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In Our Time

In Our Time

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the history of ideas

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The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the republic that emerged from the union of the Kingdom of Poland and Grand Duchy of Lithuania in the 14th Century. At first this was a personal union, similar to that of James I and VI in Britain, but this was formalised in 1569 into a vast republic, stretching from the Baltic to the Black Sea. Kings and princes from across Europe would compete for parliament to elect them King and Grand Duke, and the greatest power lay with the parliaments. When the system worked well, the Commonwealth was a powerhouse, and it was their leader Jan Sobieski who relieved the siege of Vienna in 1683, defeating the Ottomans. Its neighbours exploited its parliament's need for unanimity, though, and this contributed to its downfall. Austria, Russia and Prussia divided its territory between them from 1772, before the new, smaller states only emerged in the 20th Century. The image above is Jan III Sobieski (1629-1696), King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania, at the Battle of Vienna 1683, by Marcello Bacciarelli (1731-1818) With Robert Frost The Burnett Fletcher Chair of History at the University of Aberdeen Katarzyna Kosior Lecturer in Early Modern History at Northumbria University And Norman Davies Professor Emeritus in History and Honorary Fellow of St Antony?s College, University of Oxford Producer: Simon Tillotson
2021-10-14
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The Manhattan Project

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the race to build an atom bomb in the USA during World War Two. Before the war, scientists in Germany had discovered the potential of nuclear fission and scientists in Britain soon argued that this could be used to make an atom bomb, against which there could be no defence other than to own one. The fear among the Allies was that, with its head start, Germany might develop the bomb first and, unmatched, use it on its enemies. The USA took up the challenge in a huge engineering project led by General Groves and Robert Oppenheimer and, once the first bomb had been exploded at Los Alamos in July 1945, it appeared inevitable that the next ones would be used against Japan with devastating results. The image above is of Robert Oppenheimer and General Groves examining the remains of one the bases of the steel test tower, at the atomic bomb Trinity Test site, in September 1945. With Bruce Cameron Reed The Charles A. Dana Professor of Physics Emeritus at Alma College, Michigan Cynthia Kelly Founder and President of the Atomic Heritage Foundation And Frank Close Emeritus Professor of Theoretical Physics at the University of Oxford and a Fellow of Exeter College, Oxford Producer: Simon Tillotson
2021-10-07
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The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Anne Bronte's second novel, published in 1848, which is now celebrated alongside those of her sisters but which Charlotte Bronte tried to suppress as a 'mistake'. It examines the life of Helen, who has escaped her abusive husband Arthur Huntingdon with their son to live at Wildfell Hall as a widow under the alias 'Mrs Graham', and it exposes the men in her husband's circle who gave her no choice but to flee. Early critics attacked the novel as coarse, as misrepresenting male behaviour, and as something no woman or girl should ever read; soon after Anne's death, Charlotte suggested the publisher should lose it for good. In recent decades, though, its reputation has climbed and it now sits with Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights as one of the great novels by the Bronte sisters. The image above shows Tara Fitzgerald as Helen Graham in a 1996 BBC adaptation. With Alexandra Lewis Lecturer in English and Creative Writing at the University of Newcastle (Australia) Marianne Thormählen Professor Emerita in English Studies, Lund University And John Bowen Professor of Nineteenth Century Literature at the University of York Producer: Simon Tillotson
2021-09-30
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Herodotus

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Greek writer known as the father of histories, dubbed by his detractors as the father of lies. Herodotus (c484 to 425 BC or later) was raised in Halicarnassus in modern Turkey when it was part of the Persian empire and, in the years after the Persian Wars, set about an inquiry into the deep background to those wars. He also aimed to preserve what he called the great and marvellous deeds of Greeks and non-Greeks, seeking out the best evidence for past events and presenting the range of evidence for readers to assess. Plutarch was to criticise Herodotus for using this to promote the least flattering accounts of his fellow Greeks, hence the 'father of lies', but the depth and breadth of his Histories have secured his reputation from his lifetime down to the present day. With Tom Harrison Professor of Ancient History at the University of St Andrews Esther Eidinow Professor of Ancient History at the University of Bristol And Paul Cartledge A. G. Leventis Senior Research Fellow at Clare College, University of Cambridge Producer: Simon Tillotson
2021-09-23
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The Evolution of Crocodiles

