Historical themes, events and key individuals from Akhenaten to Xenophon.
Here's the Latest Episode from In Our Time: History:
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the siege of Paris during the Franco-Prussian war and the social unrest that followed, as the French capital was cut off from the rest of the country and food was scarce. When the French government surrendered Paris to the Prussians, power gravitated to the National Guard in the city and to radical socialists, and a Commune established in March 1871 with the red flag replacing the trilcoleur. The French government sent in the army and, after bloody fighting, the Communards were defeated by the end of May 1871.The image above is from an engraving of the fire in the Tuileries Palace, May 23, 1871WithKarine Varley Lecturer in French and European History at the University of StrathclydeRobert Gildea Professor of Modern History at the University of OxfordAndJulia Nicholls Lecturer in French and European Studies at King’s College LondonProducer: Simon Tillotson
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the discovery in 1922 of Tutankhamun's 3000 year old tomb and its impact on the understanding of ancient Egypt, both academic and popular. The riches, such as the death mask above, were spectacular and made the reputation of Howard Carter who led the excavation. And if the astonishing contents of the tomb were not enough, the drama of the find and the control of how it was reported led to a craze for 'King Tut' that has rarely subsided and has enthused and sometimes confused people around the world, seeking to understand the reality of Tutankhamun's life and times.WithElizabeth Frood Associate Professor of Egyptology, Director of the Griffith Institute and Fellow of St Cross at the University of OxfordChristina Riggs Professor of the History of Visual Culture at Durham University and a Fellow of All Souls College, OxfordAndJohn Taylor Curator at the Department of Egypt and Sudan at the British MuseumProducer: Simon Tillotson
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the history and social impact of coffee. From its origins in Ethiopia, coffea arabica spread through the Ottoman Empire before reaching Western Europe where, in the 17th century, coffee houses were becoming established. There, caffeinated customers stayed awake for longer and were more animated, and this helped to spread ideas and influence culture. Coffee became a colonial product, grown by slaves or indentured labour, with coffea robusta replacing arabica where disease had struck, and was traded extensively by the Dutch and French empires; by the 19th century, Brazil had developed into a major coffee producer, meeting demand in the USA that had grown on the waggon trails.WithJudith Hawley Professor of 18th Century Literature at Royal Holloway, University of LondonMarkman Ellis Professor of 18th Century Studies at Queen Mary University of LondonAndJonathan Morris Professor in Modern History at the University of HertfordshireProducer: Simon Tillotson
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss T.E. Lawrence (1888 – 1935), better known as Lawrence of Arabia, a topic drawn from over 1200 suggestions for our Listener Week 2019. Although Lawrence started as an archaeologist in the Middle East, when World War I broke out he joined the British army and became an intelligence officer. His contact with a prominent Arab leader, Sharif Hussein, made him sympathetic to Hussein’s cause and during the Arab Revolt of 1916 he not only served the British but also the interests of Hussein. After the war he was dismayed by the peace settlement and felt that the British had broken an assurance that Sharif Hussein would lead a new Arab kingdom. Lawrence was made famous by the work of Lowell Thomas, whose film of Lawrence drew huge audiences in 1919, which led to his own book Seven Pillars of Wisdom and David Lean’s 1962 film with Peter O'Toole.In previous Listener Weeks, we've discussed Kafka's The Trial, The Voyages of Captain Cook, Garibaldi and the Risorgimento, Moby Dick and The Thirty Years War.WithHussein Omar Lecturer in Modern Global History at University College DublinCatriona Pennell Associate Professor of Modern History and Memory Studies at the University of ExeterNeil Faulkner Director of Military History Live and Editor of the magazine Military History MattersProducer: Simon Tillotson
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the life and ideas of Li Shizhen (1518-1593) whose compendium of natural medicines is celebrated in China as the most complete survey of natural remedies of its time. He trained as a doctor and worked at the Ming court before spending almost 30 years travelling in China, inspecting local plants and animals for their properties, trying them out on himself and then describing his findings in his Compendium of Materia Medica or Bencao Gangmu, in 53 volumes. He's been called the uncrowned king of Chinese naturalists, and became a scientific hero in the 20th century after the revolution.WithCraig Clunas Professor Emeritus in the History of Art at the University of OxfordAnne Gerritsen Professor in History at the University of WarwickAndRoel Sterckx Joseph Needham Professor of Chinese History at the University of CambridgeProducer: Simon Tillotson
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the most powerful woman in the Crusader states in the century after the First Crusade. Melisende (1105-61) was born and raised after the mainly Frankish crusaders had taken Jerusalem from the Fatimids, and her father was King of Jerusalem. She was married to Fulk from Anjou, on the understanding they would rule together, and for 30 years she vied with him and then their son as they struggled to consolidate their Frankish state in the Holy Land.The image above is of the coronation of Fulk with Melisende, from Livre d'Eracles, Guillaume de Tyr (1130?-1186) Source: Bibliothèque nationale de FranceWithNatasha Hodgson Senior Lecturer in Medieval History and Director of the Centre for the Study of Religion and Conflict at Nottingham Trent UniversityKatherine Lewis Senior Lecturer in History at the University of HuddersfieldandDanielle Park Visiting Lecturer at Royal Holloway, University of LondonProducer: Simon Tillotson
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the 1691 peace treaty that ended the Williamite War in Ireland, between supporters of the deposed King James II and the forces of William III and his allies. It followed the battles at Aughrim and the Boyne and sieges at Limerick, and led to the disbanding of the Jacobite army in Ireland, with troops free to follow James to France for his Irish Brigade. The Catholic landed gentry were guaranteed rights on condition of swearing loyalty to William and Mary yet, while some Protestants thought the terms too lenient, it was said the victors broke those terms before the ink was dry.The image above is from British Battles on Land and Sea, Vol. I, by James Grant, 1880, and is meant to show Irish troops leaving Limerick as part of The Flight of the Wild Geese - a term used for soldiers joining continental European armies from C16th-C18th.WithJane Ohlmeyer Chair of the Irish Research Council and Erasmus Smith’s Professor of Modern History at Trinity College DublinDr Clare Jackson Senior Tutor, Trinity Hall, and Faculty of History, University of CambridgeandThomas O'Connor Professor of History at Maynooth UniversityProducer: Simon Tillotson
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss how, in September 1812, Napoleon captured Moscow and waited a month for the Russians to meet him, to surrender and why, to his dismay, no-one came. Soon his triumph was revealed as a great defeat; winter was coming, supplies were low; he ordered his Grande Armée of six hundred thousand to retreat and, by the time he crossed back over the border, desertion, disease, capture, Cossacks and cold had reduced that to twenty thousand. Napoleon had shown his weakness; his Prussian allies changed sides and, within eighteen months they, the Russians and Austrians had captured Paris and the Emperor was exiled to Elba.WithJanet Hartley Professor Emeritus of International History, LSEMichael Rowe Reader in European History, King’s College LondonAndMichael Rapport Reader in Modern European History, University of GlasgowProducer: Simon Tillotson
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the people, plants and animals once living on land now under the North Sea, now called Doggerland after Dogger Bank, inhabited up to c7000BC or roughly 3000 years before the beginnings of Stonehenge. There are traces of this landscape at low tide, such as the tree stumps at Redcar (above); yet more is being learned from diving and seismic surveys which are building a picture of an ideal environment for humans to hunt and gather, with rivers and wooded hills. Rising seas submerged this land as glaciers melted, and the people and animals who lived there moved to higher ground, with the coasts of modern-day Britain on one side and Denmark, Germany, The Netherlands, Belgium and France on the other.WithVince Gaffney Anniversary Professor of Landscape Archaeology at the University of BradfordCarol Cotterill Marine Geoscientist at the British Geological SurveyAndRachel Bynoe Lecturer in Archaeology at the University of SouthamptonProducer: Simon Tillotson
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss why Athenians decided to send a fast ship to Lesbos in 427BC, rowing through the night to catch one they sent the day before. That earlier ship had instructions to kill all adult men in Mytilene, after their unsuccessul revolt against Athens, as a warning to others. The later ship had orders to save them, as news of their killing would make others fight to the death rather than surrender. Thucydides retells this in his History of the Peloponnesian War as an example of Athenian democracy in action, emphasising the right of Athenians to change their minds in their own interests, even when a demagogue argued they were bound by their first decision.WithAngela Hobbs Professor of the Public Understanding of Philosophy at the University of SheffieldLisa Irene Hau Senior Lecturer in Classics at the University of GlasgowAndPaul Cartledge Emeritus AG Leventis Professor of Greek Culture, University of Cambridge and Senior Research Fellow of Clare CollegeProducer: Simon Tillotson
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss how the people of Cusco, in modern Peru, established an empire along the Andes down to the Pacific under their supreme leader Pachacuti. Before him, their control grew slowly from C13th and was at its peak after him when Pizarro arrived with his Conquistadors and captured their empire for Spain in 1533. The image, above, is of Machu Picchu which was built for emperor Pachacuti as an estate in C15th.WithFrank Meddens Visiting Scholar at the University of ReadingHelen Cowie Senior Lecturer in History at the University of YorkAndBill Sillar Senior Lecturer at the Institute of Archaeology at University College LondonProducer: Simon Tillotson
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the impact of Grant's presidency on Americans in the years after the Civil War in which he, with Lincoln, had led the Union Army to victory. His predecessor, Andrew Johnson, was prepared to let the Southern States decide for themselves which rights to allow freed slaves; Grant supported equal rights, and he used troops and Enforcement Acts to defeat the Ku klux Klan which was violently suppressing African Americans. In later years Grant was remembered mainly for the corruption scandals under his terms of office, and for his failure to support or protect Native Americans, but in more recent decades his support for reconstruction has prompted a reassessement.WithErik Mathisen Lecturer in US History at the University of KentSusan-Mary Grant Professor of American History at Newcastle UniversityandRobert Cook Professor of American History at the University of SussexProducer: Simon Tillotson
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the most destructive riots in London's history, which reached their peak on 7th June 1780 as troops fired on the crowd outside the Bank of England. The leader was Lord George Gordon, head of the Protestant Association, who objected to the relaxing of laws against Catholics. At first the protest outside Parliament was peaceful but, when Gordon's petition failed to persuade the Commons, rioting continued for days until the military started to shoot suspects in the street. It came as Britain was losing the war to hold on to colonies in North America.The image above shows a crowd setting fire to Newgate Prison and freeing prisoners by the authority of 'His Majesty, King Mob.'WithIan Haywood Professor of English at the University of RoehamptonCatriona Kennedy Senior Lecturer in Modern British and Irish History and Director of the Centre for Eighteenth Century Studies at the University of YorkandMark Knights Professor of History at the University of WarwickProducer: Simon Tillotson
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the life of Nero (37-68 AD) who became Emperor at the age of 16. At first he was largely praised for his generosity yet became known for his debauched lifestyle, with allegations he started the Fire of Rome, watching the flames as he played the lyre. Christians saw him as their persecutor, an anti-Christ, and the number of the Beast in the Book of Revelation was thought to indicate Nero. He had confidence in his own artistry, took up acting (which then had a very low status) and, as revolts in the empire grew, killed himself after the Senate condemned him to die as a slave, on a cross.WithMaria Wyke Professor of Latin at University College LondonMatthew Nicholls Fellow and Senior Tutor at St John’s College, University of OxfordAndShushma Malik Lecturer in Classics at the University of RoehamptonProducer: Simon Tillotson
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss why the potato crop failures in the 1840s had such a catastrophic impact in Ireland. It is estimated that one million people died from disease or starvation after the blight and another two million left the country within the decade. There had been famines before, but not on this scale. What was it about the laws, attitudes and responses that made this one so devastating?The image above is from The Illustrated London News, Dec. 29, 1849, showing a scalp or shelter, "a hole, surrounded by pools, and three sides of the scalp were dripping with water, which ran in small streams over the floor and out by the entrance. The poor inhabitants said they would be thankful if the landlord would leave them there, and the Almighty would spare their lives. Its principal tenant is Margaret Vaughan."WithCormac O'Grada Professor Emeritus in the School of Economics at University College DublinNiamh Gallagher University Lecturer in Modern British and Irish History at the University of CambridgeAndEnda Delaney Professor of Modern History and School Director of Research at the University of EdinburghProducer: Simon Tillotson
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the effective partition of England in the 880s after a century of Viking raids, invasions and settlements. Alfred of Wessex, the surviving Anglo-Saxon king and Guthrum, a Danish ruler, had fought each other to a stalemate and came to terms, with Guthrum controlling the land to the east (once he had agreed to convert to Christianity). The key strategic advantage the invaders had was the Viking ships which were far superior and enabled them to raid from the sea and up rivers very rapidly. Their Great Army had arrived in the 870s, conquering the kingdom of Northumbria and occupying York. They defeated the king of Mercia and seized part of his land. They killed the Anglo-Saxon king of East Anglia and gained control of his territory. It was only when a smaller force failed to defeat Wessex that the Danelaw came into being, leaving a lasting impact on the people and customs of that area.WithJudith Jesch Professor of Viking Studies at the University of NottinghamJohn Hines Professor of Archaeology at Cardiff UniversityAndJane Kershaw ERC Principal Investigator in Archaeology at the University of OxfordProducer: Simon Tillotson
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the impact on the British Isles of William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley, the most poweful man in the court of Elizabeth I. He was both praised and attacked for his flexibility, adapting to the reigns of Protestant and Catholic monarchs and, under Elizabeth, his goal was to make England strong, stable and secure from attack from its neighbours. He sought control over Ireland and persuaded Elizabeth that Mary Queen of Scots must die, yet often counselled peace rather than war in the interests of prosperity.WithDiarmaid MacCulloch Professor of the History of the Church at the University of OxfordSusan Doran Professor of Early Modern British History at the University of OxfordandJohn Guy Fellow of Clare College, University of CambridgeProducer: Simon Tillotson
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.WithJames Montgomery Sir Thomas Adams's Professor of Arabic at the University of CambridgeMarlé Hammond Senior Lecturer in Arabic Popular Literature and Culture at SOAS, University of LondonAndHarry Munt Lecturer in Medieval History at the University of YorkProducer: Simon Tillotson
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the life of the Welsh nobleman, also known as Owen Glendower, who began a revolt against Henry IV in 1400 which was at first very successful. Glyndwr (c1359-c1415) adopted the title Prince of Wales and established a parliament and his own foreign policy, until he was defeated by the future Henry V. Owain Glyndwr escaped and led guerilla attacks for several years but was never betrayed to the English, disappearing without trace.WithHuw Pryce Professor of Welsh History at Bangor UniversityHelen Fulton Professor of Medieval Literature at the University of BristolChris Given-Wilson Emeritus Professor of Medieval History at the University of St AndrewsProducer: Simon Tillotson
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss how, from 1834, poor people across England and Wales faced new obstacles when they could no longer feed or clothe themselves, or find shelter. Parliament, in line with the ideas of Jeremy Bentham and Thomas Malthus, feared hand-outs had become so attractive, they stopped people working to support themselves, and encouraged families to have more children than they could afford. To correct this, under the New Poor Laws it became harder to get any relief outside a workhouse, where families would be separated, husbands from wives, parents from children, sisters from brothers. Many found this regime inhumane, while others protested it was too lenient, and it lasted until the twentieth century.The image above was published in 1897 as New Year's Day in the Workhouse.WithEmma Griffin Professor of Modern British History at the University of East AngliaSamantha Shave Lecturer in Social Policy at the University of LincolnAndSteven King Professor of Economic and Social History at the University of LeicesterProducer: Simon Tillotson
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the war in Europe which begain in 1618 and continued on such a scale and with such devastation that its like was not seen for another three hundred years. It pitched Catholics against Protestants, Lutherans against Calvinists and Catholics against Catholics across the Holy Roman Empire, drawing in their neighbours and it lasted for thirty gruelling years, from the Defenestration of Prague to the Peace of Westphalia of 1648. Many more civilians died than soldiers, and famine was so great that even cannibalism was excused. This topic was chosen from several hundred suggested by listeners this autumn.The image above is a detail from a painting of The Battle of White Mountain on 7-8 November 1620, by Pieter Snayers (1592-1667)WithPeter Wilson Chichele Professor of the History of War at the University of OxfordUlinka Rublack Professor of Early Modern European History at the University of Cambridge and Fellow of St John’s CollegeAndToby Osborne Associate Professor in History at Durham UniversityProducer: Simon Tillotson
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss a foundation story for China as it was reshaped under Mao Zedong. In October 1934, around ninety thousand soldiers of the Red Army broke out of a siege in Jiangxi in the south east of the country, hoping to find a place to regroup and rebuild. They were joined by other armies, and this turned into a very long march to the west and then north, covering thousands of miles of harsh and hostile territory, marshes and mountains, pursued by forces of the ruling Kuomintang for a year. Mao Zedong was among the marchers and emerged at the head of them, and he ensured the officially approved history of the Long March would be an inspiration and education for decades to come.WithRana Mitter Professor of the History and Politics of Modern China and Fellow of St Cross College, University of OxfordSun Shuyun Historian, writer of 'The Long March' and film makerAndJulia Lovell Professor in Modern Chinese History and Literature at Birkbeck, University of LondonProducer: Simon Tillotson
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’.WithEmily Gowers Professor of Latin Literature at the University of Cambridge and Fellow of St John’s CollegeWilliam Fitzgerald Professor of Latin Language and Literature at King’s College LondonandEllen O’Gorman Senior Lecturer in Classics at the University of BristolProducer: Simon Tillotson
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Austrian princess Maria Antonia, child bride of the future French King Louis XVI. Their marriage was an attempt to bring about a major change in the balance of power in Europe and to undermine the influence of Prussia and Great Britain, but she had no say in the matter and was the pawn of her mother, the Empress Maria Theresa. She fulfilled her allotted role of supplying an heir, but was sent to the guillotine in 1793 in the French Revolution, a few months after her husband, following years of attacks on her as a woman who, it was said, betrayed the King and as a foreigner who betrayed France to enemy powers. When not doing these wrongs, she was said to be personally bankrupting France. Her death shocked royal families throughout Europe, and she became a powerful symbol of the consequences of the Revolution.WithCatriona Seth Marshal Foch Professor of French Literature at the University of OxfordKatherine Astbury Professor of French Studies at the University of WarwickandDavid McCallam Reader in French Eighteenth-Century Studies at the University of SheffieldProducer: Simon Tillotson
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Bernard Mandeville (1670-1733) and his critique of the economy as he found it in London, where private vices were condemned without acknowledging their public benefit. In his poem The Grumbling Hive (1705), he presented an allegory in which the economy collapsed once knavish bees turned honest. When republished with a commentary, The Fable of the Bees was seen as a scandalous attack on Christian values and Mandeville was recommended for prosecution for his tendency to corrupt all morals. He kept writing, and his ideas went on to influence David Hume and Adam Smith, as well as Keynes and Hayek.WithDavid Wootton Anniversary Professor of History at the University of YorkHelen Paul Lecturer in Economics and Economic History at the University of SouthamptonAndJohn Callanan Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at King’s College LondonProducer: Simon Tillotson
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, 1953WithSir Jonathan Bate Provost of Worcester College, University of OxfordCatherine Steel Professor of Classics and Dean of Research in the College of Arts at the University of GlasgowAndPatrick Gray Associate Professor of English Studies at Durham UniversityProducer: Simon Tillotson
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 1951WithEmma Smith Professor of Shakespeare Studies at Hertford College, University of OxfordGordon McMullan Professor of English at King’s College London and Director of the London Shakespeare CentreAndKatherine Lewis Senior Lecturer in Medieval History at the University of HuddersfieldProducer: Simon Tillotson
Melvyn and guests discuss the 1846-48 conflict after which the United States of Mexico lost half its territory to the United States of America. The US gained land covered by the states of Texas, Utah, California, New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona and part of Colorado. The outcome had a profound impact on Native Americans and led to civil war in defeated Mexico. It also raised the question of whether slavery would be legal in this acquired territory - something that would only be resolved in the US Civil War, which this victory hastened.WithFrank Cogliano Professor of American History at the University of EdinburghJacqueline Fear-Segal Professor of American and Indigenous Histories at the University of East AngliaAndThomas Rath Lecturer in Latin American History at University College LondonProducer: Simon Tillotson.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the ideas of Charles-Louis de Secondat, Baron de La Brède et de Montesquieu (1689-1755) whose works on liberty, monarchism, despotism, republicanism and the separation of powers were devoured by intellectuals across Europe and New England in the eighteenth century, transforming political philosophy and influencing the American Constitution. He argued that an individual's liberty needed protection from the arm of power, checking that by another power; where judicial, executive and legislative power were concentrated in the hands of one figure, there could be no personal liberty.WithRichard Bourke Professor in the History of Political Thought at Queen Mary, University of LondonRachel Hammersley Senior Lecturer in Intellectual History at Newcastle UniversityAndRichard Whatmore Professor of Modern History at the University of St Andrews and Director of the St Andrews Institute of Intellectual HistoryProducer: Simon Tillotson.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the role of the great 'City of the Persians' founded by Darius I as the ceremonial capital of the Achaemenid Empire that stretched from the Indus Valley to Egypt and the coast of the Black Sea. It was known as the richest city under the sun and was a centre at which the Empire's subject peoples paid tribute to a succession of Achaemenid leaders, until the arrival of Alexander III of Macedon who destroyed it by fire supposedly in revenge for the burning of the Acropolis in Athens.The image above is a detail from a relief at the Apadana, the huge audience hall, and shows a lion attacking a bull.WithLloyd Llewellyn-Jones Professor of Ancient History at Cardiff UniversityVesta Sarkhosh Curtis Curator of Middle Eastern Coins at the British MuseumAndLindsay Allen Lecturer in Greek and Near Eastern History at King's College LondonProducer: Simon Tillotson.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss one of the most remarkable queens of the Middle Ages who took control when her husband, Henry VI, was incapable. Margaret of Anjou (1430-1482) wanted Henry to stay in power for the sake of their son, the heir to the throne, and her refusal to back down was seen by her enemies as a cause of the great dynastic struggle of the Wars of the Roses.The image above is from the Talbot Shrewsbury Book, showing John Talbot, 1st Earl of Shrewsbury, presenting Margaret with that book on her betrothal to HenryWithKatherine Lewis Senior Lecturer in Medieval History at the University of HuddersfieldJames Ross Reader in Late Medieval History at the University of WinchesterAndJoanna Laynesmith Visiting Research Fellow at the University of ReadingProducer: Simon Tillotson.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the 1861 declaration by Tsar Alexander II that serfs were now legally free of their landlords. Until then, over a third of Russians were tied to the land on which they lived and worked and in practice there was little to distinguish their condition from slavery. Russia had lost the Crimean War in 1855 and there had been hundreds of uprisings, prompting the Tsar to tell the nobles, "The existing condition of owning souls cannot remain unchanged. It is better to begin to destroy serfdom from above than to wait until that time when it begins to destroy itself from below." Reform was constrained by the Tsar's wish to keep the nobles on side and, for the serfs, tied by debt and law to the little land they were then allotted, the benefits were hard to see.WithSarah Hudspith Associate Professor in Russian at the University of LeedsSimon Dixon The Sir Bernard Pares Professor of Russian History at UCLAndShane O'Rourke Senior Lecturer in History at the University of YorkProducer: Simon Tillotson.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Berber people who grew to dominate the western Maghreb, founded Marrakesh and took control of Al-Andalus. They were desert people, wearing veils over their faces to keep out the sand, and they wanted a simpler form of Islam. They called themselves the Murabitun, the people who gathered together to fight the holy war, and they were tough fighters; the Spanish knight El Cid fought them and lost, and the legend that built around him said the Almoravids were terrible and had to be resisted. They kept back the Christians of northern Spain, so helping extend Muslim rule in the Iberian Peninsula, before they themselves were destroyed and replaced by their rivals, the Almohads, from the Atlas Mountains.The image above shows the interior of the cupola, Almoravid Koubba, Marrakesh (C11th)WithAmira K Bennison Professor in the History and Culture of the Maghreb at the University of CambridgeNicola Clarke Lecturer in the History of the Islamic World at Newcastle UniversityAndHugh Kennedy Professor of Arabic at SOAS, University of LondonProducer: Simon Tillotson.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the role of slavery in the Roman world, from its early conquests to the fall of the Western Empire.The system became so entrenched that no-one appeared to question it, following Aristotle's view that slavery was a natural state. Whole populations could be marched into slavery after military conquests, and the freedom that Roman citizens prized for themselves, even in poverty, was partly defined by how it contrasted with enslavement. Slaves could be killed or tortured with impunity, yet they could be given great responsibility and, once freed, use their contacts to earn fortunes. The relationship between slave and master informed early Christian ideas of how the faithful related to God, informing debate for centuries.WithNeville Morley Professor of Classics and Ancient History at the University of ExeterUlrike Roth Senior Lecturer in Ancient History at the University of EdinburghAndMyles Lavan Senior lecturer in Ancient History at the University of St AndrewsProducer: Simon Tillotson.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859) and his examination of the American democratic system. He wrote De La Démocratie en Amérique in two parts, published in 1835 and 1840, when France was ruled by the July Monarchy of Louis-Philippe. Tocqueville was interested in how aspects of American democracy, in the age of President Andrew Jackson, could be applied to Europe as it moved away from rule by monarchs and aristocrats. His work has been revisited by politicians ever since, particularly in America, with its analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of direct democracy and its warnings of mediocrity and the tyranny of the majority.WithRobert Gildea Professor of Modern History at the University of OxfordSusan-Mary Grant Professor of American History at Newcastle UniversityandJeremy Jennings Professor of Political Theory and Head of the School of Politics & Economics at King's College LondonProducer: Simon Tillotson.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss how and why Highlanders and Islanders were cleared from their homes in waves in C18th and C19th, following the break up of the Clans after the Battle of Culloden. Initially, landlords tried to keep people on their estates for money-making schemes, but the end of the Napoleonic Wars brought convulsive changes. Some of the evictions were notorious, with the sudden and fatal burning of townships, to make way for sheep and deer farming. For many, migration brought a new start elsewhere in Britain or in the British colonies, while for some it meant death from disease while in transit. After more than a century of upheaval, the Clearances left an indelible mark on the people and landscape of the Highlands and Western Isles.The image above is a detail from a print of 'Lochaber No More' by John Watson Nicol 1856-1926WithSir Tom Devine Professor Emeritus of Scottish History at the University of EdinburghMarjory Harper Professor of History at the University of Aberdeen and Visiting Professor at the University of the Highlands and IslandsAndMurray Pittock Bradley Professor of English Literature and Pro Vice Principal at the University of GlasgowProducer: Simon Tillotson.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the ideas attributed to Sun Tzu (544-496BC, according to tradition), a legendary figure from the beginning of the Iron Age in China, around the time of Confucius. He may have been the historical figure Sun Wu, a military adviser at the court of King Helu of Wu (who reigned between about 514 and 496 BC), one of the kings in power in the Warring States period of Chinese history (6th - 5th century BC). Sun Tzu was credited as the author of The Art of War, a work on military strategy that soon became influential in China and then Japan both for its guidance on conducting and avoiding war and for its approach to strategy generally. After The Art of War was translated into European languages in C18th, its influence spread to military academies around the world.The image above is of a terracotta warrior from the tomb of Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor, who unified China after the Warring States period.WithHilde De Weerdt Professor of Chinese History at Leiden UniversityTim Barrett Professor Emeritus of East Asian History at SOAS, University of LondonAndImre Galambos Reader in Chinese Studies at the University of CambridgeProducer: Simon Tillotson.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the life and ideas of Frederick Douglass, who was born into slavery in Maryland in 1818 and, once he had escaped, became one of that century's most prominent abolitionists. He was such a good orator, his opponents doubted his story, but he told it in grim detail in 1845 in his book 'Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave.' He went on to address huge audiences in Great Britain and Ireland and there some of his supporters paid off his owner, so Douglass could be free in law and not fear recapture. After the Civil War and the abolition of slavery, he campaigned for equal rights for African-Americans, arguing against those such as Lincoln who had wanted freed slaves to leave America and found a colony elsewhere. "We were born here," he said, "and here we will remain."WithCeleste-Marie Bernier Professor of Black Studies in the English Department at the University of EdinburghKaren Salt Assistant Professor in Transnational American Studies at the University of NottinghamAndNicholas Guyatt Reader in North American History at the University of CambridgeProducer: Simon Tillotson.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the event of which Voltaire, two hundred years later, said 'nothing was more well known'. In 1565, Suleiman the Magnificent, the Ottoman leader, sent a great fleet west to lay siege to Malta and capture it for his empire. Victory would mean control of trade across the Mediterranean and a base for attacks on Spain, Sicily and southern Italy, even Rome. It would also mean elimination of Malta's defenders, the Knights Hospitaller, driven by the Ottomans from their base in Rhodes in 1522 and whose raids on his shipping had long been a thorn in his side. News of the Great Siege of Malta spread fear throughout Europe, though that turned to elation when, after four months of horrific fighting, the Ottomans withdrew, undermined by infighting between their leaders and the death of the highly-valued admiral, Dragut. The Knights Hospitaller had shown that Suleiman's forces could be contained, and their own order was reinvigorated.The image above is the Death of Dragut at the Siege of Malta (1867), after a painting by Giuseppe Cali. Dragut (1485 1565) was an Ottoman Admiral and privateer, known as The Drawn Sword of Islam and as one of the finest generals of the time.WithHelen Nicholson Professor of Medieval History at Cardiff UniversityDiarmaid MacCulloch Professor of the History of the Church at the University of OxfordandKate Fleet Director of the Skilliter Centre for Ottoman Studies and Fellow of Newnham College, CambridgeProducer: Simon Tillotson.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the man who was Henry II's Chancellor and then Archbishop of Canterbury and who was murdered by knights in Canterbury Cathedral (depicted by Matthew Paris, above). Henry believed that Becket owed him loyalty as he had raised him to the highest offices, and that he should agree to Henry's courts having jurisdiction over 'criminous clerics'. They fell out when Becket agreed to this jurisdiction verbally but would not put his seal on the agreement, the Constitutions of Clarendon. The rift deepened when Henry's heir was crowned without Becket, who excommunicated the bishops who took part. Becket's tomb became one of the main destinations for pilgrims for the next 400 years, including those in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales where he was the 'blisful martir'.WithLaura Ashe Associate Professor of English at Worcester College, University of OxfordMichael Staunton Associate Professor in History at University College DublinAndDanica Summerlin Lecturer in Medieval History at the University of SheffieldProducer: Simon Tillotson.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the myths and history of the ancient Greek city of Thebes and its depiction in Athenian drama. In myths it was said to be home to Heracles, Dionysus, Oedipus and Cadmus among others and, in history, was infamous for supporting Xerxes in the Persian War. Its prominence led to a struggle with the rising force of Macedon in which the Thebans were defeated at Chaironea in 338 BC, one of the most important battles in ancient history. The position of Thebes in Greek culture was enormously powerful. The strength of its myths and its proximity to Athens made it a source of stories for the Athenian theatre, and is the setting for more of the surviving plays than any other location.The image, above, is of Oedipus answering questions of the sphinx in Thebes (cup 5th century BC).WithEdith Hall Professor of Classics at King's College LondonSamuel Gartland Lecturer in Ancient History at Corpus Christi College, University of OxfordandPaul Cartledge Emeritus Professor of Greek Culture and AG Leventis Senior Research Fellow at Clare College, University of CambridgeProducer: Simon Tillotson.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss The Picts and, to mark our twentieth season, that discussion takes place in front of a student audience at the University of Glasgow, many of them studying this topic. According to Bede writing c731AD, the Picts, with the English, Britons, Scots and Latins, formed one of the five nations of Britain, 'an island in the ocean formerly called Albion'. The Picts is now a label given to the people who lived in Scotland north of the Forth-Clyde line from about 300 AD to 900 AD, from the time of the Romans to the time of the Vikings. They left intricately carved stones, such as the one above with a bull motif, from Burghead, Moray, Scotland, but there are relatively few other traces. Who were they, and what happened to them? And what has been learned in the last twenty years, through archaeology?WithKatherine Forsyth Reader in the Department of Celtic and Gaelic at the University of GlasgowAlex Woolf Senior Lecturer in Dark Age Studies at the University of St AndrewsandGordon Noble Reader in Archaeology at the University of AberdeenProducer: Simon Tillotson.
