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24
SEP

Cave Art

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss ideas about the Stone Age people who created the extraordinary images found in caves around the world, from hand outlines to abstract symbols to the multicoloured paintings of prey animals at Chauvet and, as shown above, at Lascaux. In the 19th Century, it was assumed that only humans could have made these, as Neanderthals would have lacked the skills or imagination, but new tests suggest otherwise. How were the images created, were they meant to be for private viewing or public spaces, and what might their purposes have been? And, if Neanderthals were capable of creative work, in what ways were they different from humans? What might it have been like to experience the paintings, so far from natural light?

With

Alistair Pike
Professor of Archaeological Sciences at the University of Southampton

Chantal Conneller
Senior Lecturer in Early Pre-History at Newcastle University

And

Paul Pettitt
Professor of Palaeolithic Archaeology at Durham University

Producer: Simon Tillotson
17
SEP

Pericles

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Pericles (495-429BC), the statesman who dominated the politics of Athens for thirty years, the so-called Age of Pericles, when the city’s cultural life flowered, its democracy strengthened as its empire grew, and the Acropolis was adorned with the Parthenon. In 431 BC he gave a funeral oration for those Athenians who had already died in the new war with Sparta which has been celebrated as one of the greatest speeches of all time, yet within two years he was dead from a plague made worse by Athenians crowding into their city to avoid attacks. Thucydides, the historian, knew him and was in awe of him, yet few shared that view until the nineteenth century, when they found much in Pericles to praise, an example for the Victorian age.

With

Edith Hall
Professor of Classics at King's College London.

Paul Cartledge
AG Leventis Senior Research Fellow at Clare College, University of Cambridge

And

Peter Liddel
Senior Lecturer in Ancient History at the University of Manchester

Producer: Simon Tillotson
10
SEP

Titus Oates and his "Popish Plot" (summer repeat)

In a programme first broadcast in May 2016, 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?

With

Clare Jackson
Senior Tutor and Director of Studies in History at Trinity Hall, University of Cambridge

Mark Knights
Professor of History at the University of Warwick

And

Peter Hinds
Associate Professor of English at Plymouth University

Producer: Simon Tillotson
03
SEP

The Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (Summer Repeat)

In a programme first broadcast in 2017, Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the high temperatures that marked the end of the Paleocene and start of the Eocene periods, about 50m years ago. Over c1000 years, global temperatures rose more than 5 C on average and stayed that way for c100,000 years more, with the surface of seas in the Arctic being as warm as those in the subtropics. There were widespread extinctions, changes in ocean currents, and there was much less oxygen in the sea depths. The rise has been attributed to an increase of carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere, though it is not yet known conclusively what the source of those gases was. One theory is that a rise in carbon dioxide, perhaps from volcanoes, warmed up the globe enough for warm water to reach the bottom of the oceans and so release methane from frozen crystals in the sea bed. The higher the temperature rose and the longer the water was warm, the more methane was released. Scientists have been studying a range of sources from this long period, from ice samples to fossils, to try to understand more about possible causes.

With

Dame Jane Francis
Professor of Palaeoclimatology at the British Antarctic Survey

Mark Maslin
Professor of Palaeoclimatology at University College London

And

Tracy Aze
Lecturer in Marine Micropaleontology at the University of Leeds

Producer: Simon Tillotson.
27
AUG

The Fighting Temeraire (Summer Repeat)

In a programme first broadcast in 2016, Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss The Fighting Temeraire, one of Turner's greatest works and the one he called his 'darling'. It shows one of the most famous ships of the age, a hero of Trafalgar, being towed up the Thames to the breakers' yard, sail giving way to steam. Turner displayed this masterpiece to a public which, at the time, was deep in celebration of the Temeraire era, with work on Nelson's Column underway, and it was an immediate success, with Thackeray calling the painting 'a national ode'.

With

Susan Foister
Curator of Early Netherlandish, German and British Painting at the National Gallery

David Blayney Brown
Manton Curator of British Art 1790-1850 at Tate Britain

and

James Davey
Curator of Naval History at the National Maritime Museum

Producer: Simon Tillotson.
20
AUG

Utilitarianism (Summer Repeat)

In a programme first broadcast in 2015, Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Utilitarianism, a moral theory that emphasises ends over means and holds that a good act is one that increases pleasure in the world and decreases pain. The tradition flourished in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries with Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill, and has antecedents in ancient philosophy. According to Bentham, happiness is the means for assessing the utility of an act, declaring "it is the greatest happiness of the greatest number that is the measure of right and wrong." Mill and others went on to refine and challenge Bentham's views and to defend them from critics such as Thomas Carlyle, who termed Utilitarianism a "doctrine worthy only of swine."