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the remarkable diversity of the animals that dominated life on land in the Triassic, before the rise of the dinosaurs in the Jurassic, and whose descendants are often described wrongly as 'living fossils'. For tens of millions of years, the ancestors of alligators and Nile crocodiles included some as large as a bus, some running on two legs like a T Rex and some that lived like whales. They survived and rebounded from a series of extinction events but, while the range of habitats of the dinosaur descendants such as birds covers much of the globe, those of the crocodiles have contracted, even if the animals themselves continue to evolve today as quickly as they ever have. With Anjali Goswami Research Leader in Life Sciences and Dean of Postgraduate Education at the Natural History Museum Philip Mannion Lecturer in the Department of Earth Sciences at University College London And Steve Brusatte Professor of Palaeontology and Evolution at the University of Edinburgh Producer Simon Tillotson
2021-09-16
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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
2021-06-24
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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
2021-06-17
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Booth's Life and Labour Survey

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Charles Booth's survey, The Life and Labour of the People in London, published in 17 volumes from 1889 to 1903. Booth (1840-1916), a Liverpudlian shipping line owner, surveyed every household in London to see if it was true, as claimed, that as many as a quarter lived in poverty. He found that it was closer to a third, and that many of these were either children with no means of support or older people no longer well enough to work. He went on to campaign for an old age pension, and broadened the impact of his findings by publishing enhanced Ordnance Survey maps with the streets coloured according to the wealth of those who lived there. The image above is of an organ grinder on a London street, circa 1893, with children dancing to the Pas de Quatre With Emma Griffin Professor of Modern British History at the University of East Anglia Sarah Wise Adjunct Professor at the University of California And Lawrence Goldman Emeritus Fellow in History at St Peter?s College, University of Oxford Producer: Simon Tillotson
2021-06-10
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Kant's Copernican Revolution

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the insight into our relationship with the world that Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) shared in his book The Critique of Pure Reason in 1781. It was as revolutionary, in his view, as when the Polish astronomer Copernicus realised that Earth revolves around the Sun rather than the Sun around Earth. Kant's was an insight into how we understand the world around us, arguing that we can never know the world as it is, but only through the structures of our minds which shape that understanding. This idea, that the world depends on us even though we do not create it, has been one of Kant?s greatest contributions to philosophy and influences debates to this day. The image above is a portrait of Immanuel Kant by Friedrich Wilhelm Springer With Fiona Hughes Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Essex Anil Gomes Associate Professor and Fellow and Tutor in Philosophy at Trinity College, Oxford And John Callanan Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at King?s College London Producer: Simon Tillotson
2021-06-03
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The Interregnum

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the period between the execution of Charles I in 1649 and the unexpected restoration of his son Charles II in 1660, known as The Interregnum. It was marked in England by an elusive pursuit of stability, with serious consequences in Scotland and notorious ones in Ireland. When Parliament executed Charles it had also killed Scotland and Ireland?s king, without their consent; Scotland immediately declared Charles II king of Britain, and Ireland too favoured Charles. In the interests of political and financial security, Parliament's forces, led by Oliver Cromwell, soon invaded Ireland and then turned to defeating Scotland. However, the improvised power structures in England did not last and Oliver Cromwell's death in 1658 was followed by the threat of anarchy. In England, Charles II had some success in overturning the changes of the 1650s but there were lasting consequences for Scotland and the notorious changes in Ireland were entrenched. The Dutch image of Oliver Cromwell, above, was published by Joost Hartgers c1649 With Clare Jackson Senior Tutor at Trinity Hall, University of Cambridge Micheál Ó Siochrú Professor in Modern History at Trinity College Dublin And Laura Stewart Professor in Early Modern History at the University of York Producer: Simon Tillotson
2021-05-27
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Journey to the West