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.WithMary Vincent Professor of Modern European History at the University of SheffieldGijs van Hensbergen Historian of Spanish Art and Fellow of the LSE Cañada Blanch Centre for Contemporary Spanish StudiesandDacia Viejo Rose Lecturer in Heritage in the Department of Archaeology at the University of Cambridge Fellow of Selwyn CollegeProducer: Simon Tillotson.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the conference convened by the victorious powers of the Napoleonic Wars and the earlier French Revolutionary Wars, which had devastated so much of Europe over the last 25 years. The powers aimed to create a long lasting peace, partly by redrawing the map to restore old boundaries and partly by balancing the powers so that none would risk war again. It has since been seen as a very conservative outcome, reasserting the old monarchical and imperial orders over the growth of liberalism and national independence movements, and yet also largely successful in its goal of preventing war in Europe on such a scale for another 100 years. Delegates to Vienna were entertained at night with lavish balls, and the image above is from a French cartoon showing Russia, Prussia, and Austria dancing to the bidding of Castlereagh, the British delegate.WithKathleen Burk Professor Emerita of Modern and Contemporary History at University College LondonTim Blanning Emeritus Professor of Modern European History at the University of CambridgeandJohn Bew Professor in History and Foreign Policy at the War Studies Department at King's College LondonProducer: Simon Tillotson.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the life, reputation and impact of Constantine I, known as Constantine the Great (c280s -337AD). Born in modern day Serbia and proclaimed Emperor by his army in York in 306AD, Constantine became the first Roman Emperor to profess Christianity. He legalised Christianity and its followers achieved privileges that became lost to traditional religions, leading to the steady Christianisation of the Empire. He built a new palace in Byzantium, renaming it Constantinople, as part of the decentralisation of the Empire, an Eastern shift that saw Roman power endure another thousand years there, long after the collapse of the empire in the West.WithChristopher Kelly Professor of Classics and Ancient History at the University of Cambridge and President of Corpus Christi CollegeLucy Grig Senior Lecturer in Roman History at the University of EdinburghandGreg Woolf Director of the Institute of Classical Studies, University of LondonProducer: Simon Tillotson.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss what, in C19th America's Gilded Age, was one of the most significant protest movements since the Civil War with repercussions well into C20th. Farmers in the South and Midwest felt ignored by the urban and industrial elites who were thriving as the farmers suffered droughts and low prices. The farmers were politically and physically isolated. As one man wrote on his abandoned farm, 'two hundred and fifty miles to the nearest post office, one hundred miles to wood, twenty miles to water, six inches to Hell'. They formed the Populist or People's Party to fight their cause, put up candidates for President, won several states and influenced policies. In the South, though, their appeal to black farmers stimulated their political rivals to suppress the black vote for decades and set black and poor white farmers against each other, tightening segregation. Aspects of the Populists ideas re-emerged effectively in Roosevelt's New Deal, even if they are mainly remembered now, if at all, thanks to allegorical references in The Wizard of Oz.The caricature above is of William Jennings Bryan, Populist-backed Presidential candidate.WithLawrence Goldman Professor of History at the Institute of Historical Research, University of LondonMara Keire Lecturer in US History at the University of OxfordAndChristopher Phelps Associate Professor of American Studies at the University of NottinghamProducer: Simon Tillotson.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss The Battle of Lincoln on 20th May 1217, when two armies fought to keep, or to win, the English crown. This was a struggle between the Angevin and Capetian dynasties, one that followed Capetian successes over the Angevins in France. The forces of the new boy-king, Henry III, attacked those of Louis of France, the claimant backed by rebel Barons. Henry's regent, William Marshal, was almost seventy when he led the charge on Lincoln that day, and his victory confirmed his reputation as England's greatest knight. Louis sent to France for reinforcements but in August these, too, were defeated at sea, at the Battle of Sandwich. As part of the peace deal, Henry reissued Magna Carta, which King John had granted in 1215 but soon withdrawn, and Louis went home, leaving England's Anglo-French rulers more Anglo and less French than he had planned.The image above is by Matthew Paris (c1200-1259) from his Chronica Majora (MS 16, f. 55v) and appears with the kind permission of the Master and Fellows of Corpus Christi College, CambridgeWithLouise Wilkinson Professor of Medieval History at Canterbury Christ Church UniversityStephen Church Professor of Medieval History at the University of East AngliaandThomas Asbridge Reader in Medieval History at Queen Mary, University of LondonProducer: Simon Tillotson.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the text and context of The Book of the Dead, also known as the Book of Coming Forth by Day, the ancient Egyptian collections of spells which were intended to help the recently deceased navigate the underworld. They flourished under the New Kingdom from C16th BC until the end of the Ptolemaic era in C1st BC, and drew on much earlier traditions from the walls of pyramids and on coffin cases. Almost 200 spells survive, though no one collection contains all of them, and one of the best known surrounds the weighing of the heart, the gods' final judgement of the deceased's life.WithJohn Taylor Curator at the Department of Ancient Egypt and Sudan at the British MuseumKate Spence Senior Lecturer in Egyptian Archaeology at Cambridge University and Fellow of Emmanuel CollegeandRichard Parkinson Professor of Egyptology at the University of Oxford and Fellow of the Queen's CollegeProducer: Simon Tillotson.
The 13th-century English philosopher Roger Bacon is perhaps best known for his major work the Opus Maius. Commissioned by Pope Clement IV, this extensive text covered a multitude of topics from mathematics and optics to religion and moral philosophy. He is also regarded by some as an early pioneer of the modern scientific method. Bacon's erudition was so highly regarded that he came to be known as 'Doctor Mirabilis' or 'wonderful doctor'. However, he is a man shrouded in mystery. Little is known about much of his life and he became the subject of a number of strange legends, including one in which he allegedly constructed a mechanical brazen head that would predict the future.With:Jack Cunningham Academic Coordinator for Theology at Bishop Grosseteste University, LincolnAmanda Power Associate Professor of Medieval History at the University of OxfordElly Truitt Associate Professor of Medieval History at Bryn Mawr CollegeProducer: Victoria Brignell.
Melvyn Bragg discusses the life and times of Rosa Luxemburg (1871-1919), 'Red Rosa', who was born in Poland under the Russian Empire and became one of the leading revolutionaries in an age of revolution. She was jailed for agitation and for her campaign against the Great War which, she argued, pitted workers against each other for the sake of capitalism. With Karl Liebknecht and other radicals, she founded the Spartacus League in the hope of ending the war through revolution. She founded the German Communist Party with Liebknecht; with the violence that followed the German Revolution of 1918, her opponents condemned her as Bloody Rosa. She and Liebknecht were seen as ringleaders in the Spartacus Revolt of 1919 and, on 15th January 1919, the Freikorps militia arrested and murdered them. While Luxemburg has faced opposition for her actions and ideas from many quarters, she went on to become an iconic figure in East Germany under the Cold War and a focal point for opposition to the Soviet-backed leadership.WithJacqueline Rose Co-Director of the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities, Birkbeck, University of LondonMark Jones Irish Research Council fellow at the Centre for War Studies, University College DublinandNadine Rossol Senior lecturer in Modern European History at the University of EssexProducer: Simon Tillotson.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss what is often called one of the most significant battles in history. In 480BC in the Saronic Gulf near Athens, between the mainland and the island of Salamis, a fleet of Greek allies decisively defeated a larger Persian-led fleet. This halted the further Persian conquest of Greece and, at Plataea and Mycale the next year, further Greek victories brought Persian withdrawal and the immediate threat of conquest to an end. To the Greeks, this enabled a flourishing of a culture that went on to influence the development of civilisation in Rome and, later, Europe and beyond. To the Persians, it was a reverse at the fringes of their vast empire but not a threat to their existence, as it was for the Greek states, and attention turned to quelling unrest elsewhere.WithLloyd Llewellyn-Jones Professor in Ancient History at Cardiff UniversityLindsay Allen Lecturer in Greek and Near Eastern History, King's College LondonandPaul Cartledge Emeritus Professor of Greek Culture and AG Leventis Senior Research Fellow at Clare College, University of CambridgeProducer: Simon Tillotson.
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.WithMary Beard Professor of Classics at the University of CambridgeCatharine Edwards Professor of Classics and Ancient History at Birkbeck, University of LondonandAlessandro Schiesaro Professor of Classics at the University of ManchesterProducer: Simon Tillotson.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the history of Mary, Queen of Scots, who had potential to be one of the most powerful rulers in Europe, yet she was also one of the most vulnerable. In France, when she was the teenage bride to their future king, she was seen as rightful heir to the thrones of England and Ireland, as well as Queen of Scotland and one day of France, which would have been an extraordinary union. She was widowed too young, though and, a Catholic returning to Protestant Scotland, she struggled to overcome rivalries in her own country. She fled to Protestant England, where she was implicated in plots to overthrow Elizabeth, and it was Elizabeth herself who signed Mary's death warrant.WithDavid Forsyth Principal Curator, Scottish Medieval-Early Modern Collections at National Museums ScotlandAnna Groundwater Teaching Fellow in Historical Skills and Methods at the University of EdinburghAndJohn Guy Fellow of Clare College, University of CambridgeProducer: Simon Tillotson.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the German astronomer Johannes Kepler (1571 - 1630). Although he is overshadowed today by Isaac Newton and Galileo, he is considered by many to be one of the greatest scientists in history. The three laws of planetary motion Kepler developed transformed people's understanding of the Solar System and laid the foundations for the revolutionary ideas Isaac Newton produced later. Kepler is also thought to have written one of the first works of science fiction. However, he faced a number of challenges. He had to defend his mother from charges of witchcraft, he had few financial resources and his career suffered as a result of his Lutheran faith. With David Wootton Professor of History at the University of YorkUlinka Rublack Professor of Early Modern European History at the University of Cambridge and Fellow of St John's CollegeAdam Mosley Associate Professor in the Department of History at Swansea UniversityProducer: Victoria Brignell.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the craze for gin in Britain in the mid 18th Century and the attempts to control it. With the arrival of William of Orange, it became an act of loyalty to drink Protestant, Dutch gin rather than Catholic brandy, and changes in tariffs made everyday beer less affordable. Within a short time, production increased and large sections of the population that had rarely or never drunk spirits before were consuming two pints of gin a week. As Hogarth indicated in his print 'Beer Street and Gin Lane' (1751) in support of the Gin Act, the damage was severe, and addiction to gin was blamed for much of the crime in cities such as London.WithAngela McShane Research Fellow in History at the Victoria and Albert Museum and University of SheffieldJudith Hawley Professor of 18th century literature at Royal Holloway, University of LondonAndEmma Major Senior Lecturer in English at the University of YorkProducer: Simon Tillotson.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Harriet Martineau who, from a non-conformist background in Norwich, became one of the best known writers in the C19th. She had a wide range of interests and used a new, sociological method to observe the world around her, from religion in Egypt to slavery in America and the rights of women everywhere. She popularised writing about economics for those outside the elite and, for her own popularity, was invited to the coronation of Queen Victoria, one of her readers.WithValerie Sanders Professor of English at the University of HullKaren O'Brien Professor of English Literature at the University of OxfordAndElla Dzelzainis Lecturer in 19th Century Literature at Newcastle UniversityProducer: Simon Tillotson.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Giuseppe Garibaldi and the Italian Risorgimento. According to the historian AJP Taylor, Garibaldi was the only wholly admirable figure in modern history. Born in Nice in 1807, one of Garibaldi's aims in life was the unification of Italy and, in large part thanks to him, Italy was indeed united substantially in 1861 and entirely in 1870. With his distinctive red shirt and poncho, he was a hero of Romantic revolutionaries around the world. His fame was secured when, with a thousand soldiers, he invaded Sicily and toppled the monarchy in the Italian south. The Risorgimento was soon almost complete.This topic is the one chosen from over 750 different ideas suggested by listeners in October, for our yearly Listener Week.WithLucy Riall Professor of Comparative History of Europe at the European University Institute and Professor of History at Birkbeck, University of LondonEugenio Biagini Professor of Modern and Contemporary History at the University of CambridgeandDavid Laven Associate Professor of History at the University of NottinghamProducer: Simon Tillotson.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Baltic Crusades, the name given to a series of overlapping attempts to convert the pagans of North East Europe to Christianity at the point of the sword. From the 12th Century, Papal Bulls endorsed those who fought on the side of the Church, the best known now being the Teutonic Order which, thwarted in Jerusalem, founded a state on the edge of the Baltic, in Prussia. Some of the peoples in the region disappeared, either killed or assimilated, and the consequences for European history were profound.WithAleks Pluskowski Associate Professor of Archaeology at the University of ReadingNora Berend Fellow of St Catharine's College and Reader in European History at the Faculty of History at the University of CambridgeandMartin Palmer Director of the International Consultancy on Religion, Education, and CultureProducer: Simon Tillotson.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the ideas brought together under Justinian I, Byzantine emperor in the 6th century AD, which were rediscovered in Western Europe in the Middle Ages and became very influential in the development of laws in many European nations and elsewhere.WithCaroline Humfress Professor of Medieval History at the University of St AndrewsSimon Corcoran Lecturer in Ancient History at Newcastle UniversityandPaul du Plessis Senior Lecturer in Civil law and European legal history at the School of Law, University of EdinburghProducer: Simon Tillotson.
This image: Joseph Mallord William Turner, The Fighting Temeraire, 1839 (c) The National Gallery, LondonMelvyn 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'.WithSusan Foister Curator of Early Netherlandish, German and British Painting at the National GalleryDavid Blayney Brown Manton Curator of British Art 1790-1850 at Tate BritainandJames Davey Curator of Naval History at the National Maritime MuseumProducer: Simon Tillotson.
"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.WithAndrew George Professor of Babylonian at SOAS, University of LondonFrances Reynolds Shillito Fellow in Assyriology at the Oriental Institute, University of Oxford and Fellow of St Benet's HallandMartin Worthington Lecturer in Assyriology at the University of CambridgeProducer: Simon Tillotson.
The scientist John Dalton was born in North England in 1766. Although he came from a relatively poor Quaker family, he managed to become one of the most celebrated scientists of his age. Through his work, he helped to establish Manchester as a place where not only products were made but ideas were born. His reputation during his lifetime was so high that unusually a statue was erected to him before he died. Among his interests were meteorology, gasses and colour blindness. However, he is most remembered today for his pioneering thinking in the field of atomic theory.With:Jim Bennett Former Director of the Museum of the History of Science at the University of Oxford and Keeper Emeritus at the Science MuseumAileen Fyfe Reader in British History at the University of St AndrewsJames Sumner Lecturer in the History of Technology at the Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine at the University of ManchesterProducer: Victoria Brignell.
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.WithLaura Ashe Associate Professor of English at Worcester College, University of OxfordElisabeth van Houts Honorary Professor of European Medieval History at the University of CambridgeandGiles Gasper Reader in Medieval History at Durham UniversityProducer: Simon Tillotson.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss The Bronze Age Collapse, the name given by many historians to what appears to have been a sudden, uncontrolled destruction of dominant civilizations around 1200 BC in the Aegean, Eastern Mediterranean and Anatolia. Among other areas, there were great changes in Minoan Crete, Egypt, the Hittite Empire, Mycenaean Greece and Syria. The reasons for the changes, and the extent of those changes, are open to debate and include droughts, rebellions, the breakdown of trade as copper became less desirable, earthquakes, invasions, volcanoes and the mysterious Sea Peoples.WithJohn Bennet Director of the British School at Athens and Professor of Aegean Archaeology at the University of SheffieldLinda Hulin Fellow of Harris Manchester College and Research Officer at the Oxford Centre for Maritime Archaeology at the University of OxfordAndSimon Stoddart Fellow of Magdalene College and Reader in Prehistory at the University of CambridgeProducer: Simon Tillotson.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the English mystic Margery Kempe (1373-1438) whose extraordinary life is recorded in a book she dictated, The Book of Margery Kempe. She went on pilgrimage to Jerusalem, to Rome and Santiago de Compostela, purchasing indulgences on her way, met with the anchoress Julian of Norwich and is honoured by the Church of England each 9th November. She sometimes doubted the authenticity of her mystical conversations with God, as did the authorities who saw her devotional sobbing, wailing and convulsions as a sign of insanity and dissoluteness. Her Book was lost for centuries, before emerging in a private library in 1934.The image (above), of an unknown woman, comes from a pew at Margery Kempe's parish church, St Margaret's, Kings Lynn and dates from c1375.WithMiri Rubin Professor of Medieval and Early Modern History at Queen Mary, University of LondonKatherine Lewis Senior Lecturer in History at the University of HuddersfieldAndAnthony Bale Professor of Medieval Studies at Birkbeck University of LondonProducer: Simon Tillotson.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, ten sentences long, delivered at the dedication of the Soldiers' National Cemetery at Gettysburg after the Union forces had won an important battle with the Confederates. Opening with " Four score and seven years ago," it became one of the most influential statements of national purpose, asserting that America was "conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal" and "that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom-and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth." Among those inspired were Martin Luther King Jr whose "I have a dream" speech, delivered at the Lincoln Memorial 100 years later, echoed Lincoln's opening words.WithCatherine Clinton Denman Chair of American History at the University of Texas and International Professor at Queen's University, BelfastSusan-Mary Grant Professor of American History at Newcastle UniversityAndTim Lockley Professor of American History at the University of WarwickProducer: Simon Tillotson.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Titus Oates (1649-1705) who, with Israel Tonge, spread rumours of a Catholic plot to assassinate Charles II. From 1678, they went to great lengths to support their scheme, forging evidence and identifying the supposed conspirators. Fearing a second Gunpowder Plot, Oates' supposed revelations caused uproar in London and across the British Isles, with many Catholics, particularly Jesuit priests, wrongly implicated by Oates and then executed. Anyone who doubted him had to keep quiet, to avoid being suspected a sympathiser and thrown in prison. Oates was eventually exposed, put on trial under James II and sentenced by Judge Jeffreys to public whipping through the streets of London, but the question remained: why was this rogue, who had faced perjury charges before, ever believed?WithClare Jackson Senior Tutor and Director of Studies in History at Trinity Hall, University of CambridgeMark Knights Professor of History at the University of WarwickAndPeter Hinds Associate Professor of English at Plymouth UniversityProducer: Simon Tillotson.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the impact of the eruption of Mt Tambora, in 1815, on the Indonesian island of Sambawa. This was the largest volcanic eruption in recorded history and it had the highest death toll, devastating people living in the immediate area. Tambora has been linked with drastic weather changes in North America and Europe the following year, with frosts in June and heavy rains throughout the summer in many areas. This led to food shortages, which may have prompted westward migration in America and, in a Europe barely recovered from the Napoleonic Wars, led to widespread famine.WithClive Oppenheimer Professor of Volcanology at the University of CambridgeJane Stabler Professor in Romantic Literature at the University of St AndrewsAndLawrence Goldman Director of the Institute of Historical Research at the University of LondonProducer: Simon Tillotson.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the rise of the Sikh Empire at the end of the 18th Century under Ranjit Singh, pictured above, who unified most of the Sikh kingdoms following the decline of the Mughal Empire. He became Maharaja of the Punjab at Lahore in 1801, capturing Amritsar the following year. His empire flourished until 1839, after which a decade of unrest ended with the British annexation. At its peak, the Empire covered the Punjab and stretched from the Khyber Pass in the west to the edge of Tibet in the east, up to Kashmir and down to Mithankot on the Indus River. Ranjit Singh is still remembered as "The Lion of the Punjab."WithGurharpal Singh Professor in Inter-Religious Relations and Development at SOAS, University of LondonChandrika Kaul Lecturer in Modern History at the University of St AndrewsAndSusan Stronge Senior Curator in the Asian Department of the Victoria and Albert MuseumProducer: Simon Tillotson.
Agrippina the Younger was one of the most notorious and influential of the Roman empresses in the 1st century AD. She was the sister of the Emperor Caligula, a wife of the Emperor Claudius and mother of the Emperor Nero. Through careful political manoeuvres, she acquired a dominant position for herself in Rome. In 39 AD she was exiled for allegedly participating in a plot against Caligula and later it was widely thought that she killed Claudius with poison. When Nero came to the throne, he was only 16 so Agrippina took on the role of regent until he began to exert his authority. After relations between Agrippina and Nero soured, he had her murdered.With:Catharine Edwards Professor of Classics and Ancient History at Birkbeck, University of LondonAlice König Lecturer in Latin and Classical Studies at the University of St AndrewsMatthew Nicholls Associate Professor of Classics at the University of ReadingProducer: Victoria Brignell.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the early years of Bedlam, the name commonly used for the London hospital of St Mary of Bethlehem outside Bishopsgate, described in 1450 by the Lord Mayor of London as a place where may "be found many men that be fallen out of their wit. And full honestly they be kept in that place; and some be restored onto their wit and health again. And some be abiding therein for ever." As Bethlem, or Bedlam, it became a tourist attraction in the 17th Century at its new site in Moorfields and, for its relatively small size, made a significant impression on public attitudes to mental illness. The illustration, above, is from the eighth and final part of Hogarth's 'A Rake's Progress' (1732-3), where Bedlam is the last stage in the decline and fall of a young spendthrift,Tom Rakewell.WithHilary Marland Professor of History at the University of WarwickJustin Champion Professor of the History of Early Modern Ideas at Royal Holloway, University of London and President of the Historical AssociationAndJonathan Andrews Reader in the History of Psychiatry at Newcastle UniversityProducer: Simon Tillotson.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Maya Civilization, developed by the Maya people, which flourished in central America from around 250 AD in great cities such as Chichen Itza and Uxmal with advances in mathematics, architecture and astronomy. Long before the Spanish Conquest in the 16th Century, major cities had been abandoned for reasons unknown, although there are many theories including overpopulation and changing climate. The hundreds of Maya sites across Belize, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico raise intriguing questions about one of the world's great pre-industrial civilizations.WithElizabeth Graham Professor of Mesoamerican Archaeology at University College LondonMatthew Restall Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of Latin American History and Anthropology at Pennsylvania State UniversityAndBenjamin Vis Eastern ARC Research Fellow in Digital Humanities at the University of KentProducer: Simon Tillotson.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie or VOC, known in English as the Dutch East India Company. The VOC dominated the spice trade between Asia and Europe for two hundred years, with the British East India Company a distant second. At its peak, the VOC had a virtual monopoly on nutmeg, mace, cloves and cinnamon, displacing the Portuguese and excluding the British, and were the only European traders allowed access to Japan.WithAnne Goldgar Reader in Early Modern European History at King's College LondonChris Nierstrasz Lecturer in Global History at Erasmus University, Rotterdam, formerly at the University of WarwickAndHelen Paul Lecturer in Economics and Economic History at the University of SouthamptonProducer: Simon Tillotson.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the life, times and influence of Eleanor of Aquitaine (c1122-1204) who was one of the most powerful women in Twelfth Century Europe, possibly in the entire Middle Ages. She inherited land from the Loire down to the Pyrenees, about a third of modern France. She married first the King of France, Louis VII, joining him on the Second Crusade. She became stronger still after their marriage was annulled, as her next husband, Henry Plantagenet became Henry II of England. Two of their sons, Richard and John, became kings and she ruled for them when they were abroad. By her death in her eighties, Eleanor had children and grandchildren in power across western Europe. This led to competing claims of inheritance and, for much of the next 250 years, the Plantagenet and French kings battled over Eleanor's land.WithLindy Grant Professor of Medieval History at the University of ReadingNicholas Vincent Professor of Medieval History at the University of East AngliaAndJulie Barrau University Lecturer in British Medieval History at the University of CambridgeProducer: Simon Tillotson.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Thomas Paine and his pamphlet "Common Sense" which was published in Philadelphia in January 1776 and promoted the argument for American independence from Britain. Addressed to The Inhabitants of America, it sold one hundred and fifty thousand copies in the first few months and is said, proportionately, to be the best-selling book in American history. Paine had arrived from England barely a year before. He vigorously attacked monarchy generally and George the Third in particular. He argued the colonies should abandon all hope of resolving their dispute with Britain and declare independence immediately. Many Americans were scandalised. More were inspired and, for Paine's vision of America's independent future, he has been called a Founding Father of the United States.WithKathleen Burk Professor Emerita of Modern and Contemporary History at University College LondonNicholas Guyatt University Lecturer in American History at the University of CambridgeAndPeter Thompson Associate Professor of American History at the University of Oxford and Fellow of St Cross CollegeProducer: Simon Tillotson.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the outbreak of witch trials in Massachusetts in 1692-3, centred on Salem, which led to the execution of twenty people, with more dying in prison before or after trial. Some were men, including Giles Corey who died after being pressed with heavy rocks, but the majority were women. At its peak, around 150 people were suspected of witchcraft, including the wife of the governor who had established the trials. Many of the claims of witchcraft arose from personal rivalries in an area known for unrest, but were examined and upheld by the courts at a time of mass hysteria, belief in the devil, fear of attack by Native Americans and religious divisions.WithSusan Castillo-Street Harriet Beecher Stowe Professor Emerita of American Studies at King's College LondonSimon Middleton Senior Lecturer in American History at the University of SheffieldAndMarion Gibson Professor of Renaissance and Magical Literatures at Exeter University, Penryn Campus.Producer: Simon Tillotson.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss The Battle of Lepanto, 1571, the last great sea battle between galleys, in which the Catholic fleet of the Holy League of principally Venice, Spain, the Papal States, Malta, Genoa, and Savoy defeated the Ottoman forces of Selim II. When much of Europe was divided over the Reformation, this was the first major victory of a Christian force over a Turkish fleet. The battle followed the Ottoman invasion of Venetian Cyprus and decades in which the Venetians had been trying to stop the broader westward expansion of the Ottomans into the Mediterranean. The outcome had a great impact on morale in Europe and Pope Pius V established a feast day of Our Lady of Victory. Some historians call it the most significant sea battle since Actium (31 BC). However, the Ottomans viewed the loss as less significant than their victory in Cyprus and, within two years, the Holy League had broken up.WithDiarmaid MacCulloch Professor of the History of the Church at the University of OxfordKate Fleet Director of the Skilliter Centre for Ottoman Studies and Fellow of Newnham College, University of CambridgeAndNoel Malcolm A Senior Research Fellow in History at All Soul's College, University of OxfordProducer: Simon Tillotson.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Empire of Mali which flourished from 1200 to 1600 and was famous in the wider world for the wealth of rulers such as Mansa Musa. Mali was the largest empire in west Africa and for almost 400 years controlled the flow of gold from mines in the south up to the Mediterranean coast and across to the Middle East. These gold mines were the richest known deposits in the 14th Century and produced around half of the world's gold. When Mansa Musa journeyed to Cairo in 1324 as part of his Hajj, he distributed so much gold that its value depreciated by over 10%. Some of the mosques he built on his return survive, albeit rebuilt, such as the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Great Mosque of Djenne.WithAmira Bennison Reader in the History and Culture of the Maghrib at the University of CambridgeMarie Rodet Senior Lecturer in the History of Africa at SOASAndKevin MacDonald Professor of African Archaeology Chair of the African Studies Programme at University College, LondonProducer: Simon Tillotson.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the life and work of Hans Holbein the Younger (1497-1543) during his two extended stays in England, when he worked at the Tudor Court and became the King's painter. Holbein created some of the most significant portraits of his age, including an image of Henry VIII, looking straight at the viewer, hands on hips, that has dominated perceptions of him since. The original at Whitehall Palace was said to make visitors tremble at its majesty. Holbein was later sent to Europe to paint the women who might be Henry's fourth wife; his depiction of Anne of Cleves was enough to encourage Henry to marry her, a decision Henry quickly regretted and for which Thomas Cromwell, her supporter, was executed. His paintings still shape the way we see those in and around the Tudor Court, including Cromwell, Thomas More, the infant Prince Edward (of which there is a detail, above), The Ambassadors and, of course, Henry the Eighth himself.WithSusan Foister Curator of Early Netherlandish, German and British Painting at the National GalleryJohn Guy A fellow of Clare College, University of CambridgeAndMaria Hayward Professor of Early Modern History at the University of SouthamptonProducer: Simon Tillotson.
Alexander the Great is one of the most celebrated military commanders in history. Born into the Macedonian royal family in 356 BC, he gained control of Greece and went on to conquer the Persian Empire, defeating its powerful king, Darius III. At its peak, Alexander's empire covered modern Turkey, Syria, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and part of India. As a result, Greek culture and language was spread into regions it had not penetrated before, and he is also remembered for founding a number of cities. Over the last 2,000 years, the legend of Alexander has grown and he has influenced numerous generals and politicians.With:Paul Cartledge Emeritus Professor of Greek Culture and AG Leventis Senior Research Fellow at Clare College, University of CambridgeDiana Spencer Professor of Classics at the University of BirminghamRachel Mairs Lecturer in Classics at the University of ReadingProducer: Victoria Brignell.
Frederick the Great ruled Prussia from 1740 until his death in 1786. Born in 1712, he increased the power of the state, he made Prussia the leading military power in Europe and his bold campaigns had great implications for the European political landscape. An absolute monarch in the age of enlightenment, he was a prolific writer, attracted figures such as Voltaire to his court, fostered education and put Berlin firmly on the cultural map. He was much admired by Napoleon and was often romanticised by German historians, becoming a hero for many in united Germany in the 19th and 20th centuries. Others, however, vilified him for aspects such as his militarism and the partition of Poland.WithTim Blanning Emeritus Professor of Modern European History at the University of CambridgeKatrin Kohl Professor of German Literature at the University of Oxford and a Fellow of Jesus CollegeAndThomas Biskup Lecturer in Early Modern History at the University of HullProducer: Simon Tillotson.
In the Middle Ages, Prester John was seen as the great hope for Crusaders struggling to hold on to, then regain, Jerusalem. He was thought to rule a lost Christian kingdom somewhere in the East and was ready to attack Muslim opponents with his enormous armies. There was apparent proof of Prester John's existence, in letters purportedly from him and in stories from travelers who claimed they had met, if not him, then people who had news of him. Most pointed to a home in the earthly paradise in the Indies, outside Eden, with fantastical animals and unimaginable riches. Later, Portuguese explorers thought they had found him in Ethiopia, despite the mystified denials of people there. Melvyn Bragg asks why the legend was so strongly believed for so long, and what facts helped sustain the myths.WithMarianne O'Doherty Associate Professor in English at the University of SouthamptonMartin Palmer Director of the International Consultancy on Religion, Education, and CultureAndAmanda Power Senior Lecturer in Medieval History at the University of Sheffield.Producer: Simon Tillotson.
