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26
MAY

Early Christian Martyrdom

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the accounts by Eusebius of Caesarea (c260-339 AD) and others of the killings of Christians in the first three centuries after the crucifixion of Jesus. Eusebius was writing in a time of peace, after The Great Persecution that had started with Emperor Diocletian in 303 AD and lasted around eight years. Many died under Diocletian, and their names are not preserved, but those whose deaths are told by Eusebius became especially celebrated and their stories became influential. Through his writings, Eusebius shaped perceptions of what it meant to be a martyr in those years, and what it meant to be a Christian.

The image above is of The Martyrdom of Saint Blandina (1886) at the Church of Saint-Blandine de Lyon, France

With:

Candida Moss
Edward Cadbury Professor of Theology at the University of Birmingham

Kate Cooper
Professor of History at Royal Holloway, University of London

And

James Corke-Webster
Senior Lecturer in Classics, History and Liberal Arts at King’s College London

Producer: Simon Tillotson
19
MAY

Olympe de Gouges

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the French playwright who, in 1791, wrote The Declaration of the Rights of Woman and of the Female Citizen. This was Olympe de Gouges (1748-93) and she was responding to The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen from 1789, the start of the French Revolution which, by excluding women from these rights, had fallen far short of its apparent goals. Where the latter declared ‘men are born equal’, she asserted ‘women are born equal to men,’ adding, ‘since women are allowed to mount the scaffold, they should also be allowed to stand in parliament and defend their rights’. Two years later this playwright, novelist, activist and woman of letters did herself mount the scaffold, two weeks after Marie Antoinette, for the crime of being open to the idea of a constitutional monarchy and, for two hundred years, her reputation died with her, only to be revived with great vigour in the last 40 years.

With

Catriona Seth
Marshal Foch Professor of French Literature at the University of Oxford

Katherine Astbury
Professor of French Studies at the University of Warwick

And

Sanja Perovic
Reader in 18th century French studies at King’s College London

Producer: Simon Tillotson
12
MAY

Homo erectus

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss one of our ancestors, Homo erectus, who thrived on Earth for around two million years whereas we, Homo sapiens, emerged only in the last three hundred thousand years. Homo erectus, or Upright Man, spread from Africa to Asia and it was on the Island of Java that fossilised remains were found in 1891 in an expedition led by Dutch scientist Eugène Dubois. Homo erectus people adapted to different habitats, ate varied food, lived in groups, had stamina to outrun their prey; and discoveries have prompted many theories on the relationship between their diet and the size of their brains, on their ability as seafarers, on their creativity and on their ability to speak and otherwise communicate.

The image above is from a diorama at the Moesgaard Museum in Denmark, depicting the Turkana Boy referred to in the programme.

With

Peter Kjærgaard
Director of the Natural History Museum of Denmark and Professor of Evolutionary History at the University of Copenhagen

José Joordens
Senior Researcher in Human Evolution at Naturalis Biodiversity Centre and Professor of Human Evolution at Maastricht University

And

Mark Maslin
Professor of Earth System Science at University College London

Producer: Simon Tillotson
05
MAY

Polidori's The Vampyre

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the influential novella of John Polidori (1795-1821) published in 1819 and attributed first to Lord Byron (1788-1824) who had started a version of it in 1816 at the Villa Diodati in the Year Without A Summer. There Byron, his personal physician Polidori, Mary and Percy Shelley and Claire Clairmont had whiled away the weeks of miserable weather by telling ghost stories, famously giving rise to Mary Shelley's 'Frankenstein'. Emerging soon after, 'The Vampyre' thrilled readers with its aristocratic Lord Ruthven who glutted his thirst with the blood of his victims, his status an abrupt change from the stories of peasant vampires of eastern and central Europe that had spread in the 18th Century with the expansion of the Austro-Hungarian empire. The connection with Lord Byron gave the novella a boost, and soon 'The Vampyre' spawned West End plays, penny dreadfuls such as 'Varney the Vampire', Bram Stoker’s 'Dracula', F.W Murnau's film 'Nosferatu A Symphony of Horror', and countless others.