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss one of the great novels of China?s Ming era, and perhaps the most loved. Written in 1592, it draws on the celebrated travels of a real monk from China to India a thousand years before, and on a thousand years of retellings of that story, especially the addition of a monkey as companion who, in the novel, becomes supersimian. For most readers the monk, Tripitaka, is upstaged by this irrepressible Monkey with his extraordinary powers, accompanied by the fallen but recovering deities, Pigsy and Sandy. The image above, from the caricature series Yoshitoshi ryakuga or Sketches by Yoshitoshi, is of Monkey creating an army by plucking out his fur and blowing it into the air, and each hair becomes a monkey-warrior. With Julia Lovell Professor of Modern Chinese History and Literature at Birkbeck, University of London Chiung-yun Evelyn Liu Associate Research Fellow at the Institute of Chinese Literature and Philosophy, Academia Sinica, Taiwan And Craig Clunas Professor Emeritus of the History of Art at Trinity College, University of Oxford Producer: Simon Tillotson
2021-05-20
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Longitude

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the search for Longitude while at sea. Following efforts by other maritime nations, the British Government passed the Longitude Act in 1714 to reward anyone who devised reliable means for ships to determine their longitude at sea. Mariners could already calculate how far they were north or south, the Latitude, using the Pole Star, but voyaging across the Atlantic to the Caribbean was much less predictable as navigators could not be sure how far east or west they were, a particular problem when heading for islands. It took fifty years of individual genius and collaboration in Britain and across Europe, among astronomers, clock makers, mathematicians and sailors, for the problem to be resolved. With Rebekah Higgitt Principal Curator of Science at National Museums Scotland Jim Bennett Keeper Emeritus at the Science Museum And Simon Schaffer Professor of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Cambridge Producer: Simon Tillotson
2021-05-13
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The Second Barons' War

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the years of bloody conflict that saw Simon de Montfort (1205-65) become the most powerful man in England, with Henry III as his prisoner. With others, he had toppled Henry in 1258 in a secret, bloodless coup and established provisions for more parliaments with broader representation, for which he was later known as the Father of the House of Commons. When Henry III regained power in 1261, Simon de Montfort rallied forces for war, with victory at Lewes in 1264 and defeat and dismemberment in Evesham the year after. Although praised for supporting parliaments, he also earned a reputation for unleashing dark, violent forces in English politics and, infamously, his supporters murdered hundreds of Jewish people in London and elsewhere. With David Carpenter Professor of Medieval History at King?s College London Louise Wilkinson Professor of Medieval Studies at the University of Lincoln And Sophie Thérèse Ambler Lecturer in Later Medieval British and European History at Lancaster University Producer: Simon Tillotson
2021-05-06
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Ovid

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Roman poet Publius Ovidius Naso (43BC-17/18AD) who, as he described it, was destroyed by 'carmen et error', a poem and a mistake. His works have been preserved in greater number than any of the poets of his age, even Virgil, and have been among the most influential. The versions of many of the Greek and Roman myths we know today were his work, as told in his epic Metamorphoses and, together with his works on Love and the Art of Love, have inspired and disturbed readers from the time they were created. Despite being the most prominent poet in Augustan Rome at the time, he was exiled from Rome to Tomis on the Black Sea Coast where he remained until he died. It is thought that the 'carmen' that led to his exile was the Art of Love, Ars Amatoria, supposedly scandalising Augustus, but the 'error' was not disclosed. With Maria Wyke Professor of Latin at University College London Gail Trimble Brown Fellow and Tutor in Classics at Trinity College at the University of Oxford And Dunstan Lowe Senior Lecturer in Latin Literature at the University of Kent Producer: Simon Tillotson
2021-04-29
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The Franco-American Alliance 1778