It is said that, in Britain from the 18th Century, copies of Josephus' works were as widespread and as well read as The Bible. Christians valued "The Antiquities of the Jews" in particular, for the retelling of parts of the Old Testament and apparently corroborating the historical existence of Jesus. Born Joseph son of Matthias, in Jerusalem, in 37AD, he fought the Romans in Galilee in the First Jewish-Roman War. He was captured by Vespasian's troops and became a Roman citizen, later describing the siege and fall of Jerusalem. His actions and writings made him a controversial figure, from his lifetime to the present day.WithTessa Rajak Professor Emeritus of Ancient History, University of ReadingPhilip Alexander Professor Emeritus of Jewish Studies, University of ManchesterAndMartin Goodman Professor of Jewish Studies, University of Oxford and President of the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish StudiesProducer: Simon Tillotson.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Cotton Famine in Lancashire from 1861-65. The Famine followed the blockade of Confederate Southern ports during the American Civil War which stopped the flow of cotton into mills in Britain and Europe. Reports at the time told of starvation, mass unemployment and migration. Abraham Lincoln wrote, "I know and deeply deplore the sufferings which the working-men of Manchester, and in all Europe, are called to endure in this crisis." While the full cause and extent of the Famine in Lancashire are disputed, the consequences of this and the cotton blockade were far reaching.WithLawrence Goldman Director of the Institute of Historical Research at the University of LondonEmma Griffin Professor of History at the University of East AngliaAndDavid Brown Senior Lecturer in American Studies at University of ManchesterProducer: Simon Tillotson.
Rabindranath Tagore was the first non-European to win a Nobel Prize for Literature. He has been called one of the outstanding thinkers of the 20th century and the greatest poet India has ever produced. His Nobel followed publication of Gitanjali, his English version of some of his Bengali poems. WB Yeats and Ezra Pound were great supporters. Tagore was born in Calcutta in 1861 and educated partly in Britain; King George V knighted him, but Tagore renounced this in 1919 following the Amritsar Massacre. A key figure in Indian nationalism, Tagore became a friend of Gandhi, offering criticism as well as support. A polymath and progressive, Tagore painted, wrote plays, novels, short stories and many songs. The national anthems of India and Bangladesh are based on his poems.WithChandrika Kaul Lecturer in Modern History at the University of St AndrewsBashabi Fraser Professor of English Literature and Creative Writing at Edinburgh Napier UniversityAndJohn Stevens Leverhulme Postdoctoral Fellow at SOAS, University of LondonProducer: Simon Tillotson.
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the life of Matteo Ricci, a Jesuit priest who in the 16th century led a Christian mission to China. An accomplished scholar, Ricci travelled extensively and came into contact with senior officials of the Ming Dynasty administration. His story is one of the most important encounters between Renaissance Europe and a China which was still virtually closed to outsiders.WithMary Laven Reader in Early Modern History at the University of CambridgeCraig Clunas Professor of the History of Art at the University of OxfordandAnne Gerritsen Reader in History at the University of WarwickProducer: Simon Tillotson.
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the California Gold Rush. In 1849 the recent discovery of gold at Coloma, near Sacramento in California, led to a massive influx of prospectors seeking to make their fortunes. Within a couple of years the tiny settlement of San Francisco had become a major city, with tens of thousands of immigrants, the so-called Forty-Niners, arriving by boat and over land. The gold rush transformed the west coast of America and its economy, but also uprooted local populations of Native Americans and made irreversible changes to natural habitats.With:Kathleen Burk Professor of Modern and Contemporary History at University College LondonJacqueline Fear-Segal Reader in American History and Culture at the University of East AngliaFrank Cogliano Professor of American History at the University of Edinburgh.
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the scientific achievements of the Curie family. In 1903 Marie and Pierre Curie shared a Nobel Prize in Physics with Henri Becquerel for their work on radioactivity, a term which Marie coined. Marie went on to win a Nobel in Chemistry eight years later; remarkably, her daughter Irène Joliot-Curie would later share a Nobel with her husband Frédéric Joliot-Curie for their discovery that it was possible to create radioactive materials in the laboratory. The work of the Curies added immensely to our knowledge of fundamental physics and paved the way for modern treatments for cancer and other illnesses.With:Patricia Fara Senior Tutor of Clare College, University of CambridgeRobert Fox Emeritus Professor of the History of Science at the University of OxfordSteven T Bramwell Professor of Physics and former Professor of Chemistry at University College LondonProducer: Simon Tillotson.
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the history and significance of eunuchs, castrated men who were a common feature of many civilisations for at least three thousand years. Eunuchs were typically employed as servants in royal households in the ancient Middle East, China and classical antiquity. In some civilisations they were used as administrators or senior military commanders, sometimes achieving high office. The tradition lingered until surprisingly recently, with castrated singers remaining a feature of Vatican choirs until the nineteenth century, while the last Chinese eunuch of the imperial court died in 1996.With:Karen Radner Professor of Ancient Near Eastern History at University College LondonShaun Tougher Reader in Ancient History at Cardiff UniversityMichael Hoeckelmann British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of History at King's College LondonProducer: Thomas Morris.
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Adam Smith's celebrated economic treatise The Wealth of Nations. Smith was one of Scotland's greatest thinkers, a moral philosopher and pioneer of economic theory whose 1776 masterpiece has come to define classical economics. Based on his careful consideration of the transformation wrought on the British economy by the Industrial Revolution, and how it contrasted with marketplaces elsewhere in the world, the book outlined a theory of wealth and how it is accumulated that has arguably had more influence on economic theory than any other.With:Richard Whatmore Professor of Modern History and Director of the Institute of Intellectual History at the University of St AndrewsDonald Winch Emeritus Professor of Intellectual History at the University of SussexHelen Paul Lecturer in Economics and Economic History at the University of SouthamptonProducer: Thomas Morris.
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Indian Emperor Ashoka. Active in the 3rd century BC, Ashoka conquered almost all of the landmass covered by modern-day India, creating the largest empire South Asia had ever known. After his campaign of conquest he converted to Buddhism, and spread the religion throughout his domain. His edicts were inscribed on the sides of an extraordinary collection of stone pillars spread far and wide across his empire, many of which survive today. Our knowledge of ancient India and its chronology, and how this aligns with the history of Europe, is largely dependent on this important set of inscriptions, which were deciphered only in the nineteenth century.With:Jessica Frazier Lecturer in Religious Studies at the University of Kent and a Research Fellow at the Oxford Centre for Hindu StudiesNaomi Appleton Chancellor's Fellow in Religious Studies at the University of EdinburghRichard Gombrich Founder and Academic Director of the Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies and Emeritus Professor of Sanskrit at the University of OxfordProducer: Thomas Morris.
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the ancient Greek historian Thucydides. In the fifth century BC Thucydides wrote The History of the Peloponnesian War, an account of a conflict in which he had himself taken part. This work is now seen as one of the first great masterpieces of history writing, a book which influenced writers for centuries afterwards. Thucydides was arguably the first historian to make a conscious attempt to be objective, bringing a rational and impartial approach to his scholarship. Today his work is still widely studied at military colleges and in the field of international relations for the insight it brings to bear on complex political situations.With:Paul Cartledge Emeritus Professor of Greek Culture and AG Leventis Senior Research Fellow at Clare College, CambridgeKatherine Harloe Associate Professor in Classics and Intellectual History at the University of ReadingNeville Morley Professor of Ancient History at the University of BristolProducer: Thomas Morris.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the Victorian engineer responsible for bridges, tunnels and railways still in use today more than 150 years after they were built. Brunel represented the cutting edge of technological innovation in Victorian Britain, and his life gives us a window onto the social changes that accompanied the Industrial Revolution. Yet his work was not always successful, and his innovative approach to engineering projects was often greeted with suspicion from investors.Guests:Julia Elton, former President of the Newcomen Society for the History of Engineering and TechnologyBen Marsden, Senior Lecturer in the School of Divinity, History and Philosophy at the University of AberdeenCrosbie Smith, Professor of the History of Science at the University of KentProducer: Luke Mulhall.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Egyptian pharaoh Hatshepsut, whose name means 'foremost of noble ladies'. She ruled Egypt from about 1479 - 1458 BC and some scholars argue that she was one of the most successful and influential pharaohs. When she came to the throne, Egypt was still recovering from a period of turbulence known as the Second Intermediate Period a few generations earlier. Hatshepsut reasserted Egyptian power by building up international trade and commissioned buildings considered masterpieces of Egyptian architecture. She also made significant changes to the ideology surrounding the pharaoh and the gods. However, following her death, her name was erased from the records and left out of ancient lists of Egyptian kings.With:Elizabeth Frood Associate Professor of Egyptology at the University of OxfordKate Spence Lecturer in Egyptian Archaeology at the University of CambridgeCampbell Price Curator of Egypt and Sudan at The Manchester MuseumProducer: Victoria Brignell.
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Haitian Revolution. In 1791 an uprising began in the French colonial territory of St Domingue. Partly a consequence of the French Revolution and partly a backlash against the brutality of slave owners, it turned into a complex struggle involving not just the residents of the island but French, English and Spanish forces. By 1804 the former slaves had won, establishing the first independent state in Latin America and the first nation to be created as a result of a successful slave rebellion. But the revolution also created one of the world's most impoverished societies, a legacy which Haiti has struggled to escape.ContributorsKate Hodgson, Postdoctoral Research Fellow in French at the University of LiverpoolTim Lockley, Reader in American Studies at the University of WarwickKaren Salt, Fellow in History in the School of Language and Literature at the University of AberdeenProducer: Luke Mulhall.
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Battle of Talas, a significant encounter between Arab and Chinese forces which took place in central Asia in 751 AD. It brought together two mighty empires, the Abbasid Caliphate and the Tang Dynasty, and although not well known today the battle had profound consequences for the future of both civilisations. The Arabs won the confrontation, but the battle marks the point where the Islamic Empire halted its march eastwards, and the Chinese stopped their expansion to the west. It was also a point of cultural exchange: some historians believe that it was also the moment when the technology of paper manufacture found its way from China to the Western world.GUESTSHilde de Weerdt, Professor of Chinese History at Leiden UniversityMichael Höckelmann, British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of History at King's College LondonHugh Kennedy, Professor of Arabic at SOAS, University of LondonProducer: Thomas Morris.
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the life, work and reputation of Julius Caesar. Famously assassinated as he entered the Roman senate on the Ides of March, 44 BC, Caesar was an inspirational general who conquered much of Europe. He was a ruthless and canny politician who became dictator of Rome, and wrote The Gallic Wars, one of the most admired and studied works of Latin literature. Shakespeare is one of many later writers to have been fascinated by the figure of Julius Caesar.With:Christopher Pelling Regius Professor of Greek at the University of OxfordCatherine Steel Professor of Classics at the University of GlasgowMaria Wyke Professor of Latin at University College LondonProducer: Thomas Morris.
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss one of the most remarkable figures of the Middle Ages, Hildegard of Bingen. The abbess of a Benedictine convent, Hildegard experienced a series of mystical visions which she documented in her writings. She was an influential person in the religious world and much of her extensive correspondence with popes, monarchs and other important figures survives. Hildegard was also celebrated for her wide-ranging scholarship, which as well as theology covered the natural world, science and medicine. Officially recognised as a saint by the Catholic Church in 2012, Hildegard is also one of the earliest known composers. Since their rediscovery in recent decades her compositions have been widely recorded and performed.With:Miri Rubin Professor of Medieval and Early Modern History and Head of the School of History at Queen Mary, University of LondonWilliam Flynn Lecturer in Medieval Latin at the Institute for Medieval Studies at the University of LeedsAlmut Suerbaum Professor of Medieval German and Fellow of Somerville College, Oxford.Producer: Thomas Morris.
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Bluestockings. Around the middle of the eighteenth century a small group of intellectual women began to meet regularly to discuss literature and other matters, inviting some of the leading thinkers of the day to take part in informal salons. In an age when women were not expected to be highly educated, the Bluestockings were sometimes regarded with suspicion or even hostility. But prominent members such as Elizabeth Montagu - known as 'the Queen of the Bluestockings', and author of an influential essay about Shakespeare - and the classicist Elizabeth Carter were highly regarded for their scholarship. Their accomplishments led to far greater acceptance of women as the intellectual equal of men, and furthered the cause of female education.With:Karen O'Brien Vice-Principal and Professor of English at King's College LondonElizabeth Eger Reader in English Literature at King's College LondonNicole Pohl Reader in English Literature at Oxford Brookes UniversityProducer: Thomas Morris.
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Sino-Japanese War of 1937-45. After several years of rising tension, and the Japanese occupation of Manchuria, full-scale war between Japan and China broke out in the summer of 1937. The Japanese captured many major Chinese ports and cities, but met with fierce resistance, despite internal political divisions on the Chinese side. When the Americans entered the war following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the Japanese found themselves fighting on several fronts simultaneously, and finally capitulated in August 1945. This notoriously brutal conflict left millions dead and had far-reaching consequences for international relations in Asia.With:Rana Mitter Professor of the History and Politics of Modern China at the University of OxfordBarak Kushner Senior Lecturer in Japanese History at the University of CambridgeTehyun Ma Lecturer in Chinese History at the University of ExeterProducer: Thomas Morris.
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Domesday Book, a vast survey of the land and property of much of England and Wales completed in 1086. Twenty years after the Battle of Hastings, William the Conqueror sent officials to most of his new territories to compile a list of land holdings and to gather information about settlements, the people who lived there and even their farm animals. Almost without parallel in European history, the resulting document was of immense importance for many centuries, and remains a central source for medieval historians.With:Stephen Baxter Reader in Medieval History at Kings College LondonElisabeth van Houts Honorary Professor of Medieval European History at the University of CambridgeDavid Bates Professorial Fellow in Medieval History at the University of East AngliaProducer: Thomas Morris.
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Strabo's Geographica. Written almost exactly two thousand years ago by a Greek scholar living in Rome, the Geographica is an ambitious attempt to describe the entire world known to the Romans and Greeks at that time. Strabo seems to have based his book on accounts of distant lands given to him by contemporary travellers and imperial administrators, and on earlier works of scholarship by other Greek writers. One of the earliest systematic works of geography, Strabo's book offers a revealing insight into the state of ancient scholarship, and remained influential for many centuries after the author's death.With:Paul Cartledge AG Leventis Professor of Greek Culture at the University of CambridgeMaria Pretzler Senior Lecturer in Ancient History at Swansea UniversityBenet Salway Senior Lecturer in Ancient History at UCLProducer: Thomas Morris.
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Max Weber's book the Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Published in 1905, Weber's essay proposed that Protestantism had been a significant factor in the emergence of capitalism, making an explicit connection between religious ideas and economic systems. Weber suggested that Calvinism, with its emphasis on personal asceticism and the merits of hard work, had created an ethic which had enabled the success of capitalism in Protestant countries. Weber's essay has come in for some criticism since he published the work, but is still seen as one of the seminal texts of twentieth-century sociology.With:Peter Ghosh Fellow in History at St Anne's College, OxfordSam Whimster Honorary Professor in Sociology at the University of New South WalesLinda Woodhead Professor of Sociology of Religion at Lancaster University.Producer: Thomas Morris.
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the life of Spartacus, the gladiator who led a major slave rebellion against the Roman Republic in the 1st century BC. He was an accomplished military leader, and the campaign he led contributed significantly to the instability of the Roman state in this period. Spartacus was celebrated by some ancient historians and reviled by others, and became a hero to revolutionaries in 19th-century Europe. Modern perceptions of his character have been influenced by Stanley Kubrick's 1960 film - but ancient sources give a rather more complex picture of Spartacus and the aims of his rebellion.With:Mary Beard Professor of Classics at the University of CambridgeMaria Wyke Professor of Latin at University College, LondonTheresa Urbainczyk Associate Professor of Classics at University College, Dublin.Producer: Victoria Brignell.
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss chivalry, the moral code observed by knights of the Middle Ages. Chivalry originated in the military practices of aristocratic French and German soldiers, but developed into an elaborate system governing many different aspects of knightly behaviour. It influenced the conduct of medieval military campaigns and also had important religious and literary dimensions. It gave rise to the phenomenon of courtly love, the subject of much romance literature, as well as to the practice of heraldry. The remnants of the chivalric tradition linger in European culture even today.Miri Rubin Professor of Medieval and Early Modern History and Head of the School of History at Queen Mary, University of LondonMatthew Strickland Professor of Medieval History at the University of GlasgowLaura Ashe Associate Professor in English at the University of Oxford and Fellow of Worcester CollegeProducer: Thomas Morris.
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Phoenicians. The Greek historian Herodotus wrote about a people from the Levant who were accomplished sailors and traders, and who taught the Greeks their alphabet. He called them the Phoenicians, the Greek word for purple, although it is not known what they called themselves. By about 700 BC they were trading all over the Mediterranean, taking Egyptian and Syrian goods as far as Spain and North Africa. Although they were hugely influential in the ancient world, they left few records of their own; some contemporary scholars believe that the Phoenicians were never a unified civilisation but a loose association of neighbouring city-states.With:Mark Woolmer Assistant Principal at Collingwood College, Durham UniversityJosephine Quinn Lecturer in Ancient History at the University of OxfordCyprian Broodbank Professor of Mediterranean Archaeology at University College LondonProducer: Thomas Morris.
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the sources for early Chinese history. The first attempts to make a record of historical events in China date from the Shang dynasty of the second millennium BC. The earliest surviving records were inscribed on bones or tortoise shells; in later centuries, chroniclers left detailed accounts on paper or silk. In the last hundred years, archaeologists have discovered a wealth of new materials, including a cache of previously unknown texts which were found in a sealed cave on the edge of the Gobi Desert. Such sources are are shedding new light on Chinese history, although interpreting ancient sources from the period before the invention of printing presents a number of challenges.With:Roel Sterckx Joseph Needham Professor of Chinese History at the University of CambridgeTim Barrett Professor of East Asian History at SOAS, University of LondonHilde de Weerdt Professor of Chinese History at Leiden UniversityProducer: Thomas Morris.
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Battle of Tours. In 732 a large Arab army invaded Gaul from northern Spain, and travelled as far north as Poitiers. There they were defeated by Charles Martel, whose Frankish and Burgundian forces repelled the invaders. The result confirmed the regional supremacy of Charles, who went on to establish a strong Frankish dynasty. The Battle of Tours was the last major incursion of Muslim armies into northern Europe; some historians, including Edward Gibbon, have seen it as the decisive moment that determined that the continent would remain Christian.With:Hugh Kennedy Professor of Arabic at SOAS, University of LondonRosamond McKitterick Professor of Medieval History at the University of CambridgeMatthew Innes Vice-Master and Professor of History at Birkbeck, University of London.
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Plato's Symposium, one of the Greek philosopher's most celebrated works. Written in the 4th century BC, it is a dialogue set at a dinner party attended by a number of prominent ancient Athenians, including the philosopher Socrates and the playwright Aristophanes. Each of the guests speaks of Eros, or erotic love. This fictional discussion of the nature of love, how and why it arises and what it means to be in love, has had a significant influence on later thinkers, and is the origin of the modern notion of Platonic love.With:Angie Hobbs Professor of the Public Understanding of Philosophy at the University of SheffieldRichard Hunter Regius Professor of Greek at the University of CambridgeFrisbee Sheffield Director of Studies in Philosophy at Christ's College, University of Cambridge.Producer: Thomas Morris.
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Medici family, who dominated Florence's political and cultural life for three centuries. The House of Medici came to prominence in Italy in the fifteenth century as a result of the wealth they had built up through banking. With the rise of Cosimo de' Medici, they became Florence's most powerful and influential dynasty, effectively controlling the city's government. Their patronage of the arts turned Florence into a leading centre of the Renaissance and the Medici Bank was one of the most successful institutions of its day. As well as producing four popes, members of the House of Medici married into various European royal families.With:Evelyn Welch Professor of Renaissance Studies at King's College, University of LondonRobert Black Professor of Renaissance History at the University of LeedsCatherine Fletcher Lecturer in Public History at the University of SheffieldProducer: Victoria Brignell.
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the life and work of Pliny the Younger, famous for his letters. A prominent lawyer in Rome in the first century AD, Pliny later became governor of the province of Bithynia, on the Black Sea coast of modern Turkey. Throughout his career he was a prolific letter-writer, sharing his thoughts with great contemporaries including the historian Tacitus, and asking the advice of the Emperor Trajan. Pliny's letters offer fascinating insights into life in ancient Rome and its empire, from the mundane details of irrigation schemes to his vivid eyewitness account of the eruption of Vesuvius.With:Catharine Edwards Professor of Classics and Ancient History at Birkbeck, University of LondonRoy Gibson Professor of Latin at the University of ManchesterAlice König Lecturer in Latin and Classical Studies at the University of St AndrewsProducer: Thomas Morris.
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the life of Pocahontas, the Native American woman who to English eyes became a symbol of the New World. During the colonisation of Virginia in the first years of the seventeenth century, Pocahontas famously saved the life of an English prisoner, John Smith. Later captured, she converted to Christianity, married a settler and travelled to England where she was regarded as a curiosity. She died in 1617 at the age of 22 and was buried in Gravesend; her story has fascinated generations on both sides of the Atlantic, and has been reinterpreted and retold by many writers and artists.With:Susan Castillo Harriet Beecher Stowe Emeritus Professor of American Studies at King's College LondonTim Lockley Reader in American Studies at the University of WarwickJacqueline Fear-Segal Reader in American History and Culture at the University of East AngliaProducer: Thomas Morris.
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Berlin Conference of 1884. In the 1880s, as colonial powers attempted to increase their spheres of influence in Africa, tensions began to grow between European nations including Britain, Belgium and France. In 1884 the German Chancellor, Otto von Bismarck, brought together many of Europe's leading statesmen to discuss trade and colonial activities in Africa. Although the original purpose of the summit was to settle the question of territorial rights in West Africa, negotiations eventually dealt with the entire continent. The conference was part of the process known as the Scramble for Africa, and the decisions reached at it had effects which have lasted to the present day. The conference is commonly seen as one of the most significant events of the so-called Scramble for Africa; in the following decades, European nations laid claim to most of the continent.With:Richard Drayton Rhodes Professor of Imperial History at King's College LondonRichard Rathbone Emeritus Professor of African History at SOAS, University of LondonJoanna Lewis Assistant Professor of Imperial History at the LSE, University of London.Producer: Thomas Morris.
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Corn Laws. In 1815 the British Government passed legislation which artificially inflated the price of corn. The measure was supported by landowners but strongly opposed by manufacturers and the urban working class. In the 1830s the Anti-Corn Law League was founded to campaign for their repeal, led by the Radical Richard Cobden. The Conservative government of Sir Robert Peel finally repealed the laws in 1846, splitting his party in the process, and the resulting debate had profound consequences for the political and economic future of the country.With:Lawrence Goldman Fellow in Modern History at St Peter's College, OxfordBoyd Hilton Former Professor of Modern British History at the University of Cambridge and Fellow of Trinity CollegeCheryl Schonhardt-Bailey Reader in Political Science at the London School of EconomicsProducer: Thomas Morris.
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Mamluks, who ruled Egypt and Syria from about 1250 to 1517. Originally slave soldiers who managed to depose their masters, they went on to repel the Mongols and the Crusaders to become the dominant force in the medieval Islamic Middle Eastern world. Although the Mamluks were renowned as warriors, under their rule art, crafts and architecture blossomed. Little known by many in the West today, the Mamluks remained in power for almost 300 years until they were eventually overthrown by the Ottomans.With:Amira Bennison Reader in the History and Culture of the Maghrib at the University of Cambridge and Fellow of Magdalene CollegeRobert Irwin Former Senior Research Associate in the Department of History at SOAS, University of LondonDoris Behrens-Abouseif Nasser D Khalili Professor of Islamic Art and Archaeology at SOAS, University of LondonProducer: Victoria Brignell.
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Physiocrats, an important group of economic thinkers in eighteenth-century France. The Physiocrats believed that the land was the ultimate source of all wealth, and crucially that markets should not be constrained by governments. Their ideas were important not just to economists but to the course of politics in France. Later they influenced the work of Adam Smith, who called Physiocracy "perhaps the nearest approximation to the truth that has yet been published upon the subject of political economy."With:Richard Whatmore Professor of Intellectual History & the History of Political Thought at the University of SussexJoel Felix Professor of History at the University of ReadingHelen Paul Lecturer in Economics and Economic History at the University of Southampton.Producer: Thomas Morris.
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Queen Zenobia, a famous military leader of the ancient world. Born in around 240 AD, Zenobia was Empress of the Palmyrene Empire in the Middle East. A highly educated, intelligent and militarily accomplished leader, she claimed descent from Dido and Cleopatra and spoke many languages, including Egyptian. Zenobia led a rebellion against the Roman Empire and conquered Egypt before being finally defeated by the Emperor Aurelian. Her story captured the imagination of many Renaissance writers, and has become the subject of numerous operas, poems and plays.With:Edith Hall Professor of Classics at King's College, LondonKate Cooper Professor of Ancient History at the University of ManchesterRichard Stoneman Honorary Visiting Professor in the Department of Classics and Ancient History at the University of Exeter.Producer: Thomas Morris.
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Putney Debates. For several weeks in late 1647, after the defeat of King Charles I in the first hostilities of the Civil War, representatives of the New Model Army and the radical Levellers met in a church in Putney to debate the future of England. There was much to discuss: who should be allowed to vote, civil liberties and religious freedom. The debates were inconclusive, but the ideas aired in Putney had a considerable influence on centuries of political thought.With:Justin Champion Professor of the History of Early Modern Ideas at Royal Holloway, University of LondonAnn Hughes Professor of Early Modern History at Keele UniversityKate Peters Fellow in History at Murray Edwards College, Cambridge.Producer: Thomas Morris.
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the work of Alfred Russel Wallace, a pioneer of evolutionary theory. Born in 1823, Wallace travelled extensively, charting the distribution of animal species throughout the world. This fieldwork in the Amazon and later the Malay Archipelago led him to formulate a theory of evolution through natural selection. In 1858 he sent the paper he wrote on the subject to Charles Darwin, who was spurred into the writing and publication of his own masterpiece On the Origin of Species. Wallace was also the founder of the science of biogeography and made important discoveries about the nature of animal coloration. But despite his visionary work, Wallace has been overshadowed by the greater fame of his contemporary Darwin.With:Steve Jones Emeritus Professor of Genetics at University College LondonGeorge Beccaloni Curator of Cockroaches and Related Insects and Director of the Wallace Correspondence Project at the Natural History MuseumTed Benton Professor of Sociology at the University of EssexProducer: Thomas Morris.
Jane Francis, Richard Corfield and Carrie Lear join Melvyn Bragg to discuss ice ages, periods when a reduction in the surface temperature of the Earth has resulted in ice sheets at the Poles. Although the term 'ice age' is commonly associated with prehistoric eras when much of northern Europe was covered in ice, we are in fact currently in an ice age which began up to 40 million years ago. Geological evidence indicates that there have been several in the Earth's history, although their precise cause is not known. Ice ages have had profound effects on the geography and biology of our planet.With:Jane Francis Professor of Paleoclimatology at the University of LeedsRichard Corfield Visiting Research Fellow in the Department of Earth Sciences at Oxford UniversityCarrie Lear Senior Lecturer in Palaeoceanography at Cardiff University.Producer: Thomas Morris.
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the War of 1812, the conflict between America and the British Empire sometimes referred to as the second American War of Independence. In June 1812, President James Madison declared war on Britain, angered by the restrictions Britain had imposed on American trade, the Royal Navy's capture of American sailors and British support for Native Americans. After three years of largely inconclusive fighting, the conflict finally came to an end with the Treaty of Ghent which, among other things, helped to hasten the abolition of the global slave trade. Although the War of 1812 is often overlooked, historians say it had a profound effect on the USA and Canada's sense of national identity, confirming the USA as an independent country. America's national anthem, The Star-Spangled Banner began life as a poem written after its author, Francis Scott Key, witnessed the British bombardment of Fort McHenry during the Battle of Baltimore. The war also led to Native Americans losing hundreds of thousands of acres of land in a programme of forced removal. With: Kathleen Burk Professor of Modern and Contemporary History at University College London Lawrence Goldman Fellow in Modern History at St Peter's College, University of Oxford Frank Cogliano Professor of American History at the University of Edinburgh Producer: Victoria Brignell.
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss The South Sea Bubble, the speculation mania in early 18th-century England which ended in the financial ruin of many of its investors. The South Sea Company was founded in 1711 with a view to restructuring government debt and restoring public credit. The company would ostensibly trade with South America, hence its name; and indeed, it did trade in slaves for the Spanish market even after the Bubble burst in 1720.People from all walks of life bought shares in the South Sea Company, from servants to gentry, and it was said the entire country was gripped by South Sea speculation mania. When the shares crashed and the company collapsed there was a public outcry and many people faced financial ruin, although some investors sold before the crash and made substantial amounts of money. For example, the bookseller Thomas Guy made his fortune and founded a hospital in his name the following year.But how did such a financial crisis develop and were there any lessons learnt following this early example of a stock market boom and bust?With:Anne Murphy Senior Lecturer in History at the University of HertfordshireHelen Paul Lecturer in Economics and Economic History at the University of SouthamptonRoey Sweet Head of the School of History at the University of LeicesterProducer: Natalia Fernandez.
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Borgias, the most notorious family in Renaissance Italy. Famed for their treachery and corruption, the Borgias produced two popes during their time of dominance in Rome in the late 15th century. The most well-known of these two popes is Alexander VI, previously Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia. He was accused of buying votes to elect him to the papacy and openly promoted his children in positions of power. Rodrigo's daughter, Lucrezia, is widely remembered as a ruthless poisoner; his son, Cesare, as a brutal soldier.Murder, intrigue and power politics characterised their rule, but many of the stories now told about their depraved behaviour and evil ways emerged after their demise and gave rise to the so-called 'Black Legend'. The sullied reputation of the Borgia dynasty endures even today and their lives have provided a major theme for plays, novels and over forty films.With:Evelyn Welch Professor of Renaissance Studies at Queen Mary, University of LondonCatherine Fletcher Lecturer in Public History at the University of SheffieldChristine Shaw Honorary Research Fellow at Swansea UniversityProducer: Natalia Fernandez.
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the life and achievements of Hannibal. One of the most celebrated military leaders in history, Hannibal was the Carthaginian general who led an entire army, complete with elephants, across the Alps in order to attack the Roman Republic. He lived at a time of prolonged hostility between the two great Mediterranean powers, Rome and Carthage, and was the Carthaginians' inspirational leader during the Second Punic War which unfolded between 218 and 202 BC. His career ended in defeat and exile, but he achieved such fame that even his enemies the Romans erected statues of him. Centuries later his tactical genius was admired and studied by generals including Napoleon and Wellington.With:Ellen O'Gorman Senior Lecturer in Classics at the University of BristolMark Woolmer Senior Tutor in the Department of Classics and Ancient History at the University of DurhamLouis Rawlings Senior Lecturer in Ancient History at Cardiff University.Producer: Natalia Fernandez.
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the medieval scholar Gerald of Wales. Born around the middle of the twelfth century, Gerald was a cleric and courtier. For much of his life he was close to Henry II and the Church hierarchy, and wrote accounts of official journeys he made around Wales and Ireland in their service. Both Anglo-Norman and Welsh by parentage, he had a unique perspective on the political strife of his age. Gerald's Journey Around Wales and Description of Ireland are among the most colourful and informative chronicles of the Middle Ages, and had a powerful influence on later historians.With:Henrietta Leyser Emeritus Fellow of St Peter's College, University of OxfordMichelle Brown Professor Emerita of Medieval Manuscript Studies at the School of Advanced Study, University of LondonHuw Pryce Professor of Welsh History at Bangor UniversityProducer: Thomas Morris.