The image above is of Bela Lugosi (1882-1956) as Count Mora in Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer's 'Vampires of Prague' (1935)

With

Nick Groom
Professor of Literature in English at the University of Macau

Samantha George
Associate Professor of Research in Literature at the University of Hertfordshire

And

Martyn Rady
Professor Emeritus of Central European History at University College London

Producer: Simon Tillotson
28
APR

The Sistine Chapel

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the astonishing work of Michelangelo (1477-1564) in this great chapel in the Vatican, firstly the ceiling with images from Genesis (of which the image above is a detail) and later The Last Judgement on the altar wall. For the Papacy, Michelangelo's achievement was a bold affirmation of the spiritual and political status of the Vatican, of Rome and of the Catholic Church. For the artist himself, already famous as the sculptor of David in Florence, it was a test of his skill and stamina, and of the potential for art to amaze which he realised in his astonishing mastery of the human form.

With

Catherine Fletcher
Professor of History at Manchester Metropolitan University

Sarah Vowles
The Smirnov Family Curator of Italian and French Prints and Drawings at the British Museum

And

Matthias Wivel
The Aud Jebsen Curator of Sixteenth-Century Italian Paintings at the National Gallery

Producer: Simon Tillotson
21
APR

Antigone

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss what is reputedly the most performed of all Greek tragedies. Antigone, by Sophocles (c496-c406 BC), is powerfully ambiguous, inviting the audience to reassess its values constantly before the climax of the play resolves the plot if not the issues. Antigone is barely a teenager and is prepared to defy her uncle Creon, the new king of Thebes, who has decreed that nobody should bury the body of her brother, a traitor, on pain of death. This sets up a conflict between generations, between the state and the individual, uncle and niece, autocracy and pluralism, and it releases an enormous tragic energy that brings sudden death to Antigone, her fiance Haemon who is also Creon's son, and to Creon's wife Eurydice, while Creon himself is condemned to a living death of grief.

With

Edith Hall
Professor of Classics at Durham University

Oliver Taplin
Emeritus Professor of Classics, University of Oxford

And

Lyndsay Coo
Senior Lecturer in Ancient Greek Language and Literature at the University of Bristol

Producer: Simon Tillotson
14
APR

Charisma

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the idea of charismatic authority developed by Max Weber (1864-1920) to explain why people welcome some as their legitimate rulers and follow them loyally, for better or worse, while following others only dutifully or grudgingly. Weber was fascinated by those such as Napoleon (above) and Washington who achieved power not by right, as with traditional monarchs, or by law as with the bureaucratic world around him in Germany, but by revolution or insurrection. Drawing on the experience of religious figures, he contended that these leaders, often outsiders, needed to be seen as exceptional, heroic and even miraculous to command loyalty, and could stay in power for as long as the people were enthralled and the miracles they had promised kept coming. After the Second World War, Weber's idea attracted new attention as a way of understanding why some reviled leaders once had mass support and, with the arrival of television, why some politicians were more engaging and influential on screen than others.

With

Linda Woodhead
The FD Maurice Professor and Head of the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at King's College London

David Bell
The Lapidus Professor in the Department of History at Princeton University

And

Tom Wright
Reader in Rhetoric at the University of Sussex

Producer: Simon Tillotson
07
APR

Seismology

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the study of earthquakes. A massive earthquake in 1755 devastated Lisbon, and this disaster helped inspire a new science of seismology which intensified after San Francisco in 1906 and advanced even further with the need to monitor nuclear tests around the world from 1945 onwards. While we now know so much more about what lies beneath the surface of the Earth, and how rocks move and crack, it remains impossible to predict when earthquakes will happen. Thanks to seismology, though, we have a clearer idea of where earthquakes will happen and how to make some of them less hazardous to lives and homes.