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the treaties France entered into with the United States of America in 1778, to give open support to the USA in its revolutionary war against Britain and to promote French trade across the Atlantic. This alliance had profound consequences for all three. The French navy, in particular, played a decisive role in the Americans? victory in their revolution, but the great cost of supporting this overseas war fell on French taxpayers, highlighting the need for reforms which in turn led to the French Revolution. Then, when France looked to its American ally for support in the new French revolutionary wars with Britain, Americans had to choose where their longer term interests lay, and they turned back from the France that had supported them to the Britain they had just been fighting, and France and the USA fell into undeclared war at sea. The image above is a detail of Bataille de Yorktown by Auguste Couder, with Rochambeau commanding the French expeditionary force in 1781 With Frank Cogliano Professor of American History at the University of Edinburgh Kathleen Burk Professor Emerita of Modern and Contemporary History at University College London And Michael Rapport Reader in Modern European History at the University of Glasgow Producer: Simon Tillotson
2021-04-22
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Arianism

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the form of Christianity adopted by Ostrogoths in the 4th century AD, which they learned from Roman missionaries and from their own contact with the imperial court at Constantinople. This form spread to the Vandals and the Visigoths, who took it into Roman Spain and North Africa, and the Ostrogoths brought it deeper into Italy after the fall of the western Roman empire. Meanwhile, with the Roman empire in the east now firmly committed to the Nicene Creed not the Arian, the Goths and Vandals faced conflict or conversion, as Arianism moved from an orthodox view to being a heresy that would keep followers from heaven and delay the Second Coming for all. The image above is the ceiling mosaic of the Arian Baptistry in Ravenna, commissioned by Theodoric, ruler of the Ostrogothic Kingdom of Italy, around the end of the 5th century With Judith Herrin Professor of Late Antique and Byzantine Studies, Emeritus, at King's College London Robin Whelan Lecturer in Mediterranean History at the University of Liverpool And Martin Palmer Visiting Professor in Religion, History and Nature at the University of Winchester Producer: Simon Tillotson
2021-04-15
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Pierre-Simon Laplace

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Laplace (1749-1827) who was a giant in the world of mathematics both before and after the French Revolution. He addressed one of the great questions of his age, raised but side-stepped by Newton: was the Solar System stable, or would the planets crash into the Sun, as it appeared Jupiter might, or even spin away like Saturn threatened to do? He advanced ideas on probability, long the preserve of card players, and expanded them out across science; he hypothesised why the planets rotate in the same direction; and he asked if the Universe was deterministic, so that if you knew everything about all the particles then you could predict the future. He also devised the metric system and reputedly came up with the name 'metre'. With Marcus du Sautoy Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science and Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford Timothy Gowers Professor of Mathematics at the College de France And Colva Roney-Dougal Professor of Pure Mathematics at the University of St Andrews Producer: Simon Tillotson
2021-04-08
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The Russo-Japanese War

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the conflict between Russia and Japan from February 1904 to September 1905, which gripped the world and had a profound impact on both countries. Wary of Russian domination of Korea, Japan attacked the Russian Fleet at Port Arthur and the ensuing war gave Russia a series of shocks, including the loss of their Baltic Fleet after a seven month voyage, which reverberated in the 1905 Revolution. Meanwhile Japan, victorious, advanced its goal of making Europe and America more wary in East Asia, combining rapid military modernisation and Samurai traditions when training its new peasant conscripts. The US-brokered peace failed to require Russia to make reparations, which became a cause of Japanese resentment towards the US. With Simon Dixon The Sir Bernard Pares Professor of Russian History at University College London Naoko Shimazu Professor of Humanities at Yale NUS College, Singapore And Oleg Benesch Reader in Modern History at the University of York Producer: Simon Tillotson
2021-04-01
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David Ricardo