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Druids, the priests of ancient Europe. Active in Ireland, Britain and Gaul, the Druids were first written about by Roman authors including Julius Caesar and Pliny, who described them as wearing white robes and cutting mistletoe with golden sickles. They were suspected of leading resistance to the Romans, a fact which eventually led to their eradication from ancient Britain. In the early modern era, however, interest in the Druids revived, and later writers reinvented and romanticised their activities. Little is known for certain about their rituals and beliefs, but modern archaeological discoveries have shed new light on them.With:Barry Cunliffe Emeritus Professor of Archaeology at the University of OxfordMiranda Aldhouse-Green Professor of Archaeology at Cardiff UniversityJustin Champion Professor of the History of Early Modern Ideas at Royal Holloway, University of LondonProducer: Thomas Morris.
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Hadrian's Wall, the largest Roman structure and one of the most important archaeological monuments in Britain. Stretching for eighty miles from the mouth of the River Tyne to the Solway Firth and classified today as a World Heritage Site, it has been a source of fascination ever since it came into existence. It was built in about 122 AD by the Emperor Hadrian, and a substantial part of it still survives today. Although its construction must have entailed huge cost and labour, the Romans abandoned it within twenty years, deciding to build the Antonine Wall further north instead. Even after more than a century of excavations, many mysteries still surround Hadrian's Wall, including its exact purpose. Did it have a meaningful defensive role or was it mainly a powerful emperor's vanity project?With:Greg Woolf Professor of Ancient History at the University of St AndrewsDavid Breeze Former Chief Inspector of Ancient Monuments for Scotland and Visiting Professor of Archaeology at the University of DurhamLindsay Allason-Jones Former Reader in Roman Material Culture at the University of NewcastleProducer: Victoria Brignell.
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the life of the prominent 19th-century social reformer Annie Besant. Born in 1847, Annie Besant espoused a range of causes including secularism, women's rights, Socialism, Irish Home Rule, birth control and better conditions for workers. Described by Beatrice Webb as having "the voice of a beautiful soul", Besant became an eloquent public speaker as well as writing numerous campaigning articles and pamphlets. She is perhaps most famous for the key role she played in the successful strike by female workers at the Bryant and May match factory in East London in 1888, which brought the appalling working conditions of many factory workers to greater public attention.Later in life she became a follower of theosophy, a belief system bringing together elements of Hinduism, Buddhism and other Eastern religions. She moved to India, its main base, and took on a leading role in the Indian self-rule movement, being appointed the first female president of the Indian National Congress in 1917.With:Lawrence Goldman Fellow in Modern History at St Peter's College, University of OxfordDavid Stack Reader in History at the University of ReadingYasmin Khan Senior Lecturer in Politics and International Relations at Royal Holloway, University of London.Producer: Victoria Brignell.
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the An Lushan Rebellion, a major uprising against the imperial rule of the Chinese Tang Dynasty. In 755 AD a senior general, An Lushan, orchestrated a plot against Emperor Xuanzong, taking the regime's capital city before declaring a rival dynasty in northern China. The rebellion lasted eight years but was eventually put down by Tang forces. Although the dynasty's authority was restored, it never regained the prosperity of previous generations. The An Lushan Rebellion displaced millions of people and killed many more. It changed the relationship between the Chinese state and neighbouring powers; but it also left a rich cultural legacy in the poetry memorialising this seismic event.With:Frances WoodLead Curator of Chinese at the British LibraryNaomi StandenProfessor of Medieval History at the University of BirminghamHilde de WeerdtFellow and Lecturer in Chinese History at Pembroke College, Oxford.Producer: Thomas Morris.
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss 1848, the year that saw Europe engulfed in revolution. Across the continent, from Paris to Palermo, liberals rose against conservative governments. The first stirrings of rebellion came in January, in Sicily; in February the French monarchy fell; and within a few months Germany, Austria, Hungary and Italy had all been overtaken by revolutionary fervour. Only a few countries, notably Britain and Russia, were spared.The rebels were fighting for nationalism, social justice and civil rights, and were prepared to fight in the streets down to the last man. Tens of thousands of people lost their lives; but little of lasting value was achieved, and by the end of the year the liberal revolutions had been soundly beaten.With: Tim BlanningEmeritus Professor of History at the University of CambridgeLucy RiallProfessor of History at Birkbeck, University of LondonMike RapportSenior Lecturer in History at the University of Stirling.Producer: Thomas Morris.
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Ming Voyages. In 1405 a Chinese admiral, Zheng He, set sail with an enormous fleet of ships carrying more than 27,000 people. This was the first of seven voyages of discovery which took Zheng and his ships all over the known world, from India to the Gulf of Persia and as far as East Africa. They took Chinese goods, evidence of the might of the Ming Empire, to the people they visited; and they also returned to China with treasure from the places they visited, and exotic items including a live giraffe. These seven voyages were an expression of the might of the Ming Dynasty; but they were regarded by some Chinese courtiers as a wasteful extravagance, and after internal disputes they came to an end in 1433. These extraordinary journeys live on in the imagination and the historical record - and had a profound effect on China's relationship with the rest of the world.With:Rana MitterProfessor of the History and Politics of Modern China at the University of OxfordJulia LovellLecturer in Chinese History at Birkbeck College, University of LondonCraig ClunasProfessor of the History of Art at the University of Oxford.Producer: Thomas Morris.
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Minoan Civilisation.In 1900 the British archaeologist Arthur Evans began excavating some ancient ruins at Knossos on the island of Crete. He uncovered an enormous palace complex which reminded him of the mythical labyrinth of King Minos. Evans had in fact discovered the remnants of a Bronze Age society; in honour of Crete's legendary king he named it the Minoan Civilisation.The Minoans flourished for twelve centuries, and their civilisation was at its height around three and a half thousand years ago, when they built elaborate palaces all over the island. They were sophisticated builders and artists, and appear to have invented one of the world's earliest writing systems. Since Evans's discoveries a hundred years ago, we have learnt much about Minoan society, religion and culture - but much still remains mysterious.With:John BennetProfessor of Aegean Archaeology at Sheffield UniversityEllen AdamsLecturer in Classical Art and Archaeology at King's College LondonYannis HamilakisProfessor of Archaeology at the University of Southampton.Producer: Thomas Morris.
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Battle of Stamford Bridge.In the first week of 1066 the English king, Edward the Confessor, died. A young nobleman, Harold Godwinson, claimed that Edward had nominated him his successor, and seized the throne. But he was not the only claimant: in France the powerful Duke of Normandy, William, believed that he was the rightful king, and prepared to invade England.As William amassed his forces on the other side of the Channel, however, an army led by the Norwegian king Harald Hardrada invaded from the North Sea. Harold quickly marched north and confronted the Norsemen, whose leaders included his own brother Tostig. The English won an emphatic victory; but barely three weeks later Harold was dead, killed at Hastings, and the Norman Conquest had begun.With: John HinesProfessor of Archaeology at Cardiff UniversityElizabeth RoweLecturer in Scandinavian History of the Viking Age at Clare Hall, University of CambridgeStephen BaxterReader in Medieval History at King's College LondonProducer: Thomas Morris.
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the life and work of Xenophon.Xenophon, an aristocratic Athenian, was one of the most celebrated writers of the ancient world. Born in around 430 BC, he was a friend and pupil of the great philosopher Socrates. In his twenties he took part in an unsuccessful attempt to overthrow the Persian king Artaxerxes II, and played a key role in guiding the surviving Greek troops - known as the Ten Thousand - back to safety. It was a dangerous journey from deep inside hostile territory, and lasted more than a year. Xenophon's gripping account of this military campaign, the Anabasis, is one of the masterpieces of Greek literature.Xenophon went on to write a history of the Peloponnesian War and its aftermath. But he was not just a historian, and his other works include books about household management, hunting and his mentor Socrates. His advice on the education and behaviour of princes had a significant influence in Renaissance Italy, and his treatise on horsemanship is still widely read today.With:Paul CartledgeA.G. Leventis Professor of Greek Culture at Cambridge UniversityEdith HallProfessor of Classics and Drama at Royal Holloway, University of LondonSimon GoldhillProfessor in Greek Literature and Culture at the University of Cambridge and Fellow and Director of Studies in Classics at King's College.Producer: Thomas Morris.
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Battle of the Little Bighorn, also known as Custer's Last Stand.In 1876 a dispute between the American federal government and Native Americans over land rights led to an armed conflict now known as the Great Sioux War. An expeditionary federal force was sent out to coerce the Native Americans into reservations, and away from the gold reserves recently discovered in their traditional homelands.One of the officers in this expeditionary force was a Civil War hero, George Custer. While en route to his arranged rendezvous, Custer unexpectedly encountered a large group of Sioux and Cheyenne warriors. Disobeying orders, he decided to attack. Barely half an hour later, he and all 200 of his men lay dead. Custer's Last Stand has become one of the most famous and closely studied military engagements in American history.With:Kathleen BurkProfessor of Modern and Contemporary History at University College, LondonAdam SmithSenior Lecturer in American History at University College LondonSaul DavidProfessor of War Studies at the University of Buckingham.Producer: Thomas Morris.
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Victorian social reformer Octavia Hill.From the 1850s until her death in 1912, Octavia Hill was an energetic campaigner who did much to improve the lot of impoverished city dwellers. She was a pioneer of social housing who believed that there were better and more humane ways of arranging accommodation for the poor than through the state. Aided at first by her friend John Ruskin, the essayist and art critic, she bought houses and let them to the urban dispossessed. Octavia Hill provided an early model of social work, did much to preserve urban open spaces, and was the first to use the term 'green belt' to describe the rural areas around London. She was also one of the founders of the National Trust. Yet her vision of social reform, involving volunteers and private enterprise rather than central government, was often at odds with that of her contemporaries.With:Dinah BirchProfessor of English Literature and Pro-Vice Chancellor for Research at Liverpool UniversityLawrence GoldmanFellow in Modern History at St Peter's College, OxfordGillian DarleyHistorian and biographer of Octavia HillProducer: Thomas Morris.
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the dawn of the European Iron Age.In around 3000 BC European metalworkers started to make tools and weapons out of bronze. A complex trading network evolved to convey this valuable metal and other goods around the continent. But two millennia later, a new skill arrived from the Middle East: iron smelting. This harder, more versatile metal represented a huge technological breakthrough.The arrival of the European Iron Age, in around 1000 BC, was a time of huge social as well as technological change. New civilisations arose, the landscape was transformed, and societies developed new cultures and lifestyles. Whether this was the direct result of the arrival of iron is one of the most intriguing questions in archaeology.With:Sir Barry CunliffeEmeritus Professor of European Archaeology at the University of OxfordSue HamiltonProfessor of Prehistory at University College LondonTimothy ChampionProfessor of Archaeology at the University of SouthamptonProducer: Thomas Morris.
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the medieval universities.In the 11th and 12th centuries a new type of institution started to appear in the major cities of Europe. The first universities were those of Bologna and Paris; within a hundred years similar educational organisations were springing up all over the continent. The first universities based their studies on the liberal arts curriculum, a mix of seven separate disciplines derived from the educational theories of Ancient Greece. The universities provided training for those intending to embark on careers in the Church, the law and education. They provided a new focus for intellectual life in Europe, and exerted a significant influence on society around them. And the university model proved so robust that many of these institutions and their medieval innovations still exist today.With:Miri RubinProfessor of Medieval and Early Modern History at Queen Mary, University of LondonIan WeiSenior Lecturer in Medieval European History at the University of BristolPeter DenleyReader in History at Queen Mary, University of London.Producer: Thomas Morris.
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Taiping Rebellion.In 1850 a Chinese Christian convert, Hong Xiuquan, proclaimed himself leader of a new dynasty, the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom. He and his followers marched against the ruling Qing dynasty, gathering huge support as they went. The ensuing civil war lasted fourteen years; around twenty million people lost their lives in a conflict which eventually involved European as well as Chinese soldiers. The Taiping Rebellion was arguably the most important event to befall China in the 19th century. Chinese nationalists and communists alike have been profoundly influenced by it, and historians believe it shaped modern China in the same way as the First World War shaped modern Europe.Rana MitterProfessor of the History and Politics of Modern China at the University of OxfordFrances WoodHead of the Chinese Section at the British LibraryJulia LovellLecturer in Chinese History at Birkbeck, University of London.Producer: Thomas Morris.
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Battle of Bannockburn.On June 23rd 1314, Scottish forces under their king Robert the Bruce confronted a larger army commanded by the English monarch Edward II at Bannockburn. It was the culmination of a war of independence which had been going on since the English had invaded Scotland in 1296. After eighteen years of intermittent fighting the English had been all but expelled from Scotland: their last stronghold was the castle at Stirling.The Scots won a decisive victory at Bannockburn. The English were routed and their king narrowly escaped capture. Although it took a further 14 years for Scotland to achieve full independence with the 1328 Treaty of Edinburgh-Northampton, this was an important triumph; today it remains one of the most discussed moments in the nation's history.With:Matthew StricklandProfessor of Medieval History at the University of GlasgowFiona WatsonHonorary Research Fellow in History at the University of DundeeMichael BrownReader in History at the University of St Andrews Producer: Thomas Morris.
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Mexican Revolution.In 1908 the President of Mexico, Porfirio Diaz, gave an interview to an American journalist. He was 77 and had ruled the country in autocratic fashion for over thirty years. He discussed the country's economic development and spoke of his intention to retire to his country estate after overseeing a transition to multiparty democracy.Things did not turn out quite like that. Two years later Diaz was toppled by a popular uprising. It was the beginning of a tumultuous decade in which different factions fought for supremacy, and power changed hands many times. The conflict completely changed the face of the country, and resulted in the emergence of Mexico's most celebrated folk hero: Emiliano Zapata.With:Alan KnightProfessor of the History of Latin America at the University of OxfordPaul GarnerCowdray Professor of Spanish at the University of LeedsPatience SchellSenior Lecturer in Latin American Cultural Studies at the University of Manchester. Producer: Thomas Morris.
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the far-reaching consequences of the Industrial Revolution. After more than a century of rapid technological change, and the massive growth of its urban centres, Britain was changed forever. Lifestyles changed as workers moved from agricultural settlements to factory towns: health, housing and labour relations were all affected. But the effects were both social and intellectual, as thinkers originated theories to deal with the new realities of urban living, mass production and a consumer society. With:Jane HumphriesProfessor of Economic History and Fellow of All Souls College, University of OxfordEmma GriffinSenior Lecturer in History at the University of East AngliaLawrence GoldmanFellow and Tutor in History at St Peter's College, University of OxfordProducer: Thomas Morris.
In the first of two programmes, Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Industrial Revolution.Between the middle of the eighteenth century and the early years of the nineteenth, Britain was transformed. This was a revolution, but not a political one: over the course of a few generations industrialisation swept the nation. Inventions such as the machine loom and the steam engine changed the face of manufacturing; cheap iron and steel became widely available; and vast new cities grew up around factory towns.All this had profound effects - not all of them positive - as an agrarian and primitive society was turned into an industrial empire, the richest nation on Earth. But why did this revolution take place here rather than abroad? And why did it begin in the first place?With:Jeremy BlackProfessor of History at the University of ExeterPat HudsonProfessor Emerita of History at Cardiff UniversityWilliam AshworthSenior Lecturer in History at the University of Liverpool.Producer: Thomas Morris.
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Cleopatra. The last pharaoh to rule Egypt, Cleopatra was a woman of intelligence and charisma, later celebrated as a great beauty. During an eventful life she was ousted from her throne and later restored to it with the help of her lover Julius Caesar. A later relationship with another Roman statesman, Mark Antony - and Cleopatra's subsequent death at her own hands - provided Shakespeare with the raw material for one of his greatest plays. Today Cleopatra is still an object of fascination, her story revealing as much about the Roman world as it does about the end of the age of the Pharaohs.With:Catharine EdwardsProfessor of Classics and Ancient History at Birkbeck, University of LondonMaria WykeProfessor of Latin at University College LondonSusan WalkerKeeper of Antiquities at the Ashmolean Museum at the University of OxfordProducer: Thomas Morris.
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Volga Vikings. Between the 8th and the 10th centuries AD, fierce Scandinavian warriors raided and then settled large swathes of Europe, particularly Britain, Ireland and parts of northern France. These were the Vikings, and their story is well known today. Far fewer people realise that groups of Norsemen also travelled east.These Volga Vikings, also known as the Rus, crossed the Baltic into present-day Russia and the Ukraine and founded settlements there. They traded commodities including furs and slaves for Islamic silver, and penetrated so far east as to reach Baghdad. Their activities were documented by Arab scholars: one, Ahmad ibn Fadlan, recorded that the Volga Vikings he met were perfect physical specimens but also "the filthiest of God's creatures". Through trade and culture they brought West and East into regular contact; their story sheds light on both Scandinavian and early Islamic history.With:James MontgomeryProfessor of Classical Arabic at the University of CambridgeNeil PriceProfessor of Archaeology at the University of AberdeenElizabeth RoweLecturer in Scandinavian History of the Viking Age at Clare Hall, University of CambridgeProducer: Thomas Morris.
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Spanish Armada. On May 28th, 1588, a fleet of a hundred and fifty-one Spanish ships set out from Lisbon, bound for England. Its mission was to transport a huge invasion force across the Channel: the Spanish King, Philip II, was determined to remove Elizabeth from the throne and return the English to the Catholic fold. Two months later the mighty Spanish Armada was sighted off the coast of Cornwall. Bad weather, poor planning and spirited English resistance defeated the Spaniards: after a brief battle the remnants of their fleet fled. This tale of religious dispute, shifting political alliance and naval supremacy has entered our folklore - although some historians argue it changed nothing.With:Diane PurkissFellow and Tutor at Keble College, OxfordMia Rodriguez-SalgadoProfessor in International History at the London School of EconomicsNicholas RodgerSenior Research Fellow at All Souls College at the University of OxfordProducer: Thomas Morris.
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Delphic Oracle, the most important source of prophecies in the ancient world. In central Greece, on the flank of Mount Parnassus, lies the ruined city of Delphi. For over a thousand years, between approximately 800 BC and 400 AD, this was the most sacred place in the ancient world. Its chief attraction was the Delphic Oracle, which predicted the future and offered petitioners advice.Travellers journeyed for weeks for a chance to ask the oracle a question. The answers, given by a mysterious priestess called the Pythia, were believed to come straight from the god Apollo. At the height of Greek civilisation the oracle was revered, and its opinion sought in some of the most significant conflicts of the age. Its activities were documented by historians including Xenophon and Plutarch, and it was regularly depicted in Greek tragedy, most famously Sophocles's masterpiece Oedipus the King.With: Paul CartledgeA G Leventis Professor of Greek Culture at Cambridge UniversityEdith HallProfessor of Classics and Drama at Royal Holloway, University of LondonNick LoweReader in Classical Literature at Royal Holloway, University of London.Producer: Thomas Morris.
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Pliny's Natural History.Some time in the first century AD, the Roman scholar Pliny the Elder published his Naturalis Historia, or Natural History, an enormous reference work which attempted to bring together knowledge on every subject under the sun. The Natural History contains information on zoology, astronomy, geography, minerals and mining and - unusually for a work of this period - a detailed treatise on the history of classical art. It's a fascinating snapshot of the state of human knowledge almost two millennia ago.Pliny's 37-volume magnum opus is one of the most extensive works of classical scholarship to survive in its entirety, and was being consulted by scholars as late as the Renaissance. It had a significant influence on intellectual history, and has provided the template for every subsequent encyclopaedia.With:Serafina CuomoReader in Roman History at Birkbeck, University of LondonAude DoodyLecturer in Classics at University College, DublinLiba TaubReader in the History and Philosophy of Science, Cambridge UniversityProducer: Thomas Morris.
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the reign of King Athelstan.Athelstan, the grandson of Alfred the Great, came to the throne of Wessex in 925. A few years later he unified the kingdoms of England, and a decade after that defeated the Scots and styled himself King of all Britain. As well as being a brilliant military commander, Athelstan was a legal reformer whose new laws forever changed the way crime was dealt with in England. Unlike his predecessors, he pursued a foreign policy, seeking alliances with powerful rulers abroad. And unusually for an Anglo-Saxon king, we know what he looked like: he's the earliest English monarch whose portrait survives.With:Sarah FootRegius Professor of Ecclesiastical History at Christ Church, OxfordJohn HinesProfessor of Archaeology at Cardiff UniversityRichard GamesonProfessor of the History of the Book at Durham UniversityProducer: Thomas Morris.
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Neanderthals.In 1856, quarry workers in Germany found bones in a cave which seemed to belong to a bear or other large mammal. They were later identified as being from a previously unknown species of hominid similar to a human. The specimen was named Homo neanderthalis after the valley in which the bones were found.This was the first identified remains of a Neanderthal, a species which inhabited parts of Europe and Central Asia from around 400,000 years ago. Often depicted as little more advanced than apes, Neanderthals were in fact sophisticated, highly-evolved hunters capable of making tools and even jewellery.Scholarship has established much about how and where the Neanderthals lived - but the reasons for their disappearance from the planet around 28,000 years ago remain unclear.With: Simon Conway MorrisProfessor of Evolutionary Palaeobiology at the University of CambridgeChris Stringer Research Leader in Human Origins at the Natural History Museum and Visiting Professor at Royal Holloway, University of LondonDanielle SchreveReader in Physical Geography at Royal Holloway, University of LondonProducer: Thomas Morris.
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the work of the eighteenth-century philosopher, politician and writer Edmund Burke.Born in Dublin, Burke began his career in London as a journalist and made his name with two works of philosophy before entering Parliament. There he quickly established a reputation as one of the most formidable orators of an age which also included Pitt the Younger.When unrest began in America in the 1760s, Burke was quick to defend the American colonists in their uprising. But it was his response to another revolution which ensured he would be remembered by posterity. In 1790 he published Reflections on the Revolution in France, a work of great literary verve which attacked the revolutionaries and predicted disaster for their project. The book prompted Thomas Paine to write his masterpiece Rights of Man, and Mary Wollstonecraft was among the others to take part in the ensuing pamphlet war. Burke's influence shaped our parliamentary democracy and attitude to Empire, and lingers today.With:Karen O'BrienProfessor of English at the University of WarwickRichard BourkeSenior Lecturer in History at Queen Mary, University of LondonJohn KeaneProfessor of Politics at the University of SydneyProducer: Thomas Morris.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Great Wall of China.The Great Wall is not a single Wall. It is not visible from space, contrary to popular belief, as it is much too thin. But it remains a spectacular architectural and historical phenomenon.The Great Wall's military importance, and its symbolic power, have varied widely in its long existence, as its place in Chinese life has shifted with the country's history. It was initially constructed at the command of the first Emperor, from 221 BC, and was a combination of the various protective walls that had been built by the smaller states which he had conquered and merged to form China. The original Wall was made of pounded earth, and in places the wind-carved remains of this two thousand year old construction are still visible. But the Wall which is familiar to us today is the work of the Ming Dynasty, and its vast programme of reinforcement - prompted by a renewed threat from the Mongols in the north. In the 17th century, amazed Jesuits sent back reports to Europe about the Wall, and ever since it has held a powerful place in the imagination of the West. Some scholars argue that this in turn has shaped the modern Chinese appreciation of their astounding inheritance.Julia LovellLecturer in Chinese History at Birkbeck College, University of LondonRana MitterProfessor of the History and Politics of Modern China at the University of OxfordFrances WoodHead of the Chinese Section at the British LibraryPRODUCER: PHIL TINLINE.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the rise and fall of the Zulu Nation.At the beginning of the 19th century, the Zulus were a small pastoral community of a bare few thousand people in the eastern part of what is now South Africa. Their territory was limited to about ten square miles.But within a decade, led by their warrior king, Shaka, they had managed to carve out an empire with a population of many tens of thousands.Shaka was a skilled politician, successfully co-opting many neighbouring peoples into his kingdom as his conquests advanced its borders.He remains best known as a world-class military strategist, who deployed new weapons, and a devastatingly effective technique of encircling enemy troops.But the ground for the Zulus' breathtaking expansion was shaped in part by the destabilising advance of European settlers.It eventually brought the Zulu into confrontation both with the Afrikaners, as at the Battle of Blood River in 1838, and with the British.In the mid-19th century, the Zulu and the British achieved a sustained period of peaceful co-existence.But, especially after the discovery of diamonds began to transform the southern African economy, British priorities changed, and they began to push for a single confederation of the various provinces and colonies.Zululand's independence became an obstacle, and in 1879 the British invaded.On 22 January 1879, the Zulu were unable to overrun a tiny garrison of invaders at Rorke's Drift.Yet on the same day, at the Battle of Isandhlwana, they inflicted a shocking defeat on the well-armed forces of the British Empire - all the more impressive given that the Zulu soldiers were predominantly armed with spears.Nonetheless, the British invasion of Zululand was ultimately successful, and precipitated first annexation, then the kingdom's absorption into the province of Natal (today, KwaZulu-Natal).During their heyday and in the wake of their decline alike, the Zulu became the subject of much myth-making.To the British, the 'Black Napoleon' figure of Shaka, and the vivid image of a proud warrior race, made the Zulu an object of admiration, fear, and appalled fascination, even as the Army moved to subjugate them.And in the decades since the demise of their independent kingdom, the triumphs of the 19th century long remained an important element of the Zulus' collective self-image.With:Saul DavidProfessor of War Studies at the University of BuckinghamSaul DubowProfessor of History at the University of SussexShula MarksEmeritus Professor of History at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of LondonProducer: Phil Tinline.
Melvyn Bragg presents the second of a two part discussion about the history of the city. George Stephenson invented rail transport in the north-east of England in the 1820s, but it was not until over twenty years later that rail networks began to spring up to ferry workers in and out of the centre of British cities. When they did, this had a vast, transforming effect on the whole nature of cities - taking the pressure off dense, overcrowded central areas, but helping cities like London explode outwards.Victorian London was widely held at the time to be rather chaotic - especially in comparison with the grandiose, highly-orchestrated developments in continental European cities like Paris and Barcelona.The process of transformation was given another fillip by the introduction of the motor car. In this, the final part of a two-part special edition of 'In Our Time' exploring the development of cities, we're going to examine how Stephenson's invention transformed cities almost beyond recognition, and follow the story up to the present day.Peter Hall is Professor of Planning and Regeneration at The Bartlett School of Planning, University College London; Tristram Hunt is lecturer in History at Queen Mary College at the University of London; and Ricky Burdett is Professor of Urban Studies at the London School of Economics.
Melvyn Bragg presents the first of a two-part discussion about the history of the city. With Peter Hall, Julia Merritt and Greg Woolf.The story of cities is widely held to begin in the 8th millennium BC in Mesopotamia. By 4000 BC, there were cities in the Indus Valley, by 3000 BC in Egypt, and by 2000 BC in China. What happened in the west was the furthest ripple of that phenomenon. In 1000 BC Athens still only had a population of one thousand. At its height, Athens' position as a powerful Mediterranean trading city allowed it to become the birthplace of much that would later characterise western cities, from politics through architecture to culture. Then, early in the first millenium AD, the world saw its first million-strong city: Rome. Maintaining a population of this size required stupendous feats of organisation and ingenuity. But in following centuries, as Rome declined and fell, the city itself, in the west at least, declined too; power emanated from kings and their mobile courts, rather than particular settlements.In China, urban trading posts continued to flourish, but their innovative energy dwindled before the end of the first millennium. Between 1150 and the onset of the Black Death in 1350, the city underwent a resurgence in Europe. City-states developed in Italy and in Germany. At this stage, there was no omnipotent power-centre to match Ancient Rome. But with the growth of sea and then ocean trade, and the centralisation of power in capitals ruling nation-states, cities like London, Paris, Madrid, Amsterdam and St Petersburg became increasingly wealthy, dynamic and ostentatious. By 1801, one of these - London - finally matched Ancient Rome's peak population of a million. Along the way, the city had become an ideal to be revered and a spectre to be feared.Peter Hall is Professor of Planning and Regeneration at The Bartlett School of Planning, University College London; Julia Merritt is Associate Professor of History at the University of Nottingham; Greg Woolfis Professor of Ancient History at the University of St Andrews.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the life and mythologisation of Boudica.On the eve of battle with the Roman Empire, an East Anglian leader roused her forces by declaring: 'It is not as a woman descended from noble ancestry, but as one of the people that I am avenging lost freedom'. Her name was Boudica, warrior Queen of the Iceni.In 60AD, Boudica's husband Prasutagus died and Roman troops tried to incorporate his lands into their Empire. Soldiers publicly flogged Boudica and raped her daughters. In retaliation, she led an army of tribesmen and sacked Camulodunum, modern day Colchester, before marching on London. Such was the ferocity of Boudica's attack that she came close to driving the Roman Imperial power out of Britain before she was finally defeated.Boudica was largely forgotten in the Middle Ages, but her image reappeared during the rule of Elizabeth I as a striking symbol of female power and heroism, before being denigrated by Elizabeth's heir, James I. In Victorian Britain, Boudica once again emerged, this time as a symbol of British Imperial power. The challenger to the Roman Empire had been transformed into the icon of the British Empire and to this day her statue stands guard outside the Houses of Parliament.With Juliette Wood, Associate Lecturer in Folklore at Cardiff University; Richard Hingley, Professor of Roman Archaeology at Durham University; and Miranda Aldhouse-Green, Professor of Archaeology in the School of History and Archaeology at Cardiff University.
Melvyn Bragg and guests Faisal Devji, Shruti Kapila and Chandrika Kaul discuss the Indian Mutiny of 1857 and the rebellion which followed.On 10th May 1857 Indian soldiers from the Bengal section of the East India Company's army rose up and shot their British officers. By nightfall the troops had marched on Delhi and the aged Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah II had been nominally restored to power. Nearly 15 months later, after great violence on both sides, the revolt was suppressed, but it left British rule in India transformed and, arguably, doomed.The trigger for the Mutiny was a rumour that cartridges for the new British rifles were coated with pig and cow fat, thereby insulting both Hindu and Muslim troops. But the Indian Rebellion was also a more complex story of economic strains, religious insensitivity and well-intentioned but provocative liberal reforms.The events of 1857 have resonated through history and have been appropriated and mythologised by the British press and Indian nationalists alike. However, the shocking violence of the Rebellion on both sides has meant that it has defied attempts to fit it into a coherent narrative structure. It has overshadowed British foreign policy and Indian politics ever since.Chandrika Kaul is Lecturer in Imperial and Indian History at the University of St Andrews; Faisal Devji is University Reader in Indian History at St Antony's College, University of Oxford; Shruti Kapila is University Lecturer in History and Fellow and Director of Studies at Corpus Christi College, University of Cambridge.
Melvyn Bragg and guests Robert Hoyland, Robert Irwin and Hugh Kennedy discuss the life and ideas of the 14th-century Arab philosopher of history Ibn Khaldun.Ibn Khaldun was a North African statesman who retreated into the desert in 1375. He emerged having written one of the most important ever studies of the workings of history.Khaldun was born in Tunis in 1332. He received a supremely good education, but at 16 lost many of his family to the Black Death. His adult life was similarly characterised by sharp turns of fortune. He built a career as a political operator in cities from Fez to Granada. But he often fared badly in court intrigues, was imprisoned and failed to prevent the murder of a fellow statesman. In 1375, he withdrew into the Sahara to work out why the Muslim world had degenerated into division and decline. Four years later, he had completed not only a history of North African politics but also, in the book's long introduction, one of the great studies of history. Drawing on both regional history and personal experience, he set out a bleak analysis of the rise and fall of dynasties. He argued that group solidarity was vital to success in power. Within five generations, though, this always decayed. Tired urban dynasties inevitably became vulnerable to overthrow by rural insurgents.Later in life, Ibn Khaldun worked as a judge in Egypt, and in 1401 he met the terrifying Mongol conqueror Tamburlaine, whose triumphs, Ibn Khaldun felt, bore out his pessimistic theories.Over the last three centuries Ibn Khaldun has been rediscovered as a profoundly prescient political scientist, philosopher of history and forerunner of sociology - one of the great thinkers of the Muslim world.Robert Hoyland is Professor of Islamic History at the University of Oxford; Robert Irwin is Senior Research Associate of the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London; Hugh Kennedy is Professor of Arabic in the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London.