With

Rebecca Bell
Senior lecturer in Geology and Geophysics at Imperial College London

Zoe Mildon
Lecturer in Earth Sciences and Future Leaders Fellow at the University of Plymouth

And

James Hammond
Reader in Geophysics at Birkbeck, University of London

Producer: Simon Tillotson
31
MAR

The Arthashastra

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the ancient Sanskrit text the Arthashastra, regarded as one of the major works of Indian literature. Written in the style of a scientific treatise, it provides rulers with a guide on how to govern their territory and sets out what the structure, economic policy and foreign affairs of the ideal state should be. According to legend, it was written by Chanakya, a political advisor to the ruler Chandragupta Maurya (reigned 321 – 297 BC) who founded the Mauryan Empire, the first great Empire in the Indian subcontinent. As the Arthashastra asserts that a ruler should pursue his goals ruthlessly by whatever means is required, it has been compared with the 16th-century work The Prince by Machiavelli. Today, it is widely viewed as presenting a sophisticated and refined analysis of the nature, dynamics and challenges of rulership, and scholars value it partly because it undermines colonial stereotypes of what early South Asian society was like.

With

Jessica Frazier
Lecturer in the Study of Religion at the University of Oxford and a Fellow of the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies

James Hegarty
Professor of Sanskrit and Indian Religions at Cardiff University

And

Deven Patel
Associate Professor of South Asia Studies at the University of Pennsylvania

Producer: Simon Tillotson
03
MAR

In Our Time is now first on BBC Sounds

Looking for the latest episode? New episodes of In Our Time will now be available first on BBC Sounds for four weeks before other podcast apps.

If you haven’t already, you can download the BBC Sounds app to listen to the In Our Time podcast first.

BBC Sounds is also available in lots of other places. Find us on your voice device or smart speaker, on your connected TV, in your car, or at bbc.co.uk/sounds.

The latest episode is available on BBC Sounds right now.

BBC Sounds – you can find exclusive music mixes, live BBC radio and more podcasts like this one.
24
FEB

Peter Kropotkin

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Russian prince who became a leading anarchist and famous scientist. Kropotkin (1842 - 1921) was born into privilege, very much in the highest circle of Russian society as a pageboy for the Tsar, before he became a republican in childhood and dropped the title 'Prince'. While working in Siberia, he started reading about anarchism and that radicalised him further, as did his observations of Siberian villagers supporting each other without (or despite) a role for the State. He made a name for himself as a geographer but soon his politics landed him in jail in St Petersburg, from which he escaped to exile in England where he was fêted, with growing fame leading to lecture tours in the USA. His time in Siberia also inspired his ideas on the importance of mutual aid in evolution, a counter to the dominant idea from Darwin and Huxley that life was a gladiatorial combat in which only the fittest survived. Kropotkin became such a towering figure in public life that, returning to Russia, he was able to challenge Lenin without reprisal, and Lenin in turn permitted his enormous public funeral there, attended by 20,000 mourners.

With

Ruth Kinna
Professor of Political Theory at Loughborough University

Lee Dugatkin
Professor of Biology at the University of Louisville

And

Simon Dixon
The Sir Bernard Pares Professor of Russian History at University College London
17
FEB

Romeo and Juliet

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss William Shakespeare's famous tragedy, written in the early 1590s after a series of histories and comedies. His audience already knew the story of the feuding Capulets and Montagues in Verona and the fate of the young lovers from their rival houses, but not how Shakespeare would tell it and, with his poetry and plotting, he created a work so powerful and timeless that his play has shaped the way we talk of love, especially young love, ever since.

The image above is of Mrs Patrick Campbell ('Mrs Pat') as Juliet and Johnson Forbes-Robinson as Romeo in a scene from the 1895 production at the Lyceum Theatre, London

With

Helen Hackett
Professor of English Literature at University College London

Paul Prescott
Professor of English and Theatre at the University of California Merced

And

Emma Smith
Professor of Shakespeare Studies at Hertford College, University of Oxford

Producer: Simon Tillotson

156 episodes

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