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss one of the most influential economists from the age of Adam Smith and Thomas Malthus. Ricardo (1772 -1823) reputedly made his fortune at the Battle of Waterloo, and he made his lasting impact with his ideas on free trade. At a time when nations preferred to be self-sufficient, to produce all their own food and manufacture their own goods, and to find markets for export rather than import, Ricardo argued for free trade even with rivals for the benefit of all. He contended that existing economic policy unduly favoured landlords above all others and needed to change, and that nations would be less likely to go to war with their trading partners if they were more reliant on each other. For the last two hundred years, Ricardo?s Theory of Comparative Advantage in support of free trade has been developed and reinterpreted by generations of economists across the political spectrum. With Matthew Watson Professor of Political Economy at the University of Warwick Helen Paul Lecturer in Economics and Economic History at the University of Southampton And Richard Whatmore Professor of Modern History at the University of St Andrews and Co-Director of the St Andrews Institute of Intellectual History Producer: Simon Tillotson
2021-03-25
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The Bacchae

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Euripides' great tragedy, which was first performed in Athens in 405 BC when the Athenians were on the point of defeat and humiliation in a long war with Sparta. The action seen or described on stage was brutal: Pentheus, king of Thebes, is torn into pieces by his mother in a Bacchic frenzy and his grandparents condemned to crawl away as snakes. All this happened because Pentheus had denied the divinity of his cousin Dionysus, known to the audience as god of wine, theatre, fertility and religious ecstasy. The image above is a detail of a Red-Figure Cup showing the death of Pentheus (exterior) and a Maenad (interior), painted c. 480 BC by the Douris painter. This object can be found at the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas. With Edith Hall Professor of Classics at King?s College London Emily Wilson Professor of Classical Studies at the University of Pennsylvania And Rosie Wyles Lecturer in Classical History and Literature at the University of Kent Producer: Simon Tillotson
2021-03-18
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The Late Devonian Extinction

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the devastating mass extinctions of the Late Devonian Period, roughly 370 million years ago, when around 70 percent of species disappeared. Scientists are still trying to establish exactly what happened, when and why, but this was not as sudden as when an asteroid hits Earth. The Devonian Period had seen the first trees and soils and it had such a diversity of sea life that it?s known as the Age of Fishes, some of them massive and armoured, and, in one of the iconic stages in evolution, some of them moving onto land for the first time. One of the most important theories for the first stage of this extinction is that the new soils washed into oceans, leading to algal blooms that left the waters without oxygen and suffocated the marine life. The image above is an abstract group of the huge, armoured Dunkleosteus fish, lost in the Late Devonian Extinction With Jessica Whiteside Associate Professor of Geochemistry in the Department of Ocean and Earth Science at the University of Southampton David Bond Professor of Geology at the University of Hull And Mike Benton Professor of Vertebrate Paleontology at the School of Life Sciences, University of Bristol.
2021-03-11
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The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

In this 900th edition of the programme, Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss one of the best known and most influential of the poems of the Romantic movement. Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834) wrote The Rime of the Ancient Mariner in 1798 after discussions with his friend Wordsworth. He refined it for the rest of his life, and it came to define him, a foreshadowing of his opium-addicted, lonely wandering and deepening sense of guilt. The poem tells of a sailor compelled to tell and retell the story of a terrible voyage in his youth, this time as guests are heading to a wedding party, where he stoppeth one of three. The image above is from Gustave Doré's illustration of the mariner's shooting of the albatross, for an 1877 German language edition of the poem With Sir Jonathan Bate Professor of Environmental Humanities at Arizona State University Tom Mole Professor of English Literature and Book History at the University of Edinburgh And Rosemary Ashton Emeritus Quain Professor of English Language and Literature at University College London Producer: Simon Tillotson
2021-03-04
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Marcus Aurelius

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the man who, according to Machiavelli, was the last of the Five Good Emperors. Marcus Aurelius, 121 to 180 AD, has long been known as a model of the philosopher king, a Stoic who, while on military campaigns, compiled ideas on how best to live his life, and how best to rule. These ideas became known as his Meditations, and they have been treasured by many as an insight into the mind of a Roman emperor, and an example of how to avoid the corruption of power in turbulent times. The image above shows part of a bronze equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius. With Simon Goldhill Professor of Greek Literature and Culture and Fellow of King?s College, Cambridge Angie Hobbs Professor of the Public Understanding of Philosophy at the University of Sheffield And Catharine Edwards Professor of Classics and Ancient History at Birkbeck, University of London Producer: Simon Tillotson
2021-02-25
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Medieval Pilgrimage