Melvyn Bragg and guests Karin Bowie, Murray Pittock and Daniel Szechi discuss the Glencoe Massacre of 1692, why it happened, and its lasting repercussions.On a winter night in 1692, a company of soldiers quartered with the MacDonalds of Glencoe rose early and slaughtered their hosts. About 38 men, women and children were killed. Their homes were torched and many survivors died as they fled into the snow. This mass killing was branded by a Scottish Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry as 'murder under trust'.Why did this still infamous atrocity happen? The answer takes in the seismic impact of the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and the ongoing struggles for religious power that swept through the country in the 17th century. Crucially, Britain was at war in Europe, and the distracting nature of the conflict in Scotland, as far as the London government was concerned, helped to give the events at Glencoe their particular character. But this is also a story of a deadline and the fatal consequences of the Glencoe MacDonalds' attempts to meet it - and of how their technical failure to do so was exploited.The Glencoe Massacre had a severe impact on the reputation of the government of the Protestant King William III, who had ousted the Catholic James II with the support of the English and Scottish Parliaments only four years earlier. Some historians contend that it pushed the two states along the road to the Act of Union of 1707. Karin Bowie is Lecturer in Scottish History at the University of Glasgow; Murray Pittock is Bradley Professor of English Literature at the University of Glasgow; Daniel Szechi is Professor of Early Modern History at the University of Manchester.
Melvyn Bragg and guests John Mullan, Karen O'Brien and Barbara Taylor discuss the life and ideas of the pioneering British Enlightenment thinker Mary Wollstonecraft.Mary Wollstonecraft was born in 1759 into a middle-class family whose status steadily sank as her inept, brutal, drunken father frittered away the family fortune. She did what she could to protect her mother from his aggression; meanwhile, her brother was slated to inherit much of the remaining fortune, while she was to receive nothing.From this unpromising but radicalising start, Wollstonecraft's career took a dizzying trajectory through a bleak period as a governess to becoming a writer, launching a polemical broadside against the political star of the day, witnessing the bloodshed of the French Revolution up close, rescuing her lover's stolen ship in Scandanavia, then marrying one of the leading philosophers of the day, William Godwin, and with him having a daughter who - though she never lived to see her grow up - would go on to write Frankenstein.But most importantly, in 1792, she published her great work, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, which marks her out as one of the great thinkers of the British Enlightenment, with a much stronger, more lasting influence than Godwin. The Vindication was an attempt to apply the Enlightenment logic of rights and reason to the lives of women. Yet it was not a manifesto for the extension of the vote or the reform of divorce law, but a work of political philosophy. And surprisingly, as recent scholarship has highlighted, it was infused with Rational Dissenting Christianity, which Wollstonecraft had absorbed during her time as a struggling teacher and writer in north London.John Mullan is Professor of English at University College, London; Karen O'Brien is Professor of English at the University of Warwick; Barbara Taylor is Professor of Modern History in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of East London.
Melvyn Bragg and guests Gregory Irvine, Nicola Liscutin and Angus Lockyer discuss the history of the Samurai and the role of their myth in Japanese national identity.The Samurai have a fearsome historical reputation as a suicidally brave caste of Japanese warriors. During World War Two, kamikaze pilots were photographed climbing into their cockpits with Samurai swords, encapsulating the way the myth of the Samurai's martial ethos kept its power long after their heyday. But the Samurai's role in Japanese culture is much more complex than that. They were deeply engaged with Zen Buddhism and Noh Theatre, and sponsored haiku poetry. After their role in Japan's century of civil war, ending in the early 1600s, they became part of the country's civil service. A 250-year peace toppled them into identity crisis.In the 19th century, with the arrival of the West, they played an important role in the establishment of a Japanese nation-state, not least by restoring the Emperor to power. And in the 20th century the mythological version of the Samurai, designed in part for Western consumption, became integral to a newly forged national identity.Nicola Liscutin is Programme Director of Japanese Studies at Birkbeck College, University of London; Gregory Irvine is Senior Curator Japan at the Victoria and Albert Museum; Angus Lockyer is Lecturer in Japanese History and Chair of the Japan Research Centre at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.
Melvyn Bragg and guests Tim Barrett, Naomi Standen and Frances Wood discuss the Silk Road, the trade routes which spanned Asia for over a thousand years, carrying Buddhism to China and paper-making and gunpowder westwards.In 1900, a Taoist monk came upon a cave near the Chinese town of Dunhuang. Inside, he found thousands of ancient manuscripts. They revealed a vast amount of evidence about the so-called Silk Road: the great trade routes which had stretched from Central Asia, through desert oases, to China, throughout the first millennium.Besides silk, the Silk Road helped the dispersion of writing and paper-making, coinage and gunpowder, and it was along these trade routes that Buddhism reached China from India. The history of these transcontinental links reveals a dazzlingly complex meeting and mingling of civilisations, which lasted for well over a thousand years.With:Tim Barrett is Professor of East Asian History at the School of Oriental and African Studies; Naomi Standen is Senior Lecturer in Chinese Studies at Newcastle University; Frances Wood is Head of the Chinese Section at the British Library.
Melvyn Bragg and guests Paul Cartledge, Edith Hall and Angie Hobbs discuss Sparta, the militaristic Ancient Greek city-state, and the political ideas it spawned.The isolated Ancient Greek city-state of Sparta was a ferocious opposite to the cosmopolitan port of Athens. Spartans were hostile to outsiders and rhetoric, to philosophy and change. Two and a half thousand years on, Sparta remains famous for its brutally rigorous culture of military discipline, as inculcated in its young men through communal living, and terrifying, licensed violence towards the Helots, the city-state's subjugated majority. Sparta and its cruelty was used as an argument against slavery by British Abolitionists in the early 1800s, before inspiring the Nazis in the 1930s and 1940s.Yet Sparta also produced poets of great skill: Tyrteaus wrote marching songs for the young men; Alcman wrote choral lyrics for the young women. Moreover, the city-state's rulers pioneered a radically egalitarian political system, and its ideals were invoked by Plato. Its inhabitants also prided themselves on their wit: we don't only derive the word 'spartan' from their culture, but the word 'laconic'. Paul Cartledge is AG Leventis Professor of Greek Culture and a Fellow of Clare College, University of Cambridge; Edith Hall is Professor of Classics and Drama at Royal Holloway, University of London; Angie Hobbs is Associate Professor of Philosophy and Senior Fellow in the Public Understanding of Philosophy at the University of Warwick.
Melvyn Bragg and guests Diarmaid MacCulloch, Lucy Wooding and Charlotte Methuen discuss the Siege of Munster in 1534-35.In the early 16th century, the Protestant Reformation revolutionised Christian belief. But one radical group of believers stood out. The Anabaptists rejected infant baptism and formal clergy, and believed that all goods should be held in common. They were also convinced that the Second Coming was imminent.In 1534, in the north-western German city of Munster, a group of Anabaptists attempted to establish the 'New Jerusalem', ready for the Last Days before the coming Apocalypse. But the city was besieged by its ousted Prince-Bishop, and under the reign of its self-appointed King, a 25-year-old Dutchman called Jan van Leyden, it descended into tyranny. Books were burned, dissenters were executed and women were forced to marry. As starvation spread, King Jan lived in luxury with his 16 wives. The horrors of Munster have resonated through the European memory ever since. Diarmaid MacCulloch is Professor of the History of the Church at the University of Oxford; Charlotte Methuen is University Research Lecturer in Ecclesiastical History at the University of Oxford and Lecturer in Church History and Liturgy at Ripon College Cuddesdon; Lucy Wooding is Lecturer in Early Modern History at King's College, London.
Melvyn Bragg and guests John Guy, Clare Jackson and Helen Hackett discuss the death of Queen Elizabeth I and its immediate impact, as a foreign monarch became King in the face of plots and plague.By the spring of 1603, Elizabeth had been Queen for 44 years, and it was clear that she would leave no heir. Many feared that her death would spark insurrection, led perhaps by Puritans, perhaps by Catholics, possibly with the support of Spain. As it became clear that she was dying, Elizabeth's chief minister, Sir Robert Cecil, put into action his covert strategy to secure the succession of King James the Sixth of Scotland.What follows is a story of plots, plague and high politics, as a foreign monarch brought a thoroughly Continental approach to Kingship to the English throne. James's accession was widely welcomed, but his relationship with Cecil was initially tense, and his long procession south from Edinburgh attracted both celebration and criticism. His treatise on Kingship, published on his succession, became a bestseller in London - at least until an outbreak of plague, which also drove him from the capital not long after he arrived. His coronation was hurried through to circumvent plots against him, but his triumphal entry into London had to be delayed until a year after Elizabeth's death. And, as the high expectations which first greeted James were increasingly frustrated, the English started to invoke the ghost of their dead Queen to criticise their new ruler.John Guy is a Fellow of Clare College, University of Cambridge; Clare Jackson is Lecturer and Director of Studies in History at Trinity Hall, University of Cambridge; Helen Hackett is Reader in English at University College, London.
Melvyn Bragg and guests Robert Gildea, Ruth Harris and Robert Tombs discuss the Dreyfus Affair, the 1890s scandal which divided opinion in France for a generation.In 1894, a high-flying Jewish staff officer in the French Army, one Alfred Dreyfus, was convicted of spying for the Prussians. He was publicly humiliated: before a large Paris crowd, he was stripped of his badges of rank and his sword was ceremonially broken. Some of those watching shouted 'Down with Judas!' Then he was dispatched to Devil's Island. But when it emerged that Dreyfus was innocent, a scandal erupted which engulfed the Army, the Church and French society as a whole, exposing deep political rifts, and the nation's endemic anti-Semitism. It pitted Catholics against Republicans, provoked fighting in the streets, and led to the prosecution of the novelist Emile Zola, after his famous J'Accuse polemic against those protecting the real spy and so prolonging Dreyfus's suffering. The Affair became so divisive that it posed a serious threat to the French Republic itself. Finally, in 1905, it prompted the separation of Church and State. The scandal and the anti-Semitism at the heart of it cast a very long shadow. In 1945, when the ultra-nationalist one-time 'anti-Dreyfusard' Charles Maurras was convicted of collaborating with the Nazis, he reacted by declaring that his punishment was Dreyfus's revenge. Robert Gildea is Professor of Modern History at Oxford University; Ruth Harris is Lecturer in Modern History at Oxford University; Robert Tombs is Professor of French History at Cambridge University.
Melvyn Bragg and guests Elizabeth Frood, Richard Parkinson and Kate Spence discuss the Pharaoh Akhenaten, the ruler who brought revolutionary change to ancient Egypt. During his reign, Akhenaten embarked on a profoundly radical project: he set out to transform his people's deepest religious beliefs, moving from a polytheistic tradition to the elevation of a single solar god, Aten. The changes in art and architecture that followed have led some to call him 'history's first individual'. Despite his successors' attempts to obliterate him from the historical record, Akhenaten - and his wife Nefertiti - have been an endless source of fascination and speculation.Richard Parkinson is an Egyptologist at the British Museum; Elizabeth Frood is a Lecturer in Egyptology at the University of Oxford; Kate Spence is a Lecturer in the Archaeology of Ancient Egypt at the University of Cambridge.
Melvyn Bragg and guests Mary Beard, Catharine Edwards and Duncan Kennedy discuss the political regime and cultural influence of the Roman Emperor Augustus. Called the Augustan Age, it was a golden age of literature with Virgil's Aeneid and Ovid's Metamorphosis among its treasures. But they were forged amidst creeping tyranny and the demands of literary propaganda. Augustus tightened public morals, funded architectural renewal and prosecuted adultery. Ovid was exiled for his saucy love poems but Virgil's Aeneid, a celebration of Rome's grand purpose, was supported by the regime. Indeed, Augustus saw literature, architecture, culture and morality as vehicles for his values. He presented his regime as a return to old Roman virtues of forbearance, valour and moral rectitude, but he created a very new form of power. He was the first Roman Emperor and, above all, he established the idea that Rome would be an empire without end. Catharine Edwards is Professor of Classics and Ancient History at Birkbeck College, University of London; Duncan Kennedy is Professor of Latin Literature and the Theory of Criticism at the University of Bristol; Mary Beard is Professor of Classics at Cambridge University.
Melvyn Bragg and guests Justin Champion, Diane Purkiss and David Wootton discuss the trial of Charles I, recounting the high drama in Westminster Hall and the ideas that led to the execution.Begun on 20th January 1649, the trial culminated in the epoch-making execution of an English monarch. But on the way it was a drama of ideas about kingly authority, tax, parliamentary power and religion, all suffused with personal vendettas, political confusion and individual courage. It was also a forum in which the newly-ended Civil War and the events of Charles's reign were picked over by the people who had experienced them. Melvyn and guests recount the events of the trial, explore the central arguments and see whether, 350 years later, we can work out who really won.Justin Champion is Professor of the History of Early Modern Ideas at Royal Holloway, University of London; Diane Purkiss is a Fellow and tutor at Keble College, Oxford; David Wootton is Professor of History at the University of York.
Melvyn Bragg and guests Andrew Wheatcroft, Claire Norton and Jeremy Black discuss the Ottoman siege of Vienna in 1683, when the Ottoman Empire tried to capture the capital city of the Hapsburg monarchs. The ensuing tale of blood and drama helped define the boundaries of Europe. In June 1683, a man called Kara Mustafa made a journey to Vienna. That a Muslim Turk should come to a Catholic city was not unusual, but Kara Mustafa did so at the head of the Ottoman Army. Vienna was the capital of the Hapsburg Empire and he intended to take it. The ensuing siege has been held responsible for many things, from the invention of the croissant to the creation of Viennese coffee. But most importantly, it has come to be seen as a clash of civilisations, one that helped to define a series of boundaries, between Europe and Asia, Christian and Muslim, Hapsburg and Ottoman, that influence the view between Vienna and Istanbul to this day. But to see the siege as a defining moment in east/west relations may be to read back into history an idea that was not true at the time.Claire Norton is Lecturer in History at St Mary's University College, London; Andrew Wheatcroft is Professor of International Publishing at Stirling University; Jeremy Black is Professor of History at the University of Exeter.
Melvyn Bragg and guests Nicholas Vincent, David Carpenter and Michael Clanchy discuss the Magna Carta, the oft-proclaimed foundation of English liberties.The Magna Carta has been cited ever since its issue in 1215 as a foundation stone of English liberties. It includes clauses of universal justice, some of which are still on the statute book, but also sorted out the fishing rights in the upper Thames. Whether Magna Carta is a genuine proclamation of universal liberty or a hotchpotch of baronial self-interest has been debated ever since. Melvyn and his guests examine the ideas contained within it, assess their legacy and find out what really happened all those years ago in a tent in Runnymede.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the building of St Petersburg, Peter the Great's showcase city for a modern, European Russia. It is a city of ideas. of progress and the Baroque, of Russian identity and Tsarist power. The building of St Petersburg is a testament to Tsarist power but it is also a city of ideas; of progress, of the Baroque and Russian identity. Beset by fire and flood, the city was founded by Peter the Great in 1703 to symbolise a new Russia, one that faced away from the Slavic East and towards the European West. To this end Peter and his heirs imported European architects, craftsmen and merchants to fashion his new capital.The result is a grandiose European city set amidst the freezing swamps of the Baltic coast; a Venice or Rome of the North. Indeed, the Venetian art connoisseur, Francesco Algarotti called St Petersburg ‘a window through which Russia looks on Europe’. It is a city of beauty built upon the cruelty of a tyrant and to this day encapsulates many of the contradictions of Russia.With Simon Dixon, Sir Bernard Pares Professor of Russian History at University College London; Janet Hartley, Professor of International History at the London School of Economics; Anthony Cross, Emeritus Professor of Slavonic Studies at the University of Cambridge
Melvyn Bragg and guests Krista Cowman, June Purvis and Julia Bush discuss suffragism, a name for the various movements to get the vote for women in the 19th and early-20th century. On the 4th June 1913 the Epsom Derby was underway. King George V was there watching his horse Anmer, ridden by Herbert Jones. Also watching was a young woman called Emily Davison. As the horses thundered towards the finish line, Emily Davison stepped through the barrier and threw herself in front of the King's horse and died of her injuries four days later. Davison was a suffragette, a campaigner for the woman's right to vote and her death is perhaps the most powerful image of that entire movement. Emmeline Pankhurst and her Suffragettes are famous for their militant campaign of suicide, violence and direct action, but Suffragism was a broader movement involving letter writing, reasoned argument, journalism and parliamentary petition - all played out across biology, medicine, law, psychology, politics and the military amidst the rising tide of democratic ideas.
In the hot summer of 1900, Peking, the capital of China, was under heavy siege. But the surrounding forces were not foreign, they were Chinese. This was the Boxer Rebellion, the moment when the 'Society of Righteous and Harmonious Fists', known as the boxers, purged China of foreign merchants and missionaries. The Boxers had came out of the northern provinces, they claimed their fists were stronger than fire and they were invincible to bullets. But they were also desperate and starving and they blamed foreigners for their plight. In the end, the Boxer rebellion failed but it changed China and, more than a hundred years later, the spirit of the Boxer Rebellion lives on. They may have lost their battles but they may have won their war.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Library at Alexandria. Founded by King Ptolemy in the 3rd century BC the library was the first attempt to collect all the knowledge of the ancient world in one place. Scholars including Archimedes and Euclid came to study its grand array of papyri. the legacy of the library is with us today, not just in the ideas it stored and the ideas it seeded but also in the way it organised knowledge and the tools developed for dealing with it. It still influences the things we know and the way we know them to this day.With Simon Goldhill, Professor of Greek at the University of Cambridge; Matthew Nicholls, Lecturer in Classics at the University of Reading; Serafina Cuomo, Reader in Roman History at Birkbeck College, University of London.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Destruction of Carthage. The North African city of Carthage was rich and powerful, but in the second century BC it suffered a terrible fate. The Greek historian Appian wrote about it: “Then came new scenes of horror. As the fire spread and carried everything down, the soldiers did not wait to destroy the buildings little by little, but all in a heap. So the crashing grew louder, and many corpses fell with the stones into the midst. Others were seen still living, especially old men, women, and young children who had hidden in the inmost nooks of the houses, some of them wounded, some more or less burned, and uttering piteous cries.”When the Romans finally conquered their great enemy in 146 BC, they razed it to the ground, sold off its library and tried to destroy not merely the city but the civilisation based upon it. Carthage was removed from history with such effect that it’s hard to know the city save through Roman eyes.It was a pivotal moment in world history that left Rome as the supreme power in the Mediterranean but after it was gone the ghosts of Carthage haunted Rome and seemed to hint at Rome’s own fate. With Mary Beard, Professor of Classics at the University of Cambridge; Jo Quinn, Lecturer in Ancient History at the University of Oxford and Ellen O’Gorman, Senior Lecturer in Classics at the University of Bristol
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss how the writing of history has changed over time, from ancient epics to medieval hagiographies and modern deconstructions. In the 6th century AD, the bishop of Tours began his history of the world with a simple observation that “A great many things keep happening, some of them good, some of them bad”. For a phrase that captures the whole of history it’s among the best, but in writing about the past we are rarely so economical. From ancient epics – Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War - to medieval hagiographies and modern deconstructions, historians have endlessly chronicled, surveyed and analysed the great many things that keep happening, declaring some of them good and some of them bad. But the writing of history always illuminates two periods – the one history is written about and the one it is written in. And to look at how the writing of history has changed is to examine the way successive ages have understood their world. In short, there is a history to history.With Paul Cartledge, AG Leventis Professor of Greek Culture and Fellow of Clare College, Cambridge; John Burrow, Emeritus Fellow of Balliol College, Oxford and Miri Rubin, Professor of Medieval and Early Modern History at Queen Mary, University of London.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the 19th century American writer and philosopher, Henry David Thoreau. Anti-slavery activist and passionate environmentalist, Thoreau was above all a champion of self-reliance and individualism. He was also a champion of the simple life, a lover of nature and an enemy of the modern who lived alone in a log cabin in the woods away from society. In his seminal work, Walden, published in 1854, he wrote: “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life.” Thoreau has become emblematic of one version of American values and his work has been an inspiration to politicians and writers alike, from Martin Luther King to Gandhi, Yeats and Tolstoy. Yet in many ways Thoreau remains a mystery, a man of contradictions who advocated self-sufficiency but was happy to let his mother do his washing and cook his meals.With Kathleen Burk, Professor of American History at University College London; Tim Morris, Lecturer in American Literature at the University of Dundee; Stephen Fender, Honorary Professor in English Literature at University College London.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Great Reform Act of 1832. The Act redrew the map of British politics in the wake of the Industrial Revolution and is a landmark in British political history.“We must get the suffrage, we must get votes, that we may send the men to Parliament who will do our work for us; …and we must have the country divided so that the little kings of the counties can't do as they like, but must be shaken up in one bag with us.” So declares a working class reformist in George Eliot’s novel Felix Holt: the Radical. It is set in 1832, the year of the so-called “Great Reform Act” which extended the vote and gave industrial cities such as Manchester and Birmingham political representation for the first time. But to what extent was Britain’s political system transformed by the Great Reform Act? What were the causes of reform in the first place and was the Act designed to encourage democracy in Britain or to head it off?
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss The Great Fire of London which destroyed up to a third of the city in 1666. Samuel Pepys described the scene in his diary:“all over the Thames, with one's face in the wind, you were almost burned with a shower of firedrops…and in corners and upon steeples, and between churches and houses, as far as we could see up the hill of the City, we saw the fire …It made me weep to see it.”The London that rose from the ashes was a visible manifestation of ideas; of the politics, religion, economics and science of the heady Restoration period. Christopher Wren, of course, but also Robert Hooke, The Royal Society, St Paul’s Cathedral, the Restoration court of Charles II and, inevitably, building regulations. With Lisa Jardine, Centenary Professor of Renaissance Studies at Queen Mary, University of London; Vanessa Harding, Reader in London History at Birkbeck, University of London and Jonathan Sawday, Professor of English Studies at the University of Strathclyde
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the life and times of Simon Bolivar, hero of the revolutionary wars that liberated Spanish America from Spain. In 1804 Bolivar stood on a small hill in Rome and made a grand declaration. He said, “I swear before you, I swear before the God of my fathers, I swear by my fathers, I swear by my honour, I swear by my country that I will not rest, body or soul, until I have broken the chains with which Spanish power oppresses us.” Unlike most teeenage declarations, Bolivar made good on his word. A wealthy young man, Bolivar was inspired by Enlightenment thinkers John Locke and Jean Jacques Rousseau and by the compelling personality of Napoleon. His story is one of ideas and adventure, of armies crossing the Andes, of the far flung influence of the Napoleonic Wars and an unexpectedly large role for Britain. But when he died he was anything but a hero, his reputation undergoing a transformation after his death to make him an icon of liberation and the national hero of Venezuela, Columbia, Equador, Peru and Bolivia – a country that bears his name. With Anthony McFarlane, Professor of Comparative American Studies at the University of Warwick; John Fisher, Professor of Latin American History at the University of Liverpool and Catherine Davies, Professor in the Department of Spanish, Portuguese and Latin American Studies at the University of Nottingham.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Roman historian Tacitus who chronicled some of Rome’s most notorious emperors, including Nero and Caligula, and whose portrayal of Roman decadence influences the way we see Rome today. “The story I now commence is rich in vicissitudes, grim with warfare, torn by civil strife, a tale of horror even during times of peace”. So reads page one of The Histories by the Roman historian Tacitus and it doesn’t disappoint. Convinced that Rome was going to the dogs, Tacitus depicts a Rome which is a hotbed of sex and violence, of excessive wealth and senatorial corruption. His work is a pungent study in tyranny and decline that has influenced depictions of Rome, from Gibbon’s Decline and Fall to Robert Graves’ I, Claudius. But is it a true picture of the age or does Tacitus’ work present the tyranny and decadence of Rome at the expense of its virtues? And to what extent, when we look at the Roman Empire today, do we still see it through Tacitus' eyes?With Catharine Edwards, Professor of Classics and Ancient History at Birkbeck, University of London; Ellen O’Gorman, Senior Lecturer in Classics at the University of Bristol and Maria Wyke, Professor of Latin at University College London
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Arab conquests - an extraordinary period in the 7th and 8th centuries when the tribes of the Arabian Peninsula conquered the Middle East, Persia, North Africa and Southern Europe and spread the ideas of the Islamic religion. In 632 the prophet Muhammad died and left behind the nascent religion of Islam among a few tribes in the Arabian Desert. They were relatively small in number, they were divided among themselves and they were surrounded by vast and powerful empires. Yet within 100 years Arab armies controlled territory from Northern Spain to Southern Iran and Islamic ideas had begun to profoundly refashion the societies they touched. It is one of the most extraordinary and significant events in world history that began the slow and profound transformation of Greek and Persian societies into Islamic ones. But how did the Arab armies achieve such extensive victories, how did they govern the people they conquered and what was the relationship between the achievements of the Arabs and the religious beliefs they carried with them?With Hugh Kennedy, Professor of Arabic at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London; Amira Bennison, Senior Lecturer in Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies at the University of Cambridge and Robert Hoyland, Professor in Arabic and Middle East Studies at the University of St Andrews
Melvyn Bragg and guests discusses the prescient thriller ‘The Riddle of the Sands’ about the decline Anglo-German relations before the First World War. In 1903 an Englishman called Charles Caruthers went sailing in the North Sea and stumbled upon a German military plot. The cunning plan was to invade the British Isles from the Frisian Islands using special barges. The plucky Caruthers foiled the plot and returned to his sailing holiday.This is not history but fiction, an immensely popular book called ‘The Riddle of the Sands’ by Erskine Childers. It was a prescient vision of two nations soon to fight the First World War but it went against the spirit of the previous century. Brits and Germans had fought together at Waterloo and had influenced profoundly each other’s thought and art. They even shared a royal family. Yet somehow victory at Waterloo and the shared glories of Romanticism became the mutual tragedy of the Somme.With Richard Evans, Professor of Modern History at the University of Cambridge; Rosemary Ashton, Quain Professor of English Language and Literature at University College London and Tim Blanning, Professor of Modern European history at The University of Cambridge.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss how the Black Death influenced the structure and ideas of Medieval Europe. In October 1347, a Genoese trading ship arrived at the busy port of Messina in Sicily and docked among many similar ships doing similar things. But this ship was special because this ship had rats and the rats had fleas and the fleas had plague. This was the Black Death and its terrible progress was captured by the Florentine writer Giovanni Boccaccio who declared “in those years a dead man was then of no more account than a dead goat”. In the long and unsanitary history of Europe there have been many plagues but only one Black Death. It killed over a third of Europe’s population in 4 years – young and old, rich and poor, in the town and in the country. When it stopped in 1351 it left a continent ravaged but transformed – the poor found their labour to be valuable, religion was both reinforced and undercut, medicine progressed, art changed and the continent awash with guilt and memorialisation. With Miri Rubin, Professor of Medieval and Early Modern History at Queen Mary, University of London; Samuel Cohn, Professor of Medieval History at the University of Glasgow; Paul Binski, Professor of the History of Medieval Art at Gonville and Caius College, University of Cambridge
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the enclosure movement of the 18th and 19th centuries. In the early 19th century, the Northamptonshire poet John Clare took a good look at the countryside and didn’t like what he saw. He wrote: "Fence meeting fence in owners little boundsOf field and meadow, large as garden-grounds,In little parcels little minds to please,With men and flocks imprisoned, ill at ease."Enclosure means literally enclosing a field with a fence or a hedge to prevent others using it. This seemingly innocuous act triggered a revolution in land holding that dispossessed many, enriched a few but helped make the agricultural and industrial revolutions possible. It saw the dominance of private property as the model of ownership, as against the collective rights of previous generations. For some Enclosure underpinned the economic and agricultural development of Modern Britain. But it has also been a cause celebre for the political left ever since Karl Marx argued that enclosures created the industrialised working class and ushered in the capitalist society. What really happened during the era of 18th and 19th century enclosures? Who gained, who lost and what role did Enclosures play in the agricultural and industrial transformation of this country? With Rosemary Sweet, Director of the Centre for Urban History at the University of Leicester; Murray Pittock, Bradley Professor of English Literature at the University of Glasgow; Mark Overton, Professor of Economic and Social History at the University of Exeter.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss ‘the Norman Yoke’ – the idea that the Battle of Hastings sparked years of cruel oppression for the Anglo Saxons by a Norman ruling class. ‘Norman saw on English oak,On English neck a Norman yoke;Norman spoon in English dish,And England ruled as Normans wish.’Taken from Sir Walter Scott’s novel ‘Ivanhoe’, these words encapsulate the idea of ‘the Norman Yoke’ – that the Battle of Hastings sparked the cruel oppression of Anglo-Saxon liberties by a foreign ruling class. Certainly, William the Conqueror proclaimed his power in great castles and cathedrals, turned the church upside down and even changed the colour of scribal ink. But was it really such a terrible time for the Anglo Saxons or was the idea of beastly Norman oppressors and noble Saxon sufferers invented later to shore up the idea of Englishness? With Sarah Foot, Regius Professor of Ecclesiastical History at Christ Church, Oxford; Richard Gameson, Professor in the Department of History at Durham University; Matthew Strickland, Professor of Medieval History at the University of Glasgow.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Henry VIII and the Dissolution of the Monasteries. Was Henry’s decision to destroy monastic culture in this country a tyrannical act of grand larceny or the pious destruction of a corrupt institution? When he was an old man, Michael Sherbrook remembered the momentous events of his youth: “All things of price were either spoiled, plucked away or defaced to the uttermost…it seemed that every person bent himself to filch and spoil what he could. Nothing was spared but the ox-houses and swincotes…” He was talking about the destruction of Roche Abbey, but it could have been Lewes or Fountains, Glastonbury, Tintern or Walsingham, names that haunt the religious past as their ruins haunt the landscape. These were the monasteries, suddenly and for many shockingly, destroyed during the reign of Henry VIII.The conflict was played out with a mix of violence, heroism, political manoeuvring and genuine theological disputation. But what was lost in terms of architecture, painting, treasure and in the religious habits of the monasteries themselves and of the common people who lived with them?With Diarmaid MacCulloch, Professor of the History of the Church at Oxford University; Diane Purkiss, Fellow and Tutor at Keble College, Oxford; George Bernard, Professor of Early Modern History at the University of Southampton
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Statue of Liberty."Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”. With these words, inscribed inside her pedestal, the Statue of Liberty has welcomed immigrants to America since 1903. But the Statue of Liberty is herself an immigrant, born in Paris she was shipped across the Atlantic in 214 separate crates, a present to the Americans from the French. She is a token of friendship forged in the fire of twin revolutions, finessed by thinkers like Alexis de Tocqueville and expressed in the shared language of liberty. But why was this colossal statue built, who built it and what did liberty mean to the Frenchmen who created her and the Americans who received her?With Robert Gildea, Professor of Modern History at Oxford University; Kathleen Burk, Professor of Modern Contemporary History at University College London; John Keane, Professor of Politics at the University of Westminster
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the coterie of brilliant thinkers gathered in 16th century Prague by the melancholic emperor Rudolph II. In 1606 the Archdukes of Vienna declared: “His majesty is interested only in wizards, alchemists, Kabbalists and the like, sparing no expense to find all kinds of treasures, learn secrets and use scandalous ways of harming his enemies…He also has a whole library of magic books. He strives all the time to eliminate God completely so that he may in future serve a different master.”The subject of this coruscating attack was the Holy Roman Emperor, Rudolf II, and his court at Prague. Rudolph had turned Prague into a collector’s cabinet for the wonders and curiosities of the age – the great paintings of Northern Italy were carried to him over the Alps, intricate automatons constructed to serve drinks, maps and models of the heavens were unwound and engineered as the magnificent city of Prague itself was rebuilt in the image of its dark and thoughtful patron in chief. But Rudolf’s greatest possessions were people - the astronomers Johannes Kepler and Tycho Brahe, the magus John Dee and the philosopher Giordano Bruno had all found their way to his city. Far from the devilish inquisitor of the archdukes’ imaginations, Rudolf patronised a powerhouse of Renaissance ideas. With Peter Forshaw, Postdoctoral Fellow at Birkbeck, University of London and an Honorary Fellow of the University of Exeter; Howard Hotson, Lecturer in Modern History at the University of Oxford; Adam Mosley, Lecturer in the Department of History at the University of Wales, Swansea.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Charge of the Light - an event of no military significance that has become iconic in the British historical imagination. On November 14th 1854 The Times newspaper reported on a minor cavalry skirmish in the Crimean War: “They swept proudly past, glittering in the morning sun in all the pride and splendour of war... At the distance of 1200 yards the whole line of the enemy belched forth, from thirty iron mouths, a flood of smoke and flame through which hissed the deadly balls. Their flight was marked by instant gaps in our ranks, by dead men and horses, by steeds flying wounded or riderless across the plain”.This is the debacle of the Charge of the Light Brigade, which made little difference to the Crimean War yet has become deeply embedded in British culture. It helped to provoke the resignation of a Prime Minister and it profoundly changed British attitudes to war and to the soldiers who fought in them. It also brought censorship to bear on previously uncensored war reporting and inspired Alfred, Lord Tennyson to sit down and write “All in the Valley of Death rode the six hundred”.With Mike Broers, Lecturer in Modern History at the University of Oxford and a Fellow of Lady Margaret Hall; Trudi Tate, Fellow of Clare Hall, Cambridge; Saul David, Visiting Professor of Military History at the University of Hull
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Sassanian Empire. Founded around 226 AD, in Persia, the Sassanian Empire lasted over 400 years as a grand imperial rival to Rome. In modern day Iran, just down the road from the ancient Persian capital of Persepolis, there is a picture carved into a rock. It depicts a king, triumphant on horseback, facing two defeated enemies. This is no pair of petty princes, they are Roman Emperors - Philip and Valerian - and the king towering above them is Shapur I of the Sassanian Empire. So complete was his victory that Shapur is reputed to have used Valerian as a footstool when mounting his horse. This super-power traded goods from Constantinople to Beijing, handed regular defeats to the Roman army and only fell to the Islamic conquests of the 7th century. It still influences Persian identity to this day. But what was the culture and the literature of the empire, its structure and organisation? And what was its role in the great geopolitical game played out between the decaying empires in late antiquity?With Hugh Kennedy, Professor of Arabic in the Faculty of Languages and Cultures at the School of Oriental and African Studies; Vesta Sarkhosh Curtis, Curator of Iranian and Islamic Coins in the British Museum; James Howard-Johnston, University Lecturer in Byzantine Studies at the University of Oxford.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Divine Right of Kings. In Shakespeare’s Macbeth, the character Malcolm describes the magical healing powers of the king: “How he solicits heaven, Himself best knows; but strangely-visited people, All swoln and ulcerous, pitiful to the eye, The mere despair of surgery, he cures; Hanging a golden stamp about their necks, Put on with holy prayers...”The idea that a monarch could heal with his touch flowed from the idea that a king was sacred, appointed by God and above the judgement of earthly powers. It was called the Divine Right of Kings. The idea resided deep in the culture of 17th century Britain affecting the pomp of the Stuart Kings, the writings of Milton and Shakespeare and the political works of John Locke. It is a story that involves witches, regicide, scrofula, Macbeth, miraculous portraits and some of the greatest poetry in the English language. With Justin Champion, Professor of the History of Early Modern Ideas at Royal Holloway, University of London; Tom Healy, Professor of Renaissance Studies at Birkbeck College, University of London; Clare Jackson, Lecturer and Director of Studies in History at Trinity Hall, Cambridge
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Pilgrim Fathers and their 1620 voyage to the New World on the Mayflower. Every year on the fourth Thursday in November, Americans go home to their families and sit down to a meal. It’s called Thanksgiving and it echoes a meal that took place nearly 400 years ago, when a group of religious exiles from Lincolnshire sat down, after a brutal winter, to celebrate their first harvest in the New World. They celebrated it in company with the American Indians who had helped them to survive.These settlers are called the Pilgrim Fathers. They were not the first and certainly not the largest of the early settlements but their Plymouth colony has retained a hold on the American imagination which the larger, older, violent and money-driven settlement of Jamestown has not.With Kathleen Burk, Professor of Modern and Contemporary History at University College London; Harry Bennett, Reader in History and Head of Humanities at the University of Plymouth; Tim Lockley, Associate Professor of History at the University of Warwick
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Siege of Orléans, when Joan of Arc came to the rescue of France and routed the English army with the help of God. The perfidious English then burnt her as a heretic in Rouen marketplace. At least that's the story we're told but the truth involves the murky world of French court politics, labyrinthine dynastic claims, mass religious hysteria and English military and political incompetenceLooking back on the events that followed, the Duke of Bedford wrote to King Henry VI and declared “all things prospered for you till the time of the siege of Orleans, taken in hand God knoweth by what advice”.But what happened at the siege of Orleans, did Joan of Arc really rescue the city and how significant was the battle in changing the course of the 100 Years' War and the subsequent histories of England and France?With Anne Curry, Professor of Medieval History at the University of Southampton; Malcolm Vale, Fellow and Tutor in History at St John’s College, Oxford; Matthew Bennett, Senior Lecturer at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst.