With

Melissa Lane
The Class of 1943 Professor of Politics at Princeton University

Janet Radcliffe Richards
Professor of Practical Philosophy at the University of Oxford

and

Brad Hooker
A Professor of Philosophy at the University of Reading

Producer: Simon Tillotson.
13
AUG

The Lancashire Cotton Famine (Summer Repeat)

In a programme first broadcast in 2015, 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.

With

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

Emma Griffin
Professor of History at the University of East Anglia

And

David Brown
Senior Lecturer in American Studies at University of Manchester

Producer: Simon Tillotson
06
AUG

Baltic Crusades (Summer Repeat)

In a programme first broadcast in 2016, 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.

With

Aleks Pluskowski
Associate Professor of Archaeology at the University of Reading

Nora Berend
Fellow of St Catharine's College and Reader in European History at the Faculty of History at the University of Cambridge

and

Martin Palmer
Director of the International Consultancy on Religion, Education, and Culture

Producer: Simon Tillotson
30
JUL

The Epic of Gilgamesh (Summer Repeat)

"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 which was first broadcast in 2016. Gilgamesh is often said to be the oldest surviving great work of literature, with origins in the third millennium BC, and it passed through thousands of years on cuneiform tablets. Unlike epics of Greece and Rome, the intact story of Gilgamesh became lost to later generations until tablets were discovered by Hormuzd Rassam in 1853 near Mosul and later translated. Since then, many more tablets have been found and much of the text has been reassembled to convey the story of Gilgamesh, king of Uruk the sheepfold, and Enkidu who the gods created to stop Gilgamesh oppressing his people. Together they fight Humbaba, monstrous guardian of the Cedar Forest, and kill the Bull of Heaven, for which the gods make Enkidu mortally ill. Gilgamesh goes on a long journey as he tries unsuccessfully to learn how to live forever, learning about the Great Deluge on the way, but his remarkable building works guarantee that his fame will last long after his death.

With

Andrew George
Professor of Babylonian at SOAS, University of London

Frances Reynolds
Shillito Fellow in Assyriology at the Oriental Institute, University of Oxford and Fellow of St Benet's Hall

and

Martin Worthington
Lecturer in Assyriology at the University of Cambridge

Producer: Simon Tillotson
23
JUL

Kant's Categorical Imperative (Summer Repeat)

In a programme first broadcast in 2017, Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss how, in the Enlightenment, Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) sought to define the difference between right and wrong by applying reason, looking at the intention behind actions rather than at consequences. He was inspired to find moral laws by natural philosophers such as Newton and Leibniz, who had used reason rather than emotion to analyse the world around them and had identified laws of nature. Kant argued that when someone was doing the right thing, that person was doing what was the universal law for everyone, a formulation that has been influential on moral philosophy ever since and is known as the Categorical Imperative. Arguably even more influential was one of his reformulations, echoed in The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in which he asserted that humanity has a value of an entirely different kind from that placed on commodities. Kant argued that simply existing as a human being was valuable in itself, so that every human owed moral responsibilities to other humans and was owed responsibilities in turn.

With

Alison Hills
Professor of Philosophy at St John's College, Oxford

David Oderberg
Professor of Philosophy at the University of Reading

and

John Callanan
Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at King's College, London

Producer: Simon Tillotson.
16
JUL

P vs NP (Summer Repeat)

In a programme first broadcast in 2015, Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the problem of P versus NP, which has a bearing on online security. There is a $1,000,000 prize on offer from the Clay Mathematical Institute for the first person to come up with a complete solution. At its heart is the question "are there problems for which the answers can be checked by computers, but not found in a reasonable time?" If the answer to that is yes, then P does not equal NP. However, if all answers can be found easily as well as checked, if only we knew how, then P equals NP. The area has intrigued mathematicians and computer scientists since Alan Turing, in 1936, found that it’s impossible to decide in general whether an algorithm will run forever on some problems. Resting on P versus NP is the security of all online transactions which are currently encrypted: if it transpires that P=NP, if answers could be found as easily as checked, computers could crack passwords in moments.

With

Colva Roney-Dougal
Reader in Pure Mathematics at the University of St Andrews

Timothy Gowers
Royal Society Research Professor in Mathematics at the University of Cambridge

And

Leslie Ann Goldberg
Professor of Computer Science and Fellow of St Edmund Hall, University of Oxford

Producer: Simon Tillotson
09
JUL

1816, the Year Without a Summer (Summer Repeat)

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

With

Clive Oppenheimer
Professor of Volcanology at the University of Cambridge

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

And

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

Producer: Simon Tillotson

52 episodes

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