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01
DEC

The Morant Bay Rebellion

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the rebellion that broke out in Jamaica on 11th October 1865 when Paul Bogle (1822-65) led a protest march from Stony Gut to the courthouse in nearby Morant Bay. There were many grounds for grievance that day and soon anger turned to bloodshed. Although the British had abolished slavery 30 years before, the plantation owners were still dominant and the conditions for the majority of people on Jamaica were poor. The British governor suppressed this rebellion brutally and soon people in Jamaica lost what right they had to rule themselves. Some in Britain, like Charles Dickens, supported the governor's actions while others, like Charles Darwin, wanted him tried for murder.

The image above is from a Jamaican $2 banknote, printed after Paul Bogle became a National Hero in 1969.

With

Matthew J Smith
Professor of History and Director of the Centre for the Study of the Legacies of British Slavery at University College London

Diana Paton
The William Robertson Professor of History at the University of Edinburgh

And

Lawrence Goldman
Emeritus Fellow in History at St Peter’s College, University of Oxford

Producer: Simon Tillotson
24
NOV

Wilfred Owen

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the celebrated British poet of World War One. Wilfred Owen (1893-1918) had published only a handful of poems when he was killed a week before the end of the war, but in later decades he became seen as the essential British war poet. His works such as Anthem for Doomed Youth, Strange Meeting and Dulce et Decorum Est went on to be inseparable from the memory of the war and its futility. However, while Owen is best known for his poetry of the trenches, his letters offer a more nuanced insight into him such as his pride in being an officer in charge of others and in being a soldier who fought alongside his comrades.

With

Jane Potter
Reader in The School of Arts at Oxford Brookes University

Fran Brearton
Professor of Modern Poetry at Queen’s University Belfast

And

Guy Cuthbertson
Professor of British Literature and Culture at Liverpool Hope University

Producer: Simon Tillotson
17
NOV

The Fish-Tetrapod Transition

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss one of the greatest changes in the history of life on Earth. Around 400 million years ago some of our ancestors, the fish, started to become a little more like humans. At the swampy margins between land and water, some fish were turning their fins into limbs, their swim bladders into lungs and developed necks and eventually they became tetrapods, the group to which we and all animals with backbones and limbs belong. After millions of years of this transition, these tetrapod descendants of fish were now ready to leave the water for a new life of walking on land, and with that came an explosion in the diversity of life on Earth.

The image above is a representation of Tiktaalik Roseae, a fish with some features of a tetrapod but not one yet, based on a fossil collected in the Canadian Arctic.

With

Emily Rayfield
Professor of Palaeobiology at the University of Bristol

Michael Coates
Chair and Professor of Organismal Biology and Anatomy at the University of Chicago

And

Steve Brusatte
Professor of Palaeontology and Evolution at the University of Edinburgh

Producer: Simon Tillotson
10
NOV

Berthe Morisot

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss one of the influential painters at the heart of the French Impressionist movement: Berthe Morisot (1841-1895). The men in her circle could freely paint in busy bars and public spaces, while Morisot captured the domestic world and found new, daring ways to paint quickly in the open air. Her work shows women as they were, to her: informal, unguarded, and not transformed or distorted for the eyes of men. The image above is one of her few self-portraits, though several portraits of her survive by other artists, chiefly her sister Edma and her brother-in-law Edouard Manet.

With

Tamar Garb
Professor of History of Art at University College London

Lois Oliver
Curator at the Royal Academy and Adjunct Professor of Art History at the American University of Notre Dame London.

And

Claire Moran
Reader in French at Queen's University Belfast

Producer: Simon Tillotson
03
NOV

The Knights Templar

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the military order founded around 1119, twenty years after the Crusaders captured Jerusalem. For almost 200 years the Knights Templar were a notable fighting force and financial power in the Crusader States and Western Europe. Their mission was to protect pilgrims in the Holy Land, and they became extremely wealthy yet, as the crusader grip on Jerusalem slipped, their political fortune declined steeply. They were to be persecuted out of existence, with their last grand master burned at the stake in Paris in 1314, and that sudden end has contributed to the strength of the legends that have grown up around them.