Melvyn Bragg discusses the Opium Wars, a series of conflicts in the 19th Century which had a profound effect on British Chinese relations for generations. Thomas De Quincey describes the pleasures of opium like this: “Thou hast the keys of Paradise, O just, subtle and mighty opium”. The Chinese had banned opium in its various forms several times, citing concern for public morals, but private British traders continued to smuggle large quantities of opium into China from India. In this way, the opium trade became a way of balancing a trade deficit brought about by Britain's own addiction...to Indian tea.The Chinese protested against the flouting of the ban, even writing to Queen Victoria. But the British continued to trade, leading to a crackdown by Lin Tse-Hsu, a man appointed to be China's Opium Drugs Czar. He confiscated opium from the British traders and destroyed it. The British military response was severe, leading to the Nanking Treaty which opened up several of China's ports to foreign trade and gave Britain Hong Kong. The peace didn't last long and a Second Opium War followed. The Chinese fared little better in this conflict, which ended with another humiliating treaty.So what were the main causes of the Opium Wars? What were the consequences for the Qing dynasty? And how did the punitive treaties affect future relations with Britain?With Yangwen Zheng, Lecturer in Modern Chinese History at the University of Manchester; Lars Laamann, Research Fellow in Chinese History at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London; Xun Zhou, Research Fellow in History at SOAS, University of London
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the original Iron Chancellor, Otto Von Bismarck. One of Europe's leading statesmen in the 19th Century he is credited with unifying Germany under the military might of his home state of Prussia. An enthusiastic expansionist, Bismarck undertook a war against Denmark that has become a by-word for incomprehensible conflict. The British Prime Minister, Lord Palmerston, said: “The Schleswig-Holstein question is so complicated, only three men in Europe have ever understood it. One was Prince Albert, who is dead. The second was a German professor who became mad. I am the third and I have forgotten all about it.”After vanquishing Austria and France, Bismark led the new industrialising Germany, managing to remain in power for a further two decades. Bismarck said: “The art of statesmanship is to steer a course on the stream of time” and he founded one of Europe's first welfare states but he was also known for his ruthless tactics, ignoring democratic institutions, dabbling in dirty politics, leaking to the press and bribing journalists. Was the unification of Germany a carefully planned campaign or a series of unpredictable events that Bismarck made the most of? Did his encouragement of militaristic nationalism bear fruit in Nazi Germany, and what is his legacy today in contemporary Germany?With Richard J Evans, Professor of Modern History at the University of Cambridge; Christopher Clark, Reader in Modern European History at the University of Cambridge; and Katharine Lerman, Senior Lecturer in Modern European History at London Metropolitan University
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Genghis Khan. Born Temujin in the 12th Century, he was cast out by his tribe when just a child and left to struggle for survival on the harsh Steppes of what is now Mongolia. From these beginnings he went on to become Genghis Khan, leader of the greatest continuous land-based empire the world has ever seen. His conquered territories stretched from the Caspian Sea to the borders of Manchuria, from the Siberian forest to what is now Afghanistan.He was a charismatic commander and a shrewd military tactician. He was swift to promote those who served him well, ignoring race or creed, but vengeful to those who crossed him, killing every inhabitant of resistant towns, even the cats and dogs. Generally regarded as barbarians by their enemies, the Mongol armies were in fact disciplined and effective.So how did Genghis create such an impressive fighting force? How did he draw together such diverse peoples to create a wealthy and successful Empire? And what was his legacy for the territories he conquered?With Peter Jackson, Professor of Medieval History at Keele University; Naomi Standen, Lecturer in Chinese History at Newcastle University;George Lane, Lecturer in History at the School of Oriental and African Studies
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the siege of Constantinople in 1453. When Sultan Mehmet the Second rode into the city of Constantinople on a white horse in 1453, it marked the end of a thousand years of the Byzantine Empire. After holding out for 53 days, the city had fallen. And as one contemporary witness described it: “The blood flowed in the city like rainwater in the gutters after a sudden storm”. It was the end of the classical world and the crowning of an Ottoman Empire that would last until 1922.Constantinople was a city worth fighting for – its position as a bridge between Europe and Asia and its triangular shape with a deep water port made it ideal both for trade and defence. It was also rumoured to harbour great wealth. Whoever conquered it would reap rewards both material and political. Earlier attempts to capture the city had largely failed – so why did the Ottomans succeed this time? What difference did the advances in weaponry such as cannons make in the outcome of the battle? And what effect did the fall of Constantinople have on the rest of the Christian world?With Roger Crowley, author and historian; Judith Herrin, Professor of Late Antique and Byzantine Studies at King's College London; Colin Imber, formerly Reader in Turkish at Manchester University.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381. “When Adam delved and Eve span, who was then the Gentleman?" these are the opening words of a rousing sermon, said to be by John Ball, which fires a broadside at the deeply hierarchical nature of fourteenth century England. Ball, along with Wat Tyler, was one of the principal leaders of the Peasants’ Revolt – his sermon ends: "I exhort you to consider that now the time is come, appointed to us by God, in which ye may (if ye will) cast off the yoke of bondage, and recover liberty". The subsequent events of June 1381 represent a pivotal and thrilling moment in England’s history, characterised by murder and mayhem, beheadings and betrayal, a boy-King and his absent uncle, and a general riot of destruction and death. By most interpretations, the course of this sensational story threatened to undermine the very fabric of government as an awareness of deep injustice was awakened in the general populace.But who were the rebels and how close did they really come to upending the status quo? And just how exaggerated are claims that the Peasants’ Revolt laid the foundations of the long-standing English tradition of radical egalitarianism? With Miri Rubin, Professor of Early Modern History at Queen Mary, University of London; Caroline Barron, Professorial Research Fellow at Royal Holloway, University of London; Alastair Dunn, author of The Peasants’ Revolt - England’s Failed Revolution of 1381.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Needham Question; why Europe and not China developed modern technology. What do these things have in common? Fireworks, wood-block printing, canal lock-gates, kites, the wheelbarrow, chain suspension bridges and the magnetic compass. The answer is that they were all invented in China, a country that, right through the Middle Ages, maintained a cultural and technological sophistication that made foreign dignitaries flock to its imperial courts for trade and favour. But then, around 1700, the flow of ingenuity began to dry up and even reverse as Europe bore the fruits of the scientific revolution back across the globe. Why did Modern Science develop in Europe when China seemed so much better placed to achieve it? This is called the Needham Question, after Joseph Needham, the 20th century British Sinologist who did more, perhaps, than anyone else to try and explain it.But did Joseph Needham give a satisfactory answer to the question that bears his name? Why did China’s early technological brilliance not lead to the development of modern science and how did momentous inventions like gunpowder and printing enter Chinese society with barely a ripple and yet revolutionise the warring states of Europe? With Chris Cullen, Director of the Needham Research Institute in Cambridge; Tim Barrett, Professor of East Asian History at SOAS; Frances Wood, Head of Chinese Collections at the British Library.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Diet of Worms, an event that helped trigger the European Reformation. Nestled on a bend of the River Rhine, in the South West corner of Germany, is the City of Worms. It’s one of the oldest cities in central Europe; it still has its early city walls, its 11th century Romanesque cathedral and a 500-year-old printing industry, but in its centre is a statue of the monk, heretic and founder of the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther. In 1521 Luther came to Worms to explain his attacks on the Catholic Church to the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, and the gathered dignitaries of the German lands. What happened at that meeting, called the Diet of Worms, tore countries apart, set nation against nation, felled kings and plunged dynasties into suicidal bouts of infighting. But why did Martin Luther risk execution to go to the Diet, what was at stake for the big players of medieval Europe and how did events at the Diet of Worms irrevocably change the history of Europe? With Diarmaid MacCulloch, Professor of the History of the Church at Oxford University; David Bagchi, Lecturer in the History of Christian Thought at the University of Hull; Reverend Dr Charlotte Methuen, Lecturer in Reformation History at the University of Oxford.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Spanish Inquisition, the defenders of medieval orthodoxy. The word ‘Inquisition’ has its roots in the Latin word 'inquisito' which means inquiry. The Romans used the inquisitorial process as a form of legal procedure employed in the search for evidence. Once Rome's religion changed to Christianity under Constantine, it retained the inquisitorial trial method but also developed brutal means of dealing with heretics who went against the doctrines of the new religion. Efforts to suppress religious freedom were initially ad hoc until the establishment of an Office of Inquisition in the Middle Ages, founded in response to the growing Catharist heresy in South West France. The Spanish Inquisition set up in 1478 surpassed all Inquisitorial activity that had preceded it in terms of its reach and length. For 350 years under Papal Decree, Jews, then Muslims and Protestants were put through the Inquisitional Court and condemned to torture, imprisonment, exile and death. How did the early origins of the Inquisition in Medieval Europe spread to Spain? What were the motivations behind the systematic persecution of Jews, Muslims and Protestants? And what finally brought about an end to the Spanish Inquisition 350 years after it had first been decreed? With John Edwards, Research Fellow in Spanish at the University of Oxford; Alexander Murray, Emeritus Fellow in History at University College, Oxford;Michael Alpert, Emeritus Professor in Modern and Contemporary History of Spain at the University of Westminster
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the relationship between astronomy and the British Empire. The 18th century explorer and astronomer James Cook wrote: 'Ambition leads me not only farther than any other man has been before me, but as far as I think it possible for man to go'. Cook's ambition took him to the far reaches of the Pacific and led to astronomical observations which measured the distance of Venus to the Sun with unprecedented accuracy. Cook's ambition was not just personal and astronomical. It represented the colonial ambition of the British Empire which was linked inextricably with science and trade. The discoveries about the Transit of Venus, made on Cook's voyage to Tahiti, marked the beginning of a period of expansion by the British which relied on maritime navigation based on astronomical knowledge. With Simon Schaffer, Professor in History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Cambridge; Kristen Lippincott, former Director of the Royal Observatory, Greenwich; Allan Chapman, Historian of Science at the History Faculty at Oxford University.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the 1851 Great Exhibition. “Its grandeur does not consist in one thing, but in the unique assemblage of all things. Whatever human industry has created you find there. It seems as if only magic could have gathered this mass of wealth from all the ends of the earth.” So wrote Charlotte Bronte in 1851 after visiting the Great Exhibition set in the vast Crystal Palace in London's Hyde Park. By the time the exhibition closed, one quarter of the entire British population had visited Crystal Palace, the first pre-fabricated building of its kind, to marvel at an extraordinary array of exhibits there. Amongst them were the biggest diamond in the world, a carriage drawn by kites, furniture made of coal, and a set of artificial teeth fitted with a swivel devise which allowed the user to yawn without displacing them. The Great Exhibition was huge in terms of the development of British manufacturing, the burgeoning of a global consumer market, the development of museums and the international standing of Britain culturally and technologically. It was also a triumph for Prince Albert and it turned a tidy profit. How did the Exhibition crystallise a particular moment in early Victorian Britain? In what way did it capitalise on the dawn of mass travel and greater levels of international co-operation? How did fears of revolutionary Europe define the policing and organisation of the event? And how far, if at all, did the Great Exhibition go in blurring class distinctions? With Jeremy Black, Professor of History at the University of Exeter; Hermione Hobhouse, Architectural Historian and Writer; Clive Emsley, Professor of History at the Open University.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne and the Carolingian Renaissance. In 800 AD on Christmas Day in Rome, Pope Leo III proclaimed Charlemagne Emperor. According to the Frankish historian Einhard, Charlemagne would never have set foot in St Peter's that day if he had known that the Pope intended to crown him. But Charlemagne accepted his coronation with magnanimity. Regarded as the first of the Holy Roman Emperors, Charlemagne became a touchstone for legitimacy until the institution was brought to an end by Napoleon in 1806. A Frankish King who held more territory in Western Europe than any man since the Roman Emperor, Charlemagne's lands extended from the Atlantic to Vienna and from Northern Germany to Rome. His reign marked a period of enormous cultural and literary achievement. But at its foundation lay conquest, conversion at the point of a sword and a form of Christianity that was obsessed with sin, discipline and correction. How did Charlemagne become the most powerful man in Western Europe and how did he finance his conquests? Why was he able to draw Europe's most impressive scholars to his court? How successful was he in his quest to reform his church and educate the clergy? And can the Carolingian period really be called a Renaissance? With Matthew Innes, Professor of History at Birkbeck, University of London; Julia Smith, Edwards Professor of Medieval History at Glasgow University; Mary Garrison, Lecturer in History at the University of York
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Catherine the Great. In Moscow's Tretyakov Gallery hangs perhaps the most well-known picture of Russia's most well-known ruler. Dimitri Levitsky's 1780 'Portrait of Catherine the Great in the Justice Temple' depicts Catherine in the temple burning poppies at an altar, symbolising her sacrifice of self-interest for Russia. Law books and the scales of justice are at her feet, highlighting her respectful promotion of the rule of law. But menacingly, in the background an eagle crouches, suggesting the means to use brutal power where necessary. For an obscure, small-town German princess Catharine’s ambition was large - the transformation of semi-barbaric Russia into a model of the ideals of the French 18th century Enlightenment. How far was Catherine able to lead her country into full participation in the political and cultural life of Europe? Was she able to liberate the serfs? And should she be remembered as Russia's most civilised ruler or a megalomaniacal despot? With Janet Hartley, Professor of International History at the London School of Economics; Simon Dixon, Professor of Modern History at the University of Leeds; Tony Lentin, Professor of History at the Open University.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Abbasid Caliphs, dynastic rulers of the Islamic world from the mid eighth to the tenth century. They headed a Muslim empire that extended from Tunisia through Egypt, Syria, Arabia, and Persia to Uzbekistan and the frontiers of India. But unlike previous conquerors, the Abbasid Caliphs presided over a multicultural empire where conversion was a relatively peaceful business. As Vikings raided the shores of Britain, the Abbasids were developing sophisticated systems of government, administration and court etiquette. Their era saw the flowering of Arabic philosophy, mathematics and Persian literature. The Abbasids were responsible for patronising the translation of Classical Greek texts and transmitting them back to a Europe emerging from the Dark Ages. So who were the Abbasid Caliphs and how did they come to power? What was their cultural significance? What factors can account for their decline and fall? And why do they represent a Golden Age of Islamic civilisation? With Hugh Kennedy, Professor of History at the University of St Andrews; Robert Irwin, Senior Research Associate at the School of Oriental and African Studies; University of London; Amira Bennison, Senior Lecturer in Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies at the University of Cambridge.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the importance of the oath in ancient Greece and Rome, The importance of oaths in the Classical world cannot be overstated. Kings, citizens, soldiers, litigants all swore oaths, inviting divine retribution if they proved false to their word. Oaths cemented peace treaties, they obliged the Athenian citizenry to protect their democracy, they guaranteed the loyalty of the Roman army to its Emperor and they underpinned the legal systems of Athens and Rome. And in Homer's epic poem, The Iliad, it is a broken oath to settle the dispute between Menelaus and Paris that leads the Greeks to storm Troy in pursuit of Helen. But how did the Classical world come to understand the oath? Why did oaths come to occupy such a central place in the political, social and legal life of the Athenian State? And what role did oath-making play in the expanding Roman Empire? With Alan Sommerstein , Professor of Greek at the University of Nottingham;Paul Cartledge , Professor of Greek History at the University of Cambridge; Mary Beard , Professor in Classics at the University of Cambridge
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Peterloo Massacre in 1819, a defining moment of its age. In 1819 Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote: 'I met Murder on the way He had a mask like Castlereagh Very smooth he looked, yet grim; Seven blood-hounds followed him: All were fat; and well they might Be in admirable plight, For one by one, and two by two, He tossed them human hearts to chew Which from his wide cloak he drew.' As Foreign Secretary, Castlereagh had successfully co-ordinated European opposition to Napoleon, but at home he had repressed the Reform movement, and popular opinion held him responsible for the Peterloo Massacre of peaceful demonstrators in 1819. Shelley's epic poem, The Mask of Anarchy, reflected the widespread public outrage and condemnation of the government's role in the massacre. Why did a peaceful and orderly meeting of men, women and children in St Peter's Field, Manchester turn into a blood bath? How were the stirrings of radicalism in the wake of the Napoleonic Wars dealt with by the British establishment? And what role did the Peterloo Massacre play in bringing about the Great Reform Act of 1832? With Jeremy Black, Professor of History at the University of Exeter; Sarah Richardson, Senior Lecturer in History at the University of Warwick; Clive Emsley, Professor of History at the Open University.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the religious orders of the Dominicans and the Franciscans, known as the Blackfriars and Greyfriars. "Just as it is better to light up others than to shine alone, it is better to share the fruits of one's contemplation with others than to contemplate in solitude". Thus St Thomas Aquinas described his vocation, not only as a teacher, but also as a Dominican friar and philosopher at the University of Paris. In the 13th century, the religious orders of the Dominicans and the Franciscans were a great force for change in Catholic Europe. They thrived in the emerging towns and cities of the High Middle Ages, leading crusades and changing the way the Church dealt with heretics. They were the evangelists who transformed the Church's preaching of the Christian message to the people. On top of all this, these two orders were also responsible for reconciling Classical and Christian philosophy; their studies of Aristotle paved the way for the Renaissance. They also managed to change the curriculum at the universities of Paris and Oxford. But the Blackfriars and the Greyfriars did not come from the great monasteries of the time; they started out as itinerant preachers surviving upon the charity of the faithful. So how did these two orders come to dominate the spiritual and academic life of the 13th century, and how did they manage to accumulate such huge wealth while professing allegiance to lives of poverty? With Henrietta Leyser, medieval historian and Fellow of St Peter's College, Oxford; Alexander Murray, medieval historian and Emeritus Fellow of University College, Oxford; Anthony Kenny, philosopher and former Master of Balliol College, Oxford.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Field of the Cloth of Gold, an extraordinary international party. In the spring of 1520 six thousand Englishmen and women packed their bags and followed their King across the sea to France. They weren't part of an invasion force but were attendants to King Henry VIII and travelling to take part in the greatest and most conspicuous display of wealth and culture that Europe had ever seen. They were met by Francis I of France and six thousand French noblemen and servants on English soil in Northern France and erected their temporary palaces, elaborate tents, jousting pavilions and golden fountains spewing forth red, white and claret wine in the Val D'Or. For just over two weeks they created a temporary town the size of Norwich, England's second city, on the 'Camp du Drap D'Or', or Field of the Cloth of Gold. What drove the French and the English to create such an extraordinary event? What did the two sides do when they got there, and what - if anything - was achieved? With Steven Gunn, Lecturer in Modern History at Oxford University; John Guy, Fellow of Clare College, University of Cambridge; Penny Roberts, Senior Lecturer in History at the University of Warwick.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the reign of terror during the French Revolution. On Monday September 10th 1792 The Times of London carried a story covering events in revolutionary France: "The streets of Paris, strewed with the carcases of the mangled victims, are become so familiar to the sight, that they are passed by and trod on without any particular notice. The mob think no more of killing a fellow-creature, who is not even an object of suspicion, than wanton boys would of killing a cat or a dog". These were the infamous September Massacres when Parisian mobs killed thousands of suspected royalists and set the scene for the events to come, when Madame La Guillotine took centre stage and The Terror ruled in France. But how did the French Revolution descend into such extremes of violence? Who or what drove The Terror? And was it really an aberration of the revolutionary cause or the moment when it truly expressed itself? With Mike Broers, Lecturer in Modern History at the University of Oxford and Fellow of Lady Margaret Hall; Rebecca Spang, Lecturer in Modern History at University College London; Tim Blanning, Professor of Modern European History at the University of Cambridge.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the link between archaeology and imperialism. In 1842 a young English adventurer called Austen Henry Layard set out to excavate what he hoped were the remains of the biblical city of Nineveh in Mesopotamia. On arrival he discovered that the local French consul, Paul Emile Botta, was already hard at work. Across the Middle East and in Egypt, archaeologists, antiquarians and adventurers were exploring cities older than the Bible and shipping spectacular monuments down the Nile and the Tigris to burgeoning European museums.What was it about the ancient cultures of Egypt and Mesopotamia that so gripped the 19th century imagination? How did nationalism and imperialism affect the search for the ancient past and how did archaeology evolve from its adventuresome, even reckless, origins into the science of artefacts we know today?With Tim Champion, Professor of Archaeology, University of Southampton; Richard Parkinson, Assistant Keeper in the Department of Ancient Egypt and Sudan at the British Museum; Eleanor Robson, Lecturer in the History and Philosophy of Science at Cambridge University and a Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss King Alfred and the defeat of the Vikings at Battle of Edington. At the end of the 9th century the Vikings controlled almost all of what we now call England. Mercia had fallen and its king had fled, Northumbria had fallen and so had Essex. The only independent kingdom left standing against the rampaging Danes was Wessex, and Alfred the Great; then he was overrun, his treasury, palaces and castles taken whilst he and his most loyal followers were left to wander the moors. Yet he came back. The Battle of Edington in 878 is taken by many to be the great founding Battle of England. It is the conflict in which Alfred, King of Wessex, came back to defeat the Vikings and launch a grand project to establish a new entity of Englishness, what he called the 'Anglecynn' in the South of the island of Britain.How did Alfred manage to defeat the Vikings when he had been so thoroughly routed? What motivated his project to fashion Englishness? And without Edington, would there be no England?With Richard Gameson, Reader in Medieval History, University of Kent at Canterbury; Sarah Foot, Professor of Early Medieval History, University of Sheffield; John Hines, Professor in the School of History and Archaeology, Cardiff University.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the assassination of Tsar Alexander II. On 1st March 1881, the Russian Tsar, Alexander II, was travelling through the snow to the Winter Palace in St Petersburg. An armed Cossack sat with the coach driver, another six Cossacks followed on horseback and behind them came a group of police officers in sledges. It was the day that the Tsar, known for his liberal reforms, had signed a document granting the first ever constitution to the Russian people.But his journey was being watched by a group of radicals called 'Narodnaya Volya' or 'The People's Will'. On a street corner near the Catherine Canal, they hurled the first of their bombs to halt the Tsar's iron-clad coach. When Alexander ignored advice and ventured out onto the snow to comfort his dying Cossacks, he was killed by another bomber who took his own life in the blast.Why did they kill the reforming Tsar? What was the political climate that inspired such extreme acts? And could this have been the moment that the Russian state started an inexorable march towards revolution?With Orlando Figes, Professor of History at Birkbeck College, University of London; Dominic Lieven, Professor of Russian Government, London School of Economics; Catriona Kelly, Professor of Russian, Oxford University.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the rise and eventual downfall of the Roman Republic which survived for 500 years.Around 550 BC, Lucretia, the daughter of an aristocrat, was raped by the son of Tarquin, the King of Rome. Lucretia told her family what had happened to her and then in front of them, killed herself from shame. The Roman historian Livy describes what was believed to have happened next:"Brutus, while the others were absorbed in grief; drew out the knife from Lucretia's wound, and holding it up, dripping with gore, exclaimed, "By this blood, most chaste until a prince wronged it, I swear, and I take you, gods, to witness, that I will pursue Lucius Tarquinius Superbus and his wicked wife and all his children, with sword, with fire, aye with whatsoever violence I may; and that I will suffer neither them nor any other to be king in Rome!". The King was duly expelled from the city and the Roman Republic was founded and lasted for 500 years. But in what form did this republic evolve, what were its values and ideals and what ultimately caused the end of the world’s first true experiment in constitutional government?With Greg Woolf, Professor of Ancient History at St Andrews University; Catherine Steel, Lecturer in Classics at the University of Glasgow; Tom Holland, historian and author of Rubicon: the Triumph and Tragedy of the Roman Republic.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the political philosopher Niccolo Machiavelli. In The Prince, Machiavelli's great manual of power, he wrote, "since men love as they themselves determine but fear as their ruler determines, a wise prince must rely upon what he and not others can control". He also advised, "One must be a fox in order to recognise traps, and a lion to frighten off wolves. Those who simply act like lions are stupid. So it follows that a prudent ruler cannot, and must not, honour his word when it places him at a disadvantage".What times was Machiavelli living through to take such a brutal perspective on power? How did he gain the experience to provide this advice to rulers? And was he really the amoral, or even evil figure that so many have liked to paint him?With Quentin Skinner, Regius Professor of History at the University of Cambridge; Evelyn Welch, Professor of Renaissance Studies at Queen Mary, University of London; Lisa Jardine, Director of the Centre for Editing Lives and Letters at Queen Mary, University of London.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Battle of Agincourt."Owre kynge went forth to Normandy, With grace and myyt of chivalry; The God for hym wrouyt marvelously, Wherefore Englonde may calle, and cry Deo gratias: Deo gratias redde pro victoria." The great victory was Agincourt as described in the Agincourt Carol, when the 'happy few' of the English army of King Henry V vanquished the French forces on St Crispin's Day 1415. It is a battle that has resounded through the centuries and has been used by so many to mean so much. But how important was the battle in the strategic struggles of the time? What were the pressures at home that drove Henry's march through France? And what is the cultural legacy of Agincourt? With Anne Curry, Professor of Medieval History at Southampton University; Michael Jones, medieval historian and writer; John Watts, Fellow and Tutor in Modern History at Corpus Christie College, Oxford.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the first President of the US, George Washington, and the people and ideas that caused the American Revolution. In 1774 a tobacco farmer from Virginia with nice manners and a quiet lifestyle was moved to put himself forward as the military leader of the most massive rebellion the British Empire had ever suffered. George Washington had been a stout upholder of the status quo, regularly lending money to his ne’r-do-well neighbour simply to keep him in the plantation to which he had become accustomed. He even wrote a book on how to behave properly in polite society.What drove mild mannered George Washington to revolution? Washington may have been a moral man, but by anyone’s account he was no scholar, so who provided the intellectual inspiration behind that grandest of Enlightenment documents, the American Constitution. With Carol Berkin, Professor of History at The City University of New York; Simon Middleton, Lecturer in American History at the University of East Anglia; and Colin Bonwick, Professor Emeritus in American History at Keele University.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the truth about Babylon. Six thousand years ago, between the Tigris and the Euphrates, the first cities were being built. The great empire to spring from the region was Babylon, which held sway for over a thousand years and in that time managed to garner an extraordinarily bad press: it’s associated with the Tower of Babel, with Nineveh where Jonah is sent to preach repentance and, perhaps most famously, with “Mystery, Babylon the Great, the Mother of Harlots and Abominations of the Earth” - the whore of Babylon, who in Revelation is taken to personify the city itself. It’s not just the Bible; Herodotus described the Babylonians as effeminate, lascivious and decadent as well.But what is the true story? Classics in this country has meant a study of Greece and Rome, but there is an increasingly vocal contingent that claims that Babylonian culture has been hugely undervalued, and that there is a great wealth of extraordinary literature waiting to be translated.With Eleanor Robson, Lecturer in the History and Philosophy of Science at Cambridge University; Irving Finkel, Curator in the Department of the Ancient Near East at the British Museum; Andrew George, Professor of Babylonian at the School of Oriental and African Studies.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss what defines a hero and what place they had in classical society. On the fields of Troy a fallen soldier pleaded with Achilles, the great hero of the Greeks, to spare his life. According to Homer, Achilles replied, “Do you not see what a man I am, how huge, how splendid.And born of a great father and the mother who bore me immortal?Yet even I have also my death and strong destiny, And there shall be a dawn or an afternoon or a noontime,When some man in the fighting will take the life from me alsoEither with a spear cast or an arrow flown from the bow string”.With that, he killed him. Heroes have special attributes, but not necessarily humility or compassion. How did the Greeks define their heroes? What place did the hero have in classical society and what do modern ideas of heroism owe to the heroes of the golden age?With Angie Hobbs, Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Warwick and author of Plato and the Hero: Courage, Manliness and the Impersonal Good; Anthony Grayling, Reader in Philosophy at Birkbeck College, University of London; Paul Cartledge, Professor of Greek History at the University of Cambridge.