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the idea and experience of Christian pilgrimage in Europe from the 12th to the 15th centuries, which figured so strongly in the imagination of the age. For those able and willing to travel, there were countless destinations from Jerusalem, Rome and Santiago de Compostela to the smaller local shrines associated with miracles and relics of the saints. Meanwhile, for those unable or not allowed to travel there were journeys of the mind, inspired by guidebooks that would tell the faithful how many steps they could take around their homes to replicate the walk to the main destinations in Rome and the Holy Land, passing paintings of the places on their route. The image above is of a badge of St Thomas of Canterbury, worn by pilgrims who had journeyed to his shrine. With Miri Rubin Professor of Medieval and Early Modern History at Queen Mary, University of London Kathryn Rudy Professor of Art History at the University of St Andrews And Anthony Bale Professor of Medieval Studies and Dean of the School of Arts at Birkbeck, University of London Producer: Simon Tillotson
2021-02-18
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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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Emilie du Châtelet

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss one of the outstanding French mathematicians and natural philosophers of the 18th Century, celebrated across Europe. Emilie du Châtelet, 1706-49, created a translation of Newton?s Principia from Latin into French that helped spread the light of mathematics on the emerging science, and her own book Institutions de Physique, with its lessons on physics, was welcomed as profound. She had the privileges of wealth and aristocracy, yet had to fight to be taken seriously as an intellectual in a world of ideas that was almost exclusively male. With Patricia Fara Emeritus Fellow of Clare College, Cambridge David Wootton Anniversary Professor of History at the University of York And Judith Zinsser Professor Emerita of History at Miami University of Ohio and biographer of Emilie du Châtelet. Producer: Simon Tillotson
2021-02-04
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Saint Cuthbert

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Northumbrian man who, for 500 years, was the pre-eminent English saint, to be matched only by Thomas Becket after his martyrdom in 1170. Now at Durham, Cuthbert was buried first on Lindisfarne in 687AD, where monks shared vivid stories of his sanctifying miracles, his healing, and his power over nature, and his final tomb became a major site of pilgrimage. In his lifetime he was both hermit and kingmaker, bishop and travelling priest, and the many accounts we have of him, including two by Bede, tell us much of the values of those who venerated him so soon after his death. The image above is from a stained glass window in the south aisle of the nave in Durham Cathedral: 'St Cuthbert praying before his cell in the Farne Island' With Jane Hawkes Professor of Medieval Art History at the University of York Sarah Foot The Regius Professor of Ecclesiastical History at the University of Oxford and Canon of Christ Church Cathedral And John Hines Professor of Archaeology at Cardiff University Producer: Simon Tillotson
2021-01-28
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The Plague of Justinian

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the plague that broke out in Constantinople 541AD, in the reign of Emperor Justinian. According to the historian Procopius, writing in Byzantium at the time, this was a plague by which the whole human race came near to being destroyed, embracing the whole world, and blighting the lives of all mankind. The bacterium behind the Black Death has since been found on human remains from that time, and the symptoms described were the same, and evidence of this plague has since been traced around the Mediterranean and from Syria to Britain and Ireland. The question of how devastating it truly was, though, is yet to be resolved. With John Haldon Professor of Byzantine History and Hellenic Studies Emeritus at Princeton University Rebecca Flemming Senior Lecturer in Classics at the University of Cambridge And Greg Woolf Director of the Institute of Classical Studies, University of London Producer: Simon Tillotson
2021-01-21
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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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Eclipses

