepfold, and Enkidu who the gods created to stop Gilgamesh oppressing his people. Together they fight Humbaba, monstrous guardian of the Cedar Forest, and kill the Bull of Heaven, for which the gods make Enkidu mortally ill. Gilgamesh goes on a long journey as he tries unsuccessfully to learn how to live forever, learning about the Great Deluge on the way, but his remarkable building works guarantee that his fame will last long after his death. With Andrew George Professor of Babylonian at SOAS, University of London Frances Reynolds Shillito Fellow in Assyriology at the Oriental Institute, University of Oxford and Fellow of St Benet's Hall and Martin Worthington Lecturer in Assyriology at the University of Cambridge Producer: Simon Tillotson.
2016-11-03
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The 12th Century Renaissance

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the changes in the intellectual world of Western Europe in the 12th Century, and their origins. This was a time of Crusades, the formation of states, the start of Gothic architecture, a reconnection with Roman and Greek learning and their Arabic development and the start of the European universities, and has become known as The 12th Century Renaissance. The image above is part of Notre-Dame de la Belle-Verrière, Chartres Cathedral, from 1180. With Laura Ashe Associate Professor of English at Worcester College, University of Oxford Elisabeth van Houts Honorary Professor of European Medieval History at the University of Cambridge and Giles Gasper Reader in Medieval History at Durham University Producer: Simon Tillotson.
2016-10-20
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En liten tjänst av I'm With Friends. Finns även på engelska.
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