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss tea, the first truly global commodity. After air and water, tea is the most widely consumed substance on the planet and the British national drink. In this country it helped define class and gender, it funded wars and propped up the economy of the Empire. The trade started in the 1660s with an official import of just 2 ounces, by 1801 24 million pounds of tea were coming in every year and people of all classes were drinking an average two cups a day. It was the first mass commodity, and the merchant philanthropist Jonas Hanway decried its hold on the nation, “your servants' servants, down to the very beggars, will not be satisfied unless they consume the produce of the remote country of China”.What drove the extraordinary take up of tea in this country? What role did it play in the global economy of the Empire and at what point did it stop becoming an exotic foreign luxury and start to define the essence of Englishness?With Huw Bowen, Senior Lecturer in Economic and Social History at the University of Leicester; James Walvin, Professor of History at the University of York; Amanda Vickery, Reader in History at Royal Holloway, University of London.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the astonishing productivity of the Chinese Golden Age. 400 BC to 200 AD is known as the Axial Age, when great civilisations in Asia and the Mediterranean forged the ideas that dominated the next two thousand years. In China the equivalent to the Golden Age in Greece was the Warring States Period. It was a time of political turmoil, economic change and intellectual ferment that laid the foundations for the first Chinese Empire. Astronomy was systematised, the principles of Yin and Yang were invented, Confucianism grew and Taoism emerged, as a hundred schools of thought are reputed to have vied for the patronage of rival kings.Why was a period of war such a fertile age for culture and thought, what kinds of ideas were developed and how do they still inform the thinking of nearly a fifth of the world’s population?With Dr Chris Cullen, Director of the Needham Research Institute at Cambridge University; Dr Vivienne Lo, Lecturer at the Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine; Carol Michaelson, Assistant Keeper of Chinese Art in the Department of Oriental Antiquities at the British Museum.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Vikings’ myths. Thor’s huge hammer, the wailing Valkyrie, howling wolves and fierce elemental giants give a rowdy impression of the Norse myths. But at the centre of their cosmos stands a gnarled old Ash tree, from which all distances are measured and under which Valhalla lies. In the first poem of The Poetic Edda, where the stories of the Norse Gods are laid down in verse, the Seeress describes it in her prophesy: “I know that an ash-tree stands called Yggdrasil,a high tree soaked with shining loamfrom there come the dews which fall in the valley, ever green, it stands over the well of fate.” It is from this tree that the father of the Gods, Odin, will ultimately hang himself: an image of divine sacrifice so problematic for thirteenth century Christians that they left it out when they wrote the myths down.What was the theology that inspired the Vikings and what role did their myths and religion play in their daily lives?With Carolyne Larrington, Tutor in Medieval English at St John’s College, Oxford; Heather O’Donoghue, Vigfusson Rausing Reader in Ancient Icelandic Literature in the Department of English at Oxford University; John Hines, Professor of Archaeology at Cardiff University.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Mughal Empire which, at its height, stretched from Bengal in the East to Gujarat in the West, and from Lahore in the North to Madras in the South. It covered the whole of present day northern India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, and became famous for the Taj Mahal, the Koh-i-Noor and the Peacock Throne. In 1631 a Dutch naturalist Johannes de Laet published his account of the vast Empire, “the nobles live in indescribable luxury and extravagance, caring only to indulge themselves whilst they can, in every kind of pleasure. Their greatest magnificence is in their women’s quarters, for they marry three or four wives or sometimes more”.But were they really the opulent despots of European imagination? If so, how did they maintain such a vast territory? And to what extent was the success of the British Raj a legacy of their rule? With Sanjay Subrahmanyam, Professor of Indian History and Culture at the University of Oxford; Susan Stronge, Curator in the Asian Department of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London; Chandrika Kaul, Lecturer in Imperial History at the University of St Andrews.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Battle of Thermopylae. For the historian Herodotus, the Battle of Thermopylae was the defining clash between East and West: “The Persians fell in their scores, for the officers stood behind lashing them forward, forward all the time. Many fell into the sea and were drowned, many more were trampled to death by their comrades ... The Greeks knew they were doomed now the Persians had discovered a way round the hill, and put forth their last ounce of strength, utterly desperate, utterly unsparing of their lives. (King) Leonidas fell in this battle. He had proved himself a great and brave man”.A force of three hundred free Spartans and their King had stood and fallen before an invading army of three million, led by a brutal tyrant. Or so the story goes – such was their courage and its association with freedom that, nearly two and a half thousand years later, William Golding wrote, “A little of Leonidas lies in the fact that I can go where I like and write what I like. He contributed to setting us free”.How important are the Greek/Persian wars to the story of democracy? Was the West and its values really so far removed from life in the Persian Empire?With Tom Holland, historian and author of Persian Fire; Simon Goldhill, Professor in Greek Literature and Culture at King’s College, Cambridge; Edith Hall, Leverhulme Professor of Greek Cultural History at the University of Durham and author of Inventing the Barbarian: Greek Self-Definition through Tragedy.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the feat of astonishing intellectual engineering which provides us with millions of words in hundreds of languages. At the start of the twentieth century, in the depths of an ancient Egyptian turquoise mine on the Sinai peninsular, an archaeologist called Sir Flinders Petrie made an exciting discovery. Scratched onto rocks, pots and portable items, he found scribblings of a very unexpected but strangely familiar nature. He had expected to see the complex pictorial hieroglyphic script the Egyptian establishment had used for over 1000 years, but it seemed that at this very early period, 1700 BC, the mine workers and Semitic slaves had started using a new informal system of graffiti, one which was brilliantly simple, endlessly adaptable and perfectly portable: the Alphabet. This was probably the earliest example of an alphabetic script and it bears an uncanny resemblance to our own.Did the alphabet really spring into life almost fully formed? How did it manage to conquer three quarters of the globe? And despite its Cyrillic and Arabic variations and the myriad languages it has been used to write, why is there essentially only one alphabet anywhere in the world? With Eleanor Robson, historian of Ancient Iraq and Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford; Alan Millard, Rankin Professor Emeritus of Hebrew and Ancient Semitic Languages at the University of Liverpool; Rosalind Thomas, Professor of Greek History at Royal Holloway, University of London.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the infamous St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre. In Paris, in the high summer of 1572, a very unusual wedding was happening in the cathedral of Notre Dame. Henri, the young Huguenot King of Navarre, was marrying the King of France’s beloved sister, Margot, a Catholic. Theirs was a union designed to bring together the rival factions of France and finally end the French Wars of Religion. Paris was bustling with Huguenots and Catholics and, though the atmosphere was tense, the wedding went off without a hitch. And as they danced together at the Louvre, it seemed that the flower of French nobility had finally come together to bury its differences.That wasn’t to be: on St Bartholomew’s Day, four days after the ill-starred nuptials, so many Protestants were killed in the streets of Paris that the River Seine ran red with their blood. Was the wedding a trap? Who was to blame for the carnage and what impact did it have on the Reformation in Europe?With Diarmaid MacCulloch, Professor of the History of the Church at Oxford University and author of a new book: Reformation: Europe’s House Divided 1490-1700; Mark Greengrass, Professor of History at the University of Sheffield; Penny Roberts, Lecturer in History at the University of Warwick.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the centuries old myth of the most romantic noble outlaw. The first printed version of the Robin Hood story begins like this:“Lithe and Lysten, gentylmen/That be of frebore blodeI shall tell of a good yeman/His name was Robyn Hode/Robyn was a proude outlawe/Whyles he walked on groundeSo curteyse an outlawe as he was one/Was never none yfound”.Robin Hood is described as a ‘yeoman’ – a freeman, and though he is courteous there is not even a hint of the aristocrat he later became. In fact, in the early ballads there is no Maid Marian, no Friar Tuck, Robin does not live in the time of bad Prince John, or the crusades, does not lead a large and merry gang, and certainly never robs the rich to give to the poor. Though he always remains a trickster, and a man with a bow in a wood.Why does this most malleable of myths go through so many changes and so many centuries? And was there ever a real outlaw Robin Hood on whom the ballads, plays, novels and movies are based?With Stephen Knight, Professor of English Literature at Cardiff University and author of Robin Hood: A Mythic Biography; Thomas Hahn, Professor of English Literature at the University of Rochester, New York; Dr Juliette Wood, Secretary of the Folklore Society.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss events surrounding the medieval division of the Christian Church. In 1054, Cardinal Humbert stormed into the Cathedral of Constantinople and charged down the aisle. In his hand was a Papal Bull – a deed of excommunication - and he slammed it down onto the altar. As he swept out of the startled church, the Papal Legate and his entourage stopped at the door and symbolically shook the sullied dust of Eastern Christianity from their Catholic boots. The Pope of Rome had decreed that the Patriarch of Constantinople was denied his place in heaven, and soon afterwards the Patriarch excommunicated the Pope in return.It was the culmination of an argument over a single word in the Nicene Creed - but after a thousand years of being one Church, so began a permanent rift.But what were the real underlying reasons behind the split, what were its effects and why did it take until December 1965 for the excommunications to be finally revoked?With Henrietta Leyser, medieval historian and Fellow of St Peter’s College, Oxford; Norman Housley, Professor of Medieval History at the University of Leicester; Jonathan Shepard, editor of the Cambridge History of the Byzantine Empire.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the private trading company that helped forge the British Empire. At its peak, its influence stretched from western India to eastern China via the farthest reaches of the Indonesian archipelago. It had a fleet of 130 twelve hundred tonne ships and commanded an army of 200,000 troops that came to dominate the Indian subcontinent. It funded governments, toppled princes and generated spectacular amounts of money from trading textiles and spices. But this wasn’t an empire, it wasn’t even a state, it was a company. The East India Company, founded in 1600, lasted for 258 years before the British state gained full control of its activities. In that time it had redrawn the map of India, built an empire and reinvented the fashions and the foodstuffs of Britain. But how did the East India Company become so powerful? How did it change both India and Britain and how was the idea of a company running a country ever accepted by the British Crown?With Huw Bowen, Senior Lecturer in Economic and Social History at the University of Leicester; Linda Colley, School Professor of History at the London School of Economics; Maria Misra, Fellow and Tutor in Modern History at Keble College, Oxford.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the British aristocracy. The Greeks gave us the word aristocracy; it takes its root from ‘aristo’, meaning best and ‘kratos’, meaning rule or power. And for more than five hundred years Britain was ruled by a class that was defined, at the time, as the best. They founded their ascendancy on the twin pillars of land and heredity and in terms of privilege, preferment, power, style and wealth, they dominated British society. As the Earl of Chesterfield confidently informed the House of Lords in the mid-18th century, “We, my lords, may thank heaven that we have something better than our brains to depend upon”. What made the British Aristocracy the one of the most successful power elites in the world? And what brought about its decline?With David Cannadine, Director of the University of London’s Institute of Historical Research and author of The Decline and Fall of the British Aristocracy; Rosemary Sweet, Lecturer in History at the University of Leicester; Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, Professorial Research Fellow at Queen Mary, University of London.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the history and philosophy of warfare. The British historian Edward Gibbon wrote: “Every age, however destitute of science or virtue, sufficiently abounds with acts of blood and military renown.” War, it seems, is one of mankind’s most constant companions, one that has blighted the lives and troubled the minds of men and women from antiquity onwards. Plato envisaged a society without war, but found it had no arts, no culture and no political system. In our own time the United Nations struggles but often fails to prevent the outbreak of conflict. But how has war been understood throughout the ages? Who has it served and how has it been justified? Is war inherent to human beings or could society be organised to the exclusion of all conflict?With Sir Michael Howard, Emeritus Professor of Modern History at the University of Oxford; Angie Hobbs, Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Warwick; Jeremy Black, Professor of History at the University of Exeter.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discusses the Jacobite Rebellion. In the summer of 1745, a young man in a small French frigate landed on the West Coast of Scotland. It was Bonnie Prince Charlie who began his campaign to become king of Scotland and England. He had seven followers amongst his shipmates and took to the Highlands to raise an army from the Scottish clans: “The Highland clans with sword in hand Frae John o Groats tae AirlieHae tae a man declared to standOr fa wi Royal Charlie”.Or so the old Jacobite song goes. But why was the latest scion of the Stuart dynasty such a favourite with the Scottish Highlanders? And did Bonnie Prince Charlie ever have a real chance of gaining the throne of England? With Murray Pittock, Professor of English Literature at the University of Strathclyde; Stana Nenadic, Senior Lecturer in Social History at Edinburgh University; Allan Macinnes, Burnett-Fletcher Professor of History at Aberdeen University.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Romans in Britain. About 2000 years ago, Tacitus noted that “the climate is wretched”, Herodian said, “the atmosphere in the country is always gloomy”, Dio said “they live in tents unclothed and unshod, and share their women” and the historian Strabo said on no account should the Romans make it part of the Empire because it will never pay its way. But invade they did, and Britain became part of the Roman Empire for almost four hundred years.But what brought Romans to Britain and what made them stay? Did they prove the commentators wrong and make Britain amount to something in the Empire? Did the Romans come and go without much trace, or do those four centuries still colour our national life and character today?With Greg Woolf, Professor of Ancient History at St Andrews University; Mary Beard, Reader in Classics at Cambridge University; Catharine Edwards, Lecturer in Classics and Ancient History at Birkbeck College, London University.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Spanish Civil War which was a defining war of the twentieth century. It was a brutal conflict that polarised Spain, pitting the Left against the Right, the anti-clericals against the Church, the unions against the landed classes and the Republicans against the Monarchists. It was a bloody war which saw, in the space of just three years, the murder and execution of 350,000 people. It was also a conflict which soon became internationalised, becoming a battleground for the forces of Fascism and Communism as Europe itself geared up for war.But what were the roots of the Spanish Civil War? To what extent did Franco prosecute the war as a religious crusade? How did Franco institutionalise his victory after the war? And has Spain fully come to terms with its past?With Paul Preston, Principe de Asturias Professor of Contemporary Spanish History at the London School of Economics; Helen Graham, Professor of Spanish History at Royal Holloway, University of London; Dr Mary Vincent, Senior Lecturer in the Department of History at Sheffield University.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Aztec Empire. According to legend, the origins of it lie on a mythical island called Aztlan - "place of the white herons" - in the north of Mexico. From there this nomadic group of Mesoamericans are said to have undertaken a pilgrimage south to the fertile valleys of Central America. In the space of just 200 years, they formed what has been called the largest, and arguably the most ruthless, pre-Hispanic empire in North America which, at its zenith, was to rule over approximately 500 small states, comprising by the 16th century some 6 million people. Was it military might and intimidation alone that helped the Aztecs extend their power? What part did their complex belief system play in their imperial reach? Their use of human sacrifice has been well documented, but how widespread actually was it? How easily were the Spanish conquistadors able to Christianise this empire? And what legacy did the Aztecs leave behind that lives on in our world today?With Alan Knight, Professor of the History of Latin America at Oxford University and author of Mexico: From the Beginning to the Spanish Conquest; Adrian Locke, co-curator of the Aztecs exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts; Elizabeth Graham, Senior Lecturer in Mesoamerican Archaeology at University College London.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Scottish Enlightenment of the 18th century. In 1696 the Edinburgh student, Thomas Aitkenhead, claimed theology was "a rhapsody of feigned and ill invented nonsense". He was hanged for his trouble - just one victim of a repressive religious society called the Scottish Kirk. Yet within 60 years Scotland was transformed by the ideas sweeping the continent in what we call the Enlightenment. This Scottish Enlightenment emerged on a broad front. From philosophy to farming it championed empiricism, questioned religion and debated reason. It was crowned by the philosophical brilliance of David Hume and by Adam Smith – the father of modern economics. But what led to this ‘Scottish Miracle’, was it an indigenous phenomenon or did it depend on influence from abroad? It profoundly influenced the American revolutionaries and the British Empire, but what legacy does it have for Scotland today?With Professor Tom Devine, Director of the Research Institute of Irish and Scottish Studies at the University of Aberdeen; Karen O’Brien, Reader in English and American Literature at the University of Warwick; Alexander Broadie, Professor of Logic and Rhetoric at the University of Glasgow.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the role which architecture has played in our public life throughout history, whether in homage to an individual or as a monument to an institution or ideology, has always been a potent symbol of wealth, status and power. From castles to cathedrals, from the pyramids to Canary Wharf, architecture has always served to glorify in some way the animating ideal of the time. Why is architecture such a powerful form of expression? Have architects concerned themselves mainly with the masses, or restricted their designs to the demands and aspirations of the elite? What can a country's buildings tell us about its ideas of its own past and present identity? With Adrian Tinniswood, Architectural historian; Gavin Stamp, Senior Lecturer, Mackintosh School of Architecture, Glasgow School of Art; Gillian Darley, Architectural historian and biographer of John Soane.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss slavery and empire; two themes that run right through this country’s history. Britain’s imperial project dominated at least the last three centuries of our national life. Its advocates claim it was a civilising mission by which Britain spread enlightenment and improvement across the globe. Opponents have long seen it as a brutal business, with Britons cast as cruel oppressors out to exploit a conquered world. Is our imperial history so clear cut? What if Britons were themselves captives, either as prisoners of an imperial enterprise that sucked them in, generation after generation or, in some startling cases, as slaves to foreign peoples? Is slavery an inevitable part of empire: does it come with the territory? And how did Britain finally shake it off? With Linda Colley, School Professor of History, LSE; Catherine Hall, Professor of Modern British Social and Cultural History, University College London; Felipe Fernandez Armesto, Professorial Research Fellow, Queen Mary College London.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the role history and heritage have played in the formation of the British national identity. Historians have often maintained a guarded relationship with the so-called ¨heritage industry¨, believing that it presents a distorted version of national life: a Merrie England that is politically acceptable and economically rewarding. History, in contrast, is held to reveal the truth about the past - objectively and scientifically. Our understanding of history changed since the 19th century and, as historians interpret our time and our society, so will our ideas of heritage and history.With David Cannadine, Director of the University of London's Institute of Historical Research; Miri Rubin, Professor of European History at Queen Mary, University of London; Peter Mandler, Fellow in History, Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the impact of politics on psychoanalysis. The 20th century saw the birth and rise of psychoanalysis. Sigmund Freud led people to think about how the mind functioned and how our behaviour might be understood through the process of working with a psychoanalyst, either one-to-one or in a group. Freud thought a lot about this process and in 1922 he published Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego, in which he pronounced that the group "wants to be ruled and oppressed and to fear its masters." He was writing at a time when ideas about rules and oppression were much discussed because the 20th century was also a century of fascism, totalitarianism and dictatorship. Freud died in 1939, just as a wave of despotism was sweeping across Europe. To what extent does psychoanalysis function by the rules of a dictatorship and to what extent does it function like a democracy? Is there a part of us that craves dictatorship and, if so, why? Is there a war going on in our own minds between ideas that we allow in to our consciousness and other ideas that we repress? With Adam Phillips, general editor of the new Penguin translations of Freud; Sally Alexander, Professor of History, Goldsmiths College, University of London; Malcolm Bowie, Marshal Foch Professor of French Literature and Fellow, All Souls College, Oxford.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss how a dominant power can exert a cultural influence on its empire. An empire rests on many things: powerful armies, good administration and strong leadership, but perhaps its greatest weapon lies in the domain of culture. Culture governs every aspect of our lives: our dress sense and manners, our art and architecture, our education, law and philosophy. To govern culture, it seems, is to govern the world. But what is cultural imperialism? Can it be distinguished from cultural influence? Does it really change the way we think and should we try to prevent it even if it does?With Linda Colley, School Professor of History, London School of Economics; Phillip Dodd, Director, Institute of Contemporary Arts; Mary Beard, Reader in Classics, Cambridge University.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the myths and harsh reality of the 19th century American pioneers. In 1845 the editor of The New York Morning News wrote that it was the "manifest destiny" of the United States "to overspread and to posses the whole of the continent which providence has given us for the development of the great experiment of liberty and federated self-government entrusted to us." With such phrases ringing in their ears the pioneering wagon trains rolled west into the uncharted wilderness of the American continent. Thus began the wagon trails that cut a path beyond the frontier to California and Oregon, a path soon to be followed by gold prospectors, entrepreneurs, cowboys and finally the US army itself. But what propelled them all to go? Was it an "experiment of liberty", or the promise of a better life? Does the story of the frontier help us to understand the American psyche and do our ideas about the American West owe more to the mythology of John Wayne movies than to the history of the real trailblazers? With Frank McLynn, Visiting Professor in the Department of Literature, University of Strathclyde; Jenni Calder, Author of There Must Be a Lone Ranger: The myth and reality of the American Wild West; Christopher Frayling, Rector of the Royal College of Art.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the medieval kingdom of Bohemia which was at the crossroads of Europe and, during the 15th century, at the heart of the Holy Roman Empire. Under Charles IV, its cosmopolitan capital Prague became a cultural and intellectual centre, attracting scholars and artists from all over Europe. But Prague was awash with religious and political dissent. At its core stood the anarchist philosopher Jan Hus, whose ideas anticipated the Lutheran Reformation by a full century. He was burnt at the stake, but his followers, the Hussites, embarked on a series of wars that continue to mark the Czech and German characters even today. Why was Bohemia such a crucible of dissent and how were its ideas exported to the rest of Europe? What did it mean to be Bohemian then and how was the ancient kingdom of Bohemia, with its ferment of religious, national and ethnic ideologies, divided up to form the states of modern Central Europe? With Norman Davies, Professor Emeritus, University of London; Karin Friedrich, Lecturer in History, School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University College London; Robert Pynsent, Professor of Czech and Slovak Literature, University College London.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the history of marriage.‘To have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part.’ These marriage vows have been recited at church weddings since 1552, whenever two individuals have willingly pledged to enter into a relationship for life. But before the wedding service was written into the Book of Common Prayer, marriages were much more informal: couples could simply promise themselves to one another at any time or place and the spoken word was as good as the written contract. The ancients permitted polygamy and the taking of concubines so how did monogamy come to be the favoured mode in the West? Were procreation, financial stability, companionship, or love the reasons to get married? And what role has the state and the church played in legislating on personal affairs? With Janet Soskice, Reader in Modern Theology and Philosophical Theology, Cambridge University; Frederik Pedersen, Lecturer in History, Aberdeen University; Christina Hardyment, Social historian and journalist.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Celts. Around 400 BC a great swathe of Western Europe from Ireland to Southern Russia was dominated by one civilisation. Perched on the North Western fringe of this vast Iron Age culture were the British who shared many of the religious, artistic and social customs of their European neighbours. These customs were Celtic and this civilisation was the Celts.The Greek historians who studied and recorded the Celts' way of life deemed them to be one of the four great Barbarian peoples of the world. The Romans wrote vivid accounts of Celtic rituals including the practice of human sacrifice - presided over by Druids - and the tradition of decapitating their enemies and turning their heads into drinking vessels.But what were the Celts in Britain really like? Was their apparent lust for violence tempered by a love of poetry and beautiful art? How far should we trust the classical historians in their writings on the Celts? And what can we learn from the archaeological remains that have been discovered in this country? With Barry Cunliffe, Professor of European Archaeology at Oxford University; Alistair Moffat, Historian and author of The Sea Kingdoms - The Story of Celtic Britain and Ireland; Miranda Aldhouse Green, Professor of Archaeology at the University of Wales.
Melvyn Bragg explores the history of food in Modern Europe. The French philosopher of food Brillat-Savarin wrote in his Physiology of Taste, 'The pleasures of the table belong to all times and all ages, to every country and to every day; they go hand in hand with all our other pleasures; outlast them, and remain to console us for their loss' . The story of food is cultural as well as culinary, and what we eat and how we eat has always been linked to who we are or whom we might become, from the great humanist thinker Erasmus warning us to 'Always use a fork!' to the materialist philosopher Feuerbach telling us baldly, 'You are what you eat'.But what have we eaten, and why? In Europe since the Renaissance how have our intellectual appetites fed our empty stomachs? With Rebecca Spang, Lecturer in Modern History at University College London; Ivan Day, food historian; Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, Professor of Modern History at Oxford University.
Melvyn Bragg assesses the role Rome has played in European civilization. The myths that surround the foundation of Rome are a potent brew. Romulus and Remus, the sons of Mars, raised by a she-wolf in the woods of Latium, the Sabine women raped by the Latins, Aeneas the Trojan General, wrecked off Carthage, loved by Dido and finally founding a new civilisation on the Tiber’s banks. According to William Shakespeare, after Brutus slayed his friend Caesar he claimed, “Not that I loved Caesar less but that I loved Rome more”. But what was the idea of Rome that demanded such devotion? And how was an identity forged that exported its values to the greatest Empire the world had ever seen? Rome has meant Republicanism, as well as Imperialism; it has stood for Pax Romana and also for the machinery of war, it is an eternally pagan city that still beats as the Catholic Heart of the Christian Church. With Mary Beard, Reader in Classics at Cambridge University, Catherine Edwards, Lecturer in Classics and Ancient History at Birkbeck College, London University; Greg Woolf, Professor of Ancient History at St Andrews University.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the highs and lows of the Third Crusade. In 1095 Pope Urban II launched the First Crusade and by the end of the 11th century an army of Franks had driven what they called the ‘infidel arab’ out of Jerusalem. The Crusaders held the city for over eighty years until Saladin, Sultan of Egypt and Syria, seized it back in 1187. The Muslim world celebrated as the Christian world shuddered and Pope Gregory VIII issued a Papal Bull for restoring the Holy City to Christian Rule. The Kings of Europe clamoured for the honour to take up the challenge. However, the Third Crusade did not get off to a ripping start. The Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick Barbarossa, set off at the head of the greatest crusader army ever assembled but drowned whilst crossing a small stream in Armenia. This left Phillip of France and ultimately Richard of England to take on Saladin’s supremacy in the Middle East. What happened in that famous encounter? How did the names of Saladin and Richard the Lionheart come to bear such a weight of reputation across the centuries and were the crusades racial, imperial or religious wars? With Jonathan Riley-Smith, Dixie Professor of Ecclesiastical History at Cambridge University and author of many books on the Crusades, Carole Hillenbrand, Professor of Islamic History at the University of Edinburgh, Tariq Ali, novelist, playwright and author of The Book of Saladin.
Melvyn Bragg examines the British Empire. It was officially created on 1st January 1877 when Disraeli had Queen Victoria proclaimed Empress of India, and it formally dissolved into the ‘Commonwealth’ in 1958. But imperial passions stirred in Britain long before Victoria’s investiture and the ethos of Imperialism lives on.At its height in 1919 the British Empire stretched from East to West, incorporating one quarter of the globe and included such diverse colonies as Canada, Australia, parts of South America, the Persian Gulf, the Middle East and China, New Zealand, much of Africa and of course India. By 1960 it had all but vanished off the face of the earth. What drove Britain to build such an immense Empire, why did it all disappear so quickly and what kind of legacy was left behind? With Maria Misra, Lecturer in Modern History and Fellow of Keble College, Oxford, Peter Cain, Research Professor in History at Sheffield Hallam University and Catherine Hall, Professor of Modern Social and Cultural History at University College London.