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss solar eclipses, some of life?s most extraordinary moments, when day becomes night and the stars come out before day returns either all too soon or not soon enough, depending on what you understand to be happening. In ancient China, for example, there was a story that a dragon was eating the sun and it had to be scared away by banging pots and pans if the sun were to return. Total lunar eclipses are more frequent and last longer, with a blood moon coloured red like a sunrise or sunset. Both events have created the chance for scientists to learn something remarkable, from the speed of light, to the width of the Atlantic, to the roundness of Earth, to discovering helium and proving Einstein?s Theory of General Relativity. With Carolin Crawford Public Astronomer based at the Institute of Astronomy, University of Cambridge and a fellow of Emmanuel College Frank Close Emeritus Professor of Physics at the University of Oxford And Lucie Green Professor of Physics and a Royal Society University Research Fellow at Mullard Space Science Laboratory at University College London Producers: Simon Tillotson and Julia Johnson
2020-12-31
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The Cultural Revolution

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Chairman Mao and the revolt he led within his own party from 1966, setting communists against each other, to renew the revolution that he feared had become too bourgeois and to remove his enemies and rivals. Universities closed and the students formed Red Guard factions to attack the 'four olds' - old ideas, culture, habits and customs - and they also turned on each other, with mass violence on the streets and hundreds of thousands of deaths. Over a billion copies of Chairman Mao?s Little Red Book were printed to support his cult of personality, before Mao himself died in 1976 and the revolution came to an end. The image above is of Red Guards, holding The Little Red Book, cheering Mao during a meeting to celebrate the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution at Tiananmen Square, Beijing, August 1966 With Rana Mitter Professor of the History and Politics of Modern China and Fellow of St Cross College, University of Oxford Sun Peidong Visiting Professor at the Center for International Studies at Sciences Po, Paris And Julia Lovell Professor in Modern Chinese History and Literature at Birkbeck, University of London Produced by Simon Tillotson and Julia Johnson
2020-12-17
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John Wesley and Methodism

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss John Wesley (1703 - 1791) and the movement he was to lead and inspire. As a student, he was mocked for approaching religion too methodically and this jibe gave a name to the movement: Methodism. Wesley took his ideas out across Britain wherever there was an appetite for Christian revival, preaching in the open, especially the new industrial areas. Others spread Methodism too, such as George Whitefield, and the sheer energy of the movement led to splits within it, but it soon became a major force. With Stephen Plant Dean and Runcie Fellow at Trinity Hall at the University of Cambridge Eryn White Reader in Early Modern History at Aberystwyth University And William Gibson Professor of Ecclesiastical History at Oxford Brookes University and Director of the Oxford Centre for Methodism and Church History Produced by Simon Tillotson and Julia Johnson
2020-12-10
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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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The Zong Massacre

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the notorious events off Jamaica in 1781 and their background. The British slave ship Zong, having sailed across the Atlantic towards Jamaica, threw 132 enslaved Africans from its human cargo into the sea to drown. Even for a slave ship, the Zong was overcrowded; those murdered were worth more to the ship dead than alive. The crew said there was not enough drinking water to go round and they had no choice, which meant they could claim for the deaths on insurance. The main reason we know of this atrocity now is that the owners took their claim to court in London, and the insurers were at first told to pay up as if the dead slaves were any other lost goods, not people. Abolitionists in Britain were scandalised: if courts treated mass murder in the slave trade as just another business transaction and not a moral wrong, the souls of the nation would be damned. But nobody was ever prosecuted. The image above is of sailors throwing slaves overboard, from Torrey's 'American Slave Trade', 1822 With Vincent Brown Charles Warren Professor of American History and Professor of African and African American Studies at Harvard University Bronwen Everill Class of 1973 Lecturer in History and Fellow at Gonville & Caius College, University of Cambridge And Jake Subryan Richards Assistant Professor of History at the London School of Economics Studio production: Hannah Sander Producer: Simon Tillotson
2020-11-26
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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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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
2020-11-05
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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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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
2020-10-22
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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
2020-10-15
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Deism