With

Helen Nicholson
Professor of Medieval History at Cardiff University

Mike Carr
Lecturer in Late Medieval History at the University of Edinburgh

And

Jonathan Phillips
Professor of Crusading History at Royal Holloway, University of London

Producer: Simon Tillotson
27
OCT

The Electron

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss an atomic particle that's become inseparable from modernity. JJ Thomson discovered the electron 125 years ago, so revealing that atoms, supposedly the smallest things, were made of even smaller things. He pictured them inside an atomic ball like a plum pudding, with others later identifying their place outside the nucleus - and it is their location on the outer limit that has helped scientists learn so much about electrons and with electrons. We can use electrons to reveal the secrets of other particles and, while electricity exists whether we understand electrons or not, the applications of electricity and electrons grow as our knowledge grows. Many questions, though, remain unanswered.

With

Victoria Martin
Professor of Collider Physics at the University of Edinburgh

Harry Cliff
Research Fellow in Particle Physics at the University of Cambridge

And

Frank Close
Professor Emeritus of Theoretical Physics and Fellow Emeritus at Exeter College at the University of Oxford

Producer: Simon Tillotson
20
OCT

Plato's Atlantis

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Plato's account of the once great island of Atlantis out to the west, beyond the world known to his fellow Athenians, and why it disappeared many thousands of years before his time. There are no sources for this story other than Plato, and he tells it across two of his works, the Timaeus and the Critias, tantalizing his readers with evidence that it is true and clues that it is a fantasy. Atlantis, for Plato, is a way to explore what an ideal republic really is, and whether Athens could be (or ever was) one; to European travellers in the Renaissance, though, his story reflected their own encounters with distant lands, previously unknown to them, spurring generations of explorers to scour the oceans and in the hope of finding a lost world.

The image above is from an engraving of the legendary island of Atlantis after a description by Athanasius Kircher (1602-1680).

With

Edith Hall
Professor of Classics at Durham University

Christopher Gill
Emeritus Professor of Ancient Thought at the University of Exeter

And

Angie Hobbs
Professor of the Public Understanding of Philosophy at the University of Sheffield

Producer: Simon Tillotson
13
OCT

Nineteen Eighty-Four

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss George Orwell's (1903-1950) final novel, published in 1949, set in a dystopian London which is now found in Airstrip One, part of the totalitarian superstate of Oceania which is always at war and where the protagonist, Winston Smith, works at the Ministry of Truth as a rewriter of history: 'Who controls the past,' ran the Party slogan, 'controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.' The influence of Orwell's novel is immeasurable, highlighting threats to personal freedom with concepts he named such as doublespeak, thoughtcrime, Room 101, Big Brother, memory hole and thought police.

With

David Dwan
Professor of English Literature and Intellectual History at the University of Oxford

Lisa Mullen
Teaching Associate in Modern Contemporary Literature at the University of Cambridge

And

John Bowen
Professor of English Literature at the University of York

Producer: Simon Tillotson
06
OCT

The Franco-American Alliance 1778 (Summer Repeat)

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the treaties France entered into with the United States of America in 1778, to give open support to the USA in its revolutionary war against Britain and to promote French trade across the Atlantic. This alliance had profound consequences for all three. The French navy, in particular, played a decisive role in the Americans’ victory in their revolution, but the great cost of supporting this overseas war fell on French taxpayers, highlighting the need for reforms which in turn led to the French Revolution. Then, when France looked to its American ally for support in the new French revolutionary wars with Britain, Americans had to choose where their longer term interests lay, and they turned back from the France that had supported them to the Britain they had just been fighting, and France and the USA fell into undeclared war at sea. The image above is a detail of Bataille de Yorktown by Auguste Couder, with Rochambeau commanding the French expeditionary force in 1781 With Frank Cogliano Professor of American History at the University of Edinburgh Kathleen Burk Professor Emerita of Modern and Contemporary History at University College London And Michael Rapport Reader in Modern European History at the University of Glasgow Producer: Simon Tillotson
29
SEP

Parasitism (Summer Repeat)

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the relationship between parasites and hosts, where one species lives on or in another to the benefit of the parasite but at a cost to the host, potentially leading to disease or death of the host. Typical examples are mistletoe and trees, hookworms and vertebrates, cuckoos and other birds. In many cases the parasite species do so well in or on a particular host that they reproduce much faster and can adapt to changes more efficiently, and it is thought that almost half of all animal species have a parasitic stage in their lifetime. What techniques do hosts have to counter the parasites, and what impact do parasites have on the evolution of their hosts? With Steve Jones Emeritus Professor of Genetics at University College, London Wendy Gibson Professor of Protozoology at the University of Bristol and Kayla King Associate Professor in the Department of Zoology at the University of Oxford Producer: Simon Tillotson.
22
SEP

Cave Art (Summer Repeat)

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
15
SEP

The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (Summer Repeat)

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

172 episodes

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