Melvyn Bragg examines the philosophy of Confucius. In the 5th century BC a wise man called Kung Fu Tzu said, 'study the past if you would divine the future'. This powerful maxim helped form the body of ideas, which more than Buddhism, more than Daoism, more even than Communism has defined what it is to be Chinese. It is a philosophy that we call Confucianism, and as well as asserting the importance of learning from the past it embodies a respect for heirachy, ritual and parents.But who was Confucius, what were his ideas and how did they succeed in becoming the bedrock for a civilisation? With Frances Wood, Curator of the Chinese section of the British Library, Tim Barrett Professor of East Asian History at SOAS, the School of African and Oriental Studies at London University, and Dr Tao Tao Liu, Tutorial Fellow in Oriental Studies at Wadham College, Oxford University.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the histories of Napoleon and the Duke of Wellington. On the morning of the battle of Waterloo Napoleon told his loyal lieutenants, “I tell you that Wellington is a bad general, that the English are bad troops and ce sera l’affaire d’un dejeuner”...in other words; ‘this, my friends, will be a picnic!’ But did Napoleon really have such little respect for the man who would be his nemesis, or when he dismissed the Iron Duke so lightly was he just trying to raise morale? There are some curious parallels between the two rivals, they were both born in the same year, 1769, both read the works of Caesar and chose Hannibal as their personal hero, both enjoyed the pleasures of two of the same mistresses, and they even ate the food of the same personal chef. Though Wellington bested Napoleon on the field of Waterloo in 1815, who was the greater general, who left the larger legacy and ultimately, who won? With Andrew Roberts, military historian; Mike Broers, University of Aberdeen; Belinda Beaton, from the Department of History of Art, at Oxford University.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the origins of democracy. In the Gettysburg Address Abraham Lincoln called it “Government of the people, by the people, for the people”, but the word democracy appears nowhere in the American Constitution; the French Revolution was fought for Liberté, Egalité and Fraternité and the most that Churchill claimed for it was that it was “the worst form of government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” The Athenian city state famously practised participatory democracy, but neither Plato nor Socrates approved, the Romans turned their back on the idea of ‘mob rule’ and it is not until the nineteenth century that it becomes even moderately respectable to call oneself a democrat.So how did democracy rise to become the most cherished form of government in the world? In this programme we hope to trace the history of an idea across the cultures and centuries of Europe and the Middle East. And at a time when ideals of democracy are being thrown into stark relief by world events, we hope to gain a greater understanding of where democratic ideals have come from.With Melissa Lane, University Lecturer in the History of Political Thought; David Wootton, Professor of Intellectual History at Queen Mary College, London; Tim Winter, Assistant Muslim Chaplain at Cambridge University where he is Lecturer in Islamic Studies.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the culture, history and legacy of the eastern Byzantine Empire. In 453 with the Barbarians at the gate, through the gate and sacking the city of Rome “the wide arch of the ranged empire” finally began to fall...Or did it? In AD 395 the Emperor Theodosius had divided the vast Roman Empire between his two sons. The Northern and Western Europe provinces were governed from Rome, but the Eastern Empire became based on the Bosphorous in the city of Constantinople. And when Rome crumbled and the Dark Ages fell across Western Europe, the Eastern Roman Empire endured, with its ancient texts, its classical outlook and its Imperial society…for another one thousand years. How did the East survive when the West fell, were they really Romans and why do we know so little about one of the most successful and long lived Empires ever to straddle the globe? Did its scholars with their Greek manuscripts enable the Western Renaissance to take place? And why has it so often been sidelined and undermined by history and historians? With Charlotte Roueché, Reader in Classical and Byzantine Greek, Kings College London; John Julius Norwich, author of a three part history of Byzantium: The Early Centuries, The Apogee and Decline and Fall; Liz James, Senior Lecturer in the History of Art, University of Sussex.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the French Revolution. In 1789 the Bastille was stormed, the King Louis XVI was put under national guard and the calendar was turned back to zero. The French Revolution began its upheavals in the name of Liberté, Egalité and Fraternité.On this side of the English Channel there were those who thought it ‘bliss in that dawn to be alive’, but the statesman and philosopher Edmund Burke was not among them. He said, “The age of chivalry is gone. That of sophisters, economists, and calculators, has succeeded; and the glory of Europe is extinguished for ever”.What was really the end of an age? What was the impact of this revolution on the culture of Europe? And did it really change political life in Britain for ever? With Stefan Collini, Professor of Intellectual History and English Literature at Cambridge University; Anne Janowitz, Professor of Romantic Poetry at Queen Mary College, London;the nineteenth century historian Andrew Roberts.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the the Glorious Revolution. In 1688, with a fair wind behind him and no naval opposition in front, William of Orange and his Dutch fleet sailed safely into Torbay on the South coast and thus began a period of history known - in England at least - as The Glorious Revolution. The story goes that the English, fed up with their Catholic King James II and alarmed at the prospect of a Catholic succession, ‘invited’ William to come to England and save Parliament, Protestantism and the rights of ordinary citizens. William was cheered all the way to London where, with the backing of Parliament and the people, he and his wife Mary were installed as joint sovereign monarchs of England, Ireland and Scotland. Victorian historians like Macaulay claimed that this was the era that defined British democracy, but how much of the spirit of 1688 is enwrapped within our unwritten Constitution? Were the events of 1688 really either Glorious or Revolutionary?With John Spurr, Reader in History at the University of Wales, Swansea; Rosemary Sweet, Lecturer in Economic and Social History at the University of Leicester; Scott Mandelbrote, Fellow and Director of Studies at Peterhouse, Cambridge.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the causes of the fall of the Roman Empire. Edward Gibbon wrote of its decline, "While that great body was invaded by open violence, or undermined by slow decay, a pure and humble religion gently insinuated itself into the minds of men, grew up in silence and obscurity, derived new vigour from opposition, and finally erected the triumphant banner of the cross on the ruins of the Capitol."But how far is the growth of Christianity implicated in the destruction of the great culture of Rome? How critical were the bawdy incursions of the Ostrogoths, the Visigoths and the Vandals to the fall of the Roman Empire? Should we even be talking in terms of blame and decline at all?St Augustine wrote about the fall of the Roman Empire in the fifth century AD, Edward Gibbon famously tackled it in the eighteenth and it is a question that preoccupies us today.With Charlotte Roueché, historian of late antiquity at Kings College London; David Womersley, Fellow and Tutor at Jesus College, Oxford and editor of Edward Gibbon’s The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire; Richard Alston, Lecturer in Classics at Royal Holloway, University of London.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the power of Money. In the Bible the Old Testament and the New Testament appear to agree about the power of money: Ecclesiastes says “Money answereth all things” and Timothy says “The love of money is the root of all evil”. It is a theme that seems to echo down the centuries with seemingly everyone from Karl Marx to the cast of Cabaret crying out “Money makes the world go around”. But are economic factors really the invisible hand behind all historical events? Can everything in the end be brought down to the influence of money? With Niall Ferguson, Professor of Political and Financial History at the University of Oxford; Richard J Evans, Professor of Modern History at the University of Cambridge; Jane Humphries, reader in Economic History at Oxford University.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Restoration. On 29th May 1660, on his thirtieth birthday, Charles II rode into London on horseback and was restored to the thrones of England and Wales, of Scotland and of Ireland. A ‘golden age’ descended on a people that had been ravaged by civil war, religious division, Cromwellian tyranny and puritanical laws: suddenly the theatres were re-opened, Christmas was celebrated once again, all Orange-sellers were beautiful and peace and prosperity reigned across the land. Or at least that’s one version of the Restoration story. But despite the architecture of Wren, the literature of Dryden, and the philosophy of Hobbes, can an era that is suffused in Plague and in Fire, and culminates in something called The Glorious Revolution, ever really have had it so good?With Dr Mark Goldie, lecturer in History, Churchill College, University of Cambridge; Richard Ollard author of The Image of the King: Charles I and Charles II; Dr Clare Jackson, lecturer and Director of Studies in History, Trinity Hall, Cambridge.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Humanism. On the 3rd January 106 BC Marcus Tullius Cicero, lawyer, politician, Roman philosopher and the founding father of Humanism was born. His academy, the Studia Humanitas taught ‘the art of living well and blessedly through learning and instruction in the fine arts’, his version of ‘humanitas’ put man not God at the centre of the world.Centuries later, Cicero’s teachings had been metamorphosed into ‘Classical Humanism’, a faith in the soft arts of the Greek world. But how did Cicero’s ideas become Renaissance ideals? How did a small Greek curriculum later become a world philosophy? The human centred creed is credited with giving us human rights and democracy but has also been blamed for the most unspeakable horrors of the modern age. Have his ideas been distorted through the centuries for political ends? And why do some contemporary thinkers think the Humanist tradition is responsible for Elitism, Sexism and even Nazism? With Tony Davies, Professor and Head of the Department of English, University of Birmingham and author of Humanism; Lisa Jardine, Professor of Renaissance Studies, Queen Mary College, University of London and Honorary Fellow of Kings College Cambridge; Simon Goldhill, Reader in Greek Literature and Culture at Kings College Cambridge.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Enlightenment. In Germany it's called Aufklarung, in France it's the Siecle De Lumieres, and in Britain it's called the Age of Enlightenment. It's the period around the eighteenth century when an intellectual movement committed to science and opposed to superstition, embraced the greatest minds of Europe and America; Descartes, Kant, Leibniz, Montesquie, Diderot, Voltaire, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin. But where are all the British thinkers? According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, 'ideas concerning God, reason, nature and man were synthesised into a world view that gained wide assent and that instigated revolutionary developments in art, philosophy and politics'. Some historians in the past have claimed that The Enlightenment passed these islands by, but in his new book Enlightenment: Britain and The Creation of The Modern World, Roy Porter says The Enlightenment was British first, and that the modern world started here. With Roy Porter, Professor in the Social History of Medicine, Wellcome Trust Centre of University College London, Linda Colley, Leverhulme Research Professor and School Professor of History, London School of Economics; Jeremy Black, Professor of History at Exeter University.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discusses the Tudor State. In 1485 Henry Tudor slew Richard III and routed his army at The Battle of Bosworth Field. It was a decisive victory which founded a bold new dynasty; and this date like 1789 and 1066 has been taken by historians to be one of the great ‘year zeros’ of history: Suddenly the muddled Medieval World with its robber barons, feudal barbarism and bloody Wars of the Roses was banished, and the modern age of centralised government and King’s Justice was ushered in. But were the Tudors as instrumental in reshaping the British state as historians have liked to make out, and did their reign throughout the 16th century really lay the political foundations of our own age? With John Guy, Professor of Modern History, University of St Andrews; Christopher Haigh, Tutor of Modern History at Christ Church College, Cambridge; Christine Carpenter, Fellow in History at New Hall, Cambridge.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss how history has struggled to explain the enormity of the crimes committed in Germany under Adolf Hitler: we have had theories of ‘totalitarianism’, and of ‘distorted modernity’, debates between ‘intentionalists’ and their opponents the ‘structuralists’. The great political philosopher Hannah Arendt said, “Under conditions of tyranny, it is far easier to act than to think”. But somehow none of these explanations has seemed quite enough to explain how a democratic country in the heart of modern Europe was mobilised to commit genocide, and to fight a bitter war to the end against the world’s most powerful nations.With Ian Kershaw, historian and biographer of Hitler; Niall Ferguson, fellow and tutor in Modern History at Jesus College Oxford; Mary Fulbrook, Professor of German History at University College London.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the history of London. To T.S.Eliot it was the “Unreal City”, to Wordsworth “Earth has not anything to show more fair” but to Shelley, “Hell is a city much like London”. At the start of this twenty-first century the capital city covers an area of 625 square miles, is home to 7 million souls, and has an economy which at more than £115 billion is larger than that of Saudi Arabia, Ireland or Singapore. Is this modern metropolis still the place that the poets described? Can there be such a thing as a history of a city, which in each generation sucks in its communities from around the country and around the globe? In a city whose buildings have been razed, whose people have been decimated and whose borders have been dramatically redrawn, what is there that connects it to its own past?With Peter Ackroyd, author of London: The Biography; Claire Tomalin, author and biographer of Samuel Pepys; Iain Sinclair, poet, novelist and author of Liquid City and Lights Out for the Territory.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss biography which sells more books now than ever before; last year people in this country spent 115 million pounds on 12 and a half million copies of biographies. And it’s not just in Britain that life stories are popular; the United States Library of Congress found recently that in the previous six months more people had read a biography than any other kind of book. But what drives this fascination in the lives of others; lives which have often long since passed. Why do the literary studies of often long dead characters make such popular books? And what is the role of the biographer who provides that account? Truthful chronicler, or inevitably biased re-inventor?With Richard Holmes, writer, biographer and the author of Sidetracks:Explorations of a Romantic Biographer; Nigel Hamilton, biographer, Director of the British Institute of Biography and Professor of Biography, De Montfort University, Leicester; Amanda Foreman, biographer of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Wars of the Roses which have been the scene for many a historical skirmish over the ages: The period in the fifteenth century when the House of Lancaster and the House of York were continually at odds is described by Shakespeare, in the three parts of Henry VI and Richard III as a time of enormous moral, military and political turmoil - the quintessential civil war; but twentieth century historians like K.B. Macfarlane argued the political instability is wildly overstated and there were no Wars of the Roses at all. Opposing this position are the many Tudor historians who like to claim that the Wars of the Roses represent the final breakdown of the feudal system and lead directly to the Tudor Era and the birth of the modern age.With Dr Helen Castor, Fellow and Director of Studies in History, Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge; Professor Colin Richmond, Emeritus Professor of History, Keele University; Dr Steven Gunn is a Tudor historian and Fellow and Tutor in Modern History, Merton College, Oxford.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the history of modern warfare. In the early nineteenth century the Prussian General Karl von Clausewitz seemed to define war for all time when he called it “an act of violence intended to compel our opponent to fulfil our will” and “nothing but a continuation of politics with the admixture of other means”. But after the nuclear bomb, the Cold War and the brutal and perplexing recent wars in Africa and Eastern Europe does his definition still hold true? Or are we in a new era when the idea of a continuation of peacetime politics and the notion of a national will is increasingly irrelevant? Are the technologically billion dollar new wars, coupled with the wars on the ground which are more like crimes, revolutions or more organised violence than war, a way of following Clausewitz’s notion of war as a continuation of politics by other means or do they constitute something completely different?With Sir Michael Howard, Emeritus Professor of Modern History, Oxford University; Dr Mary Kaldor, Director of the Programme on Global Civil Society, London School of Economics; General Sir Michael Rose, former Commander of the United Nations Protection Force in Bosnia and author of Fighting for Peace: Lessons from Bosnia.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss what can be learnt from history. Many of us were taught that an understanding of the past was essential to a knowledge of the present and, more excitingly, to a view of the future. Dig deep into the pockets of Greece and Rome, the Medievals and the Enlightened, drink deep at the well of history and from that sacred study, as from the Oracle at Delphi, would come prophecies, predictions, a sense of what is to come, based on a belief in the continuity of history. But in the 1980s reputable historians predicted the end of the American empire and the rise and rise of the Russian empire. And Lord Metroland, the old booby in Evelyn Waugh’s novel Put Out More Flags, was forever reading history wrongly. But the way we read history is a matter of key intellectual significance. The eminent historian Eric Hobsbawm’s book The New Century came out when the 21st century was but a few months old. Is it really possible for history to tell us something about an era which has hardly begun? Can we ever predict the future by understanding the past? Should we seek to understand the past because it holds important lessons for the future - or is history, as Henry Ford would have it, “more or less bunk”?With Richard J Evans, Professor of Modern History, University of Cambridge; Eric Hobsbawm, eminent historian and author of The New Century.
Melvyn Bragg examines materialism and the consumer. Does consumerism - as a cult, a fact, a need, a religion - threaten culture as we have known it, individuality as we desire it, life as we aspire to its best condition? Is the march of Mammon an army of jack-booted businessmen, using the propaganda of advertising and the seduction of the supermarket to trample us into submission, and into the worshipping of the great god - Buy? Or is the consumer the new source of power? A truer, more democratic individual freedom? Wordsworth prophesied much current criticism of consumerism when he wrote “The world is too much with us; late and soon,/getting and spending we lay waste our powers: Little we see in Nature that is ours:/We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!”. How has ‘getting and spending’ come to enjoy the place of importance it holds in our lives, and why have we so often seen shopping as in opposition to some notion of our ‘true natures’?With Rachel Bowlby, Professor of English, University of York and author of Carried Away: The Invention of Modern Shopping; William Gibson, science fiction writer and author of Neuromancer and All Tomorrow’s Parties.
For some time, in some intellectual quarters in the West, Vladimir Ilich Ulyanov - also known as Lenin - was regarded as an understandable revolutionary, perhaps a necessary revolutionary given the actions of the Tsars, certainly a sympathetic revolutionary compared with his successor - Stalin. He became an icon in Russia - his body unburied, lying in Red Square in a state of permanent, imminent resurrection. The Russian Presidential Elections take place at the end of the month, and the Acting President, Vladimir Putin, promised that if he won he would finally take the body of Lenin from Red Square and bury him. But whether the country will be able to escape the extraordinary influence of the man, his ideas and his machinery of oppression is another matter. In his short period in power between 1917 and 1924 Vladimir Illyich Lenin invented the one party state, developed a model to export communism around the world and built a completely original political system that remained intact for over seventy years. What drove him and enabled him to achieve success?Robert Service, lecturer in Russian History and Fellow of St Anthony’s College, Oxford and biographer of Lenin; Vitali Vitaliev, author, columnist, broadcaster former Soviet Journalist of the Year.
Melvyn Bragg examines how English republicanism has developed from Cromwell to the present day. Before the French Revolution, before the American Declaration of Independence, before Rousseau, Thomas Paine and Marx there was the English Revolution. In 1649 England executed its King - Charles Stuart - and declared itself a republic.But was republicanism a reaction to the fact of the dead absolutist king, a pragmatic response to an absence of ruler as many historians have thought, or was there republicanism already embedded as a sentiment deep within the culture of England? And where is it now? From the marching out onto the scaffold in Whitehall of Charles I and the subsequent loss of his head, while England gained a republic - what has republicanism meant for Britain? With Dr Sarah Barber, lecturer in the Department of History, Lancaster University and author of Regicide and Republicanism: Politics and Ethics in the English Revolution 1646-1659; Andrew Roberts, historian, journalist, conservative thinker and author of Salisbury: Victorian Titan.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss economic rights. Is democracy the truest conduit of capitalism, or do the forces that make us rich run counter to the democratic institutions that safeguard our rights? The economist Milton Friedman once said, “If freedom weren’t so economically efficient it wouldn’t stand a chance”. If that was ever true, is it still the case as we enter the era of the globalised economy? What is the relationship between democracy and capitalism? Is it possible for a country to get rich and stay rich without a liberal constitution and what is the prospect of the ever looming spectre of ‘globalised capital’ infringing human rights?With Professor Amartya Sen, Master of Trinity College, Cambridge and winner of the 1998 Nobel Prize in Economic Science; Will Hutton, former Editor of The Observer, Director of The Industrial Society and author of The State We’re In.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss childhood. The 20th Century was proclaimed the Century of the Child. It has been much else but in the western world the position, the possibilities, the meaning and the story of childhood have been changed, for many, monumentally. Children join the workforce much later, they are born into smaller, usually more affluent families than a hundred years ago, they tend to spend their parents’ money rather than contributing to the family coffers, they are handed over to the school for what used to be called the best years of their lives. Children have been involved in a spectacular journey in the last hundred years. St Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: But when I became a man, I put away childish things”. But is it really as simple as that, can one always make such a clear distinction between childhood and being an adult, and is such a division even desirable?For most of this century - in the Western World - childhood has been another country with different laws and separate truths, it is something we either feel we missed or somewhere to which we long to return. Has it always been such a cherished state and do our endless machinations to keep childhood special actually help the individual? With Christina Hardyment, social historian and author of The Future of the Family; Dr Theodore Zeldin, Senior Fellow, St Anthony’s College, Oxford and author of An Intimate History of Humanity.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss progress. As man has grown in years and knowledge, has he also progressed in terms of happiness and a true understanding of the human condition? It was the Enlightenment which gave birth to the idea of the possibility of progress. The biblical account of time which had held sway until the eighteenth century was replaced by a conceit which put Man, not God, at the centre of the story of progress. But do we still believe in that story? Have we reached the end of history and the culmination of man’s evolution? Was the Argentinean writer Jorge Louis Borges right when he said “We have stopped believing in progress. What progress that is!”. Can our moral progress keep up with our material progress, be sober in a technologically inebriated world, be in any way more than a fig leaf covering the untameable old Adam whose tragedy - more Greek than Christian - has made and marred this century? Is there such a thing at all as moral progress, or have Darwin and Freud between them cut it out of the conceit of homo sapiens? With Anthony O’Hear, Professor of Philosophy, University of Bradford; Adam Phillips, psychoanalyst and author of Darwin’s Worms.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the history and the modern purpose of education. Nobody - would argue with the fact that education is of central importance to the people we are. And there seems to be no doubt at all that fine skills, flexible life-long learning and cultivated intelligence are the keys to all our futures. So how do we tackle what was until recently - just two hundred years ago - a unique preserve of the few, the privileged or the plucked out exceptions? Plato made his priorities in education plain when he inscribed over the entrance to the Academy “Let no one ignorant of mathematics enter here”. He prized learning that revealed what he called “eternal reality, the realm unaffected by the vicissitudes of change and decay”, and this became the objective of education in Europe for thousands of years - vocational education, concrete skills, was hardly dreamed of. But was he right? What is education for: is its role to teach us the nature of reality, or to give us the tools to deal with it?With Mary Warnock, philosopher and educationalist; Ted Wragg, Professor of Education, University of Exeter.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the widespread and chilling atrocities of the 20th century. Just over a hundred years ago, in the ‘Genealogy of Morals’, Nietzsche wrote “there can be no doubt that morality will gradually perish: this is the great spectacle in a hundred acts reserved for the next two centuries in Europe”. What if he is right? Certainly the twentieth century can claim the bitter palm of being the century with the biggest body count, the most advanced savagery, the finest of death delivery systems and, in that sense, the true Dark Ages of humankind. For inhumanity there has never been a century like it in the history of man: 58 million people died in the slaughter of two world wars. Stalinist Russia killed 20 million of its own people. The Nazis killed 6 million Jews. 2 million people were killed in Vietnam, 3 million in Korea, and in 1994 in Rwanda 1 million ordinary people were suddenly turned on and killed by their neighbours. And all the while in this bloody century the private and individual murder of one human by another has risen inexorably.What are the conditions that allow man to be inhuman to man on such a scale? And can a scientific study of the mind ever uncover the routes of inhumanity or evil?With Jonathan Glover, philosopher and Director of the Centre of Medical Law and Ethics, King’s College, London; Dr Gwen Adshead, consultant psychiatrist, Broadmoor Special Hospital.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the history of the concept of the individual. The Renaissance gave birth to the concept of the individual. Shakespeare defined this individual in language which accepted the primacy of the male gender: “What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason! How infinite in faculty! In form, in moving, how express and admirable! In action how like an angel! In apprehension how like a God!” According to Michel Foucault, French philosopher, polar opposite of Shakespeare and backed as he thought by Marx and Freud, our century killed the individual off. But has it? Was the individual born a mere six hundred years ago and has the century tolled its bell? And what is the individual?With Richard Wollheim, Professor of Philosophy, University of California in Berkeley; Jonathan Dollimore, Professor of English, York University.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Nation State. When we speak of our island story which island do we mean? When did England elide with Britain and why does it sit uneasily alongside the United Kingdom? At the end of the 20th century, the identity of one of the most forceful countries of the millennium is subject to scrutiny, doubt and criticism. What is England now? When did it act as England and not Britain, or the UK, or the British Isles? And how does its new role fit in with the idea of the Nation State which has dominated the internal and, more dramatically, the external behaviour of many powerful countries over the last few centuries? Yet despite its mighty past the Nation State itself can now seem powerless against the forces of globalisation. With Norman Davies, Emeritus Professor, London University and author of The Isles: A History; Andrew Marr, former editor of The Independent and author of Ruling Britannia: the Failure and Future of British Democracy.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the concept of Utopia. Both the idea of, and the longing for a perfect society have been in our imagination for centuries, even millennia. Utopian dreams have driven fantasy, Fascism and fine feeling.Utopias, by definition, do not exist. The literal meaning of the Greek is “nowhere”. And yet, we are still enthralled by its allure. Why do some of us still believe in it - after the devastation wreaked this century by the utopian ideals that gave rise to Fascism and Communism? And what do utopias in fiction tell about the present - and even future?With Dr Anthony Grayling, human rights campaigner, lecturer in philosophy at Birkbeck College, London and Fellow of St Anne’s College, Oxford; John Carey, distinguished critic, journalist, broadcaster, Merton Professor of English, Oxford University and editor of, The Faber Book of Utopias.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Africa. It could be seen as the great test of the West; economically, intellectually, spiritually. The "dark continent" was seen as a source of power for the West through its natural resources, a place of harvest for western religious missionaries, a prize area for anthropologists - a dark continent to be illuminated by our western lights. Now, darker, all but extinguished some think, by the attentions of its invaders, Africa is outside the take-up of the twentieth century it seems. But is this received view is merely clichéd and too easily pessimistic. With Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr, Chair of the Afro-American Studies Department, Harvard University and presenter of the BBC 2 series Into Africa; Anthony Sampson, writer, journalist and author of Mandela: The Authorised Biography.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss capitalism throughout the last two centuries. In 1848 Karl Marx in The Communist Manifesto described the dynamic force of capitalism as it swept through the 19th century: Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation. ‘All that is solid melts into air’. Was Karl Marx, in criticizing capitalism, actually responsible for defining it? From Marx’s critique of capitalism in the 19th Century through to the collapse of Communism at the end of the twentieth century, have we witnessed the triumph of capitalism? Or are we only now learning the full costs and the social impact of unfettered capitalism?With Anatole Kaletsky, economics commentator and Associate Editor of The Times, and author of The Costs of Default and In the Shadow of Debt; Edward Luttwak, Senior Fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Washington DC and author of Turbo Capitalism: Winners and Losers in the Global Economy.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the shift that has gone on through the 20th century from our being an industrial society to what is often called ‘the information society’. Francis Fukuyama’s book, The Great Disruption talks of the third great shift in the whole history of humankind. Along with all the technological and economic changes, in the past thirty years we have seen massive social changes. What has been the cause of this shift and how will we recover the social cohesion that preceded it? With Francis Fukuyama, Hirst Professor of Public Policy, George Mason University, Washington DC and author of The Great Disruption: Human Nature and the Reconstitution of Social Order; Amos Oz, author and Professor of Hebrew Literature, Ben-Gurion University, Beer-Sheva.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the British monarchy. In the last two hundred and fifty years, we’ve beheaded one king, exiled another, hired a distant German-speaking dynasty to fill the monarch’s role, and then mocked and ignored them, suffered a mad man and then a lavish sensualist, threatened a young queen, and then, over a century ago, invented a pageantry which brought majesty to a monarchy which is now tilting at the twenty first century against many and mighty odds. How has the monarchy survived since the execution of Charles the First two hundred and fifty years ago and what relevance does it have in a devolved Britain?With Professor David Cannadine, Director of the Institute of Historical Research, London and former Lecturer in History and Fellow, Christ’s College, Cambridge; Bea Campbell, sociologist, journalist and author of Diana, Princess of Wales.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the idea of a just war. There were theories about a justified or noble war before the birth of Christ, but it was his reported teachings and a powerful influence, particularly on the Emperor Constantine, which set the standard which had to be kept or bluntly modified. “I say unto you, love your own image,” Matthew writes, “bless them that curse you, be good to them that hate you and persecute you”. In the fifth century, the mighty St Augustus prised the Christian church away from Christ’s reported teachings and the idea of a Just War took root to be formalised and given power by St Thomas Aquinas in the thirteenth century, and by other Christian commentators even up to this day. But after a century, our century, of almost unimaginably violent conflict, does the term a Just War have any meaning at all? The historian AJP Taylor wrote that "the medieval pursuit of the just war is a pursuit as elusive as the Holy Grail. For it is almost universally true that in war each side thinks itself in the right, and there is no arbiter except victory to decide between them". So is the Christian idea of the Just War simply a way of justifying aggression or is it a moral position to take?With Professor John Keane, Professor of Politics, University of Westminster and Director of the Centre for the Study of Democracy; Dr Niall Ferguson, Fellow and Tutor in Modern History, Jesus College, Oxford and author of The Pity of War.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the importance of geography and ecology in determining world history since civilisation began. The 18th century historian Thomas Carlyle said that world history was the history of what great men have accomplished, but this understanding of history is being increasingly called into question. Professor Jared Diamond’s book Guns, Germs and Steel, which won the 1998 Rhone Poulenc Prize for Science and the Pulitzer Prize for non-fiction, is a re-evaluation of the last 13,000 years of the history of mankind - particularly in the light of geography and ecology. But what are the implications of looking at world history as being determined by geography and ecology? Is environment really the determining factor in history? And if so, what role does cultural heritage play in shaping different histories? With Professor Jared Diamond, ecologist and physiologist at the Los Angeles Medical School, University of California, and author of Guns, Germs and Steel; Richard Evans, Professor of Modern History, Cambridge University.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Britain's colonial legacy. The 18th, 19th and early part of the 20th centuries were times of colonial conquest for this country but the abiding image of empire (true or not) is stuck squarely in the 1850’s when Victoria was on the throne and the world map was liberally sprinkled with red. So what does that mean for us as we go into the next millennium - Catherine Hall, Professor of Modern British Social History at University College London, asks us to 're-remember' our colonial past, and suggests that only by acknowledging the guilt it has saddled us with and its legacy of a truly multi-cultural Britain can we face our new life in Europe.Are there different ways of remembering that past, and what effect do these different approaches have on our present? Are we still too close to our imperial past to view it objectively, or is the reverse true - that we are too deeply rooted in our present to learn the lessons of that past? With Catherine Hall, Professor Modern British Social and Cultural History, University College, London; Professor Linda Colley, currently holder of the Leverhulme Research Professorship at the London School of Economics and former Professor of History, Yale University.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss how legitimate it is to call the 20th century the American century. Just how benevolent has America’s impact on the world been? And how durable has American’s initial idealism proved to be? Have ideals of democracy and freedom been forged across the globe as a result of the American influence, or has American oppression made the bigger impact? Has America ignored its own inequalities whilst advocating democratic capitalism elsewhere? Can America still lay claim to the idealism which fired its founders, or has materialism, with its uncomfortable corollary deprivation, lain waste to those early ideals?With Harry Evans, former editor of The Sunday Times, now an American citizen and author of The American Century; John Lloyd, associate editor of The New Statesman and former Times correspondent in Moscow and East European Editor of the Financial Times.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the study of history this century. One of the debates raging in the practice of history is between the history of facts versus the imagination - a debate raised again by so-called ‘faction’ - fiction based on documentary facts which is so much in our minds today from films and television. But in fact it is a debate which has been going on throughout the century within history. The 19th century historian Thomas Macaulay wrote that History is under the jurisdiction of two hostile powers; and like other districts similarly situated it is ill-defined, ill-cultivated and ill-regulated. Instead of being equally shared between its two rulers, the Reason and the Imagination, it falls alternately under the sole and absolute dominion of each. It is sometimes fiction and sometimes theory.Why is the study of history important? Is history relevant to us today? Are the truths likely to be yielded from history closer to those disclosed in great novels than the abstract general laws sought by social scientists? And what is the role of imagination in the writing of history? With Simon Schama, Old Dominion Professor of Humanities, Columbia University in New York and currently filming a 16-part series for BBC Television on the history of Britain; Lady Antonia Fraser historian, writer and author of biographies of Mary Queen of Scots, Cromwell and Charles II.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the changing nature of work practices and the work ethic as it pertains at the end of the 20th century. Has our understanding of the nature and function of work really changed so radically since the beginning of the century? How can the past inform the future in the rapidly changing work environment? Has technology usurped craftsmanship, or is this no more than a superficial reading of an increasingly complex scene?With Professor Richard Sennett, visiting professor, London School for Economics and author of The Corrosion of Character - the Personal Consequences of Work in the New Capitalism; Theodore Zeldin, historian and Fellow of St Anthony’s College, Oxford; Melanie Phillips, columnist on The Sunday Times and currently working on a book about The Sex Change State.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the artistic, cultural and innovative developments of the city in the 20th century and is joined by two practitioners of the geographer’s art; Professor Doreen Massey, who was awarded the Vautrin Lud International Geography prize - the geographer’s equivalent of the Nobel Prize, and Sir Peter Hall, whose books include The World Cities and Cities Tomorrow. They take a twentieth century perspective on the development of the city. How have cities changed since 1900, and what is their future? How has the 20th century been the century of the city?With Sir Peter Hall, Professor of Planning at the Bartlett School of Architecture and Planning, University College, London, Fellow of the British Academy and a member of the Academia Europea; Doreen Massey, Professor of Geography, Faculty of Social Sciences, Open University and recipient of the Vautrin Lud International Geography Prize and the Victoria Medal of the Royal Geographical Society.
Melvyn Bragg talks to Gore Vidal and Alan Clarke about the future of the nation-state; is the concept dead and buried? And what is the relationship between politics and morality - have salaciousness and self-righteousness taken over where seriousness of intent and a strong nerve left off, or was it ever thus? With Gore Vidal, American writer, commentator and author of The Smithsonian Institution; Alan Clarke, historian, politician and author of The Tories: Conservatives and the Nation State, 1922-97.
In the first programme of a new series examining ideas and events which have shaped thinking in philosophy, religion, science and the arts, Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss warfare and human rights in the 20th century. He talks to Michael Ignatieff about the life of one of the 20th century’s leading philosophers, Isaiah Berlin, and to Sir Michael Howard about the 20th century will be remembered; as a century of progress or as one of the most murderous in history. When we see pictures on television of starving people in war torn areas most of us feel we must ‘do’ something. Where does the feeling that we are in some way responsible for our fellow human beings originate historically? How has technology affected the concept of the Just War? And what are the prospects for world peace as we enter the next century? With Michael Ignatieff, writer, broadcaster and biographer of Isaiah Berlin; Sir Michael Howard, formerly Regius Professor of History, Oxford University and joint editor of the new Oxford History of the Twentieth Century.