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the idea that God created the universe and then left it for humans to understand by reason not revelation. Edward Herbert, 1583-1648 (pictured above) held that there were five religious truths: belief in a Supreme Being, the need to worship him, the pursuit of a virtuous life as the best form of worship, repentance, and reward or punishment after death. Others developed these ideas in different ways, yet their opponents in England's established Church collected them under the label of Deists, called Herbert the Father of Deism and attacked them as a movement, and Deist books were burned. Over time, reason and revelation found a new balance in the Church in England, while Voltaire and Thomas Paine explored the ideas further, leading to their re-emergence in the French and American Revolutions. With Richard Serjeantson Fellow and Lecturer in History at Trinity College, Cambridge Katie East Lecturer in History at Newcastle University And Thomas Ahnert Professor of Intellectual History at the University of Edinburgh Producer: Simon Tillotson
2020-10-08
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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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Cave Art

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss ideas about the Stone Age people who created the extraordinary images found in caves around the world, from hand outlines to abstract symbols to the multicoloured paintings of prey animals at Chauvet and, as shown above, at Lascaux. In the 19th Century, it was assumed that only humans could have made these, as Neanderthals would have lacked the skills or imagination, but new tests suggest otherwise. How were the images created, were they meant to be for private viewing or public spaces, and what might their purposes have been? And, if Neanderthals were capable of creative work, in what ways were they different from humans? What might it have been like to experience the paintings, so far from natural light? With Alistair Pike Professor of Archaeological Sciences at the University of Southampton Chantal Conneller Senior Lecturer in Early Pre-History at Newcastle University And Paul Pettitt Professor of Palaeolithic Archaeology at Durham University Producer: Simon Tillotson
2020-09-24
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Pericles

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Pericles (495-429BC), the statesman who dominated the politics of Athens for thirty years, the so-called Age of Pericles, when the city?s cultural life flowered, its democracy strengthened as its empire grew, and the Acropolis was adorned with the Parthenon. In 431 BC he gave a funeral oration for those Athenians who had already died in the new war with Sparta which has been celebrated as one of the greatest speeches of all time, yet within two years he was dead from a plague made worse by Athenians crowding into their city to avoid attacks. Thucydides, the historian, knew him and was in awe of him, yet few shared that view until the nineteenth century, when they found much in Pericles to praise, an example for the Victorian age. With Edith Hall Professor of Classics at King's College London. Paul Cartledge AG Leventis Senior Research Fellow at Clare College, University of Cambridge And Peter Liddel Senior Lecturer in Ancient History at the University of Manchester Producer: Simon Tillotson
2020-09-17
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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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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
2020-03-12
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Paul Dirac

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
2020-03-05
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The Evolution of Horses

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 when humans first chose to ride horses, as well as eat them, the future of both species changed immeasurably. With Alan Outram Professor of Archaeological Science at the University of Exeter Christine Janis Honorary Professor in Palaeobiology at the University of Bristol and Professor Emerita in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Brown University And John Hutchinson Professor in Evolutionary Biomechanics at the Royal Veterinary College Producer: Simon Tillotson
2020-02-27
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The Valladolid Debate

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 slaves' as defined by Aristotle. Valladolid became seen as the first open attempt by European colonists to discuss the ethics of slavery, and Las Casas became known as 'Saviour of the Indians' and an advocate for human rights, although for some time he argued that African slaves be imported to do the work in place of the native people, before repenting. With Caroline Dodds Pennock Senior Lecturer in International History at the University of Sheffield John Edwards Faculty Fellow in Spanish at the University of Oxford And Julia McClure Lecturer in Late Medieval and Early Modern Global History at the University of Glasgow Producer: Simon Tillotson
2020-02-20
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Battle of the Teutoburg Forest

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 then known as Herman, became a rallying point for German nationalism. With Peter Heather Professor of Medieval History at King?s College London Ellen O'Gorman Senior Lecturer in Classics at the University of Bristol And Matthew Nicholls Fellow and Senior Tutor at St John?s College, Oxford Producer: Simon Tillotson
2020-02-13
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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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