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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
08
SEP

Kant's Copernican Revolution (Summer Repeat)

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the insight into our relationship with the world that Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) shared in his book The Critique of Pure Reason in 1781. It was as revolutionary, in his view, as when the Polish astronomer Copernicus realised that Earth revolves around the Sun rather than the Sun around Earth. Kant's was an insight into how we understand the world around us, arguing that we can never know the world as it is, but only through the structures of our minds which shape that understanding. This idea, that the world depends on us even though we do not create it, has been one of Kant’s greatest contributions to philosophy and influences debates to this day. The image above is a portrait of Immanuel Kant by Friedrich Wilhelm Springer With Fiona Hughes Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Essex Anil Gomes Associate Professor and Fellow and Tutor in Philosophy at Trinity College, Oxford And John Callanan Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at King’s College London Producer: Simon Tillotson
01
SEP

The Russo-Japanese War (Summer Repeat)

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the conflict between Russia and Japan from February 1904 to September 1905, which gripped the world and had a profound impact on both countries. Wary of Russian domination of Korea, Japan attacked the Russian Fleet at Port Arthur and the ensuing war gave Russia a series of shocks, including the loss of their Baltic Fleet after a seven month voyage, which reverberated in the 1905 Revolution. Meanwhile Japan, victorious, advanced its goal of making Europe and America more wary in East Asia, combining rapid military modernisation and Samurai traditions when training its new peasant conscripts. The US-brokered peace failed to require Russia to make reparations, which became a cause of Japanese resentment towards the US. With Simon Dixon The Sir Bernard Pares Professor of Russian History at University College London, Naoko Shimazu Professor of Humanities at Yale NUS College, Singapore And Oleg Benesch Reader in Modern History at the University of York Producer: Simon Tillotson
25
AUG

The Bacchae (Summer Repeat)

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

Eclipses (Summer Repeat)

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss solar eclipses, some of life’s most extraordinary moments, when day becomes night and the stars come out before day returns either all too soon or not soon enough, depending on what you understand to be happening. In ancient China, for example, there was a story that a dragon was eating the sun and it had to be scared away by banging pots and pans if the sun were to return. Total lunar eclipses are more frequent and last longer, with a blood moon coloured red like a sunrise or sunset. Both events have created the chance for scientists to learn something remarkable, from the speed of light, to the width of the Atlantic, to the roundness of Earth, to discovering helium and proving Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity. With Carolin Crawford Public Astronomer based at the Institute of Astronomy, University of Cambridge and a fellow of Emmanuel College Frank Close Emeritus Professor of Physics at the University of Oxford And Lucie Green Professor of Physics and a Royal Society University Research Fellow at Mullard Space Science Laboratory at University College London Producers: Simon Tillotson and Julia Johnson
11
AUG

Mary Astell (Summer Repeat)

The philosopher Mary Astell (1666 – 1731) has been described as “the first English feminist”. Born in Newcastle in relatively poor circumstances in the aftermath of the upheaval of the English Civil War and the restoration of the monarchy, she moved to London as a young woman and became part of an extraordinary circle of intellectual and aristocratic women. In her pioneering publications, she argued that women’s education should be expanded, that men and women’s minds were the same and that no woman should be forced to marry against her will. Perhaps her most famous quotation is: “If all Men are born Free, why are all Women born Slaves?” Today, she is one of just a handful of female philosophers to be featured in the multi-volume Cambridge History of Political Thought. The image above is from Astell's "Reflections upon Marriage", 3rd edition, 1706, held by the British Library (Shelfmark 8415.bb.27) With: Hannah Dawson Senior Lecturer in the History of Ideas at King’s College London Mark Goldie Professor Emeritus of Intellectual History at the University of Cambridge Teresa Bejan Associate Professor of Political Theory at Oriel College, University of Oxford Producer: Simon Tillotson
04
AUG

The Interregnum (Summer Repeat)

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the period between the execution of Charles I in 1649 and the unexpected restoration of his son Charles II in 1660, known as The Interregnum. It was marked in England by an elusive pursuit of stability, with serious consequences in Scotland and notorious ones in Ireland. When Parliament executed Charles it had also killed Scotland and Ireland’s king, without their consent; Scotland immediately declared Charles II king of Britain, and Ireland too favoured Charles. In the interests of political and financial security, Parliament's forces, led by Oliver Cromwell, soon invaded Ireland and then turned to defeating Scotland. However, the improvised power structures in England did not last and Oliver Cromwell's death in 1658 was followed by the threat of anarchy. In England, Charles II had some success in overturning the changes of the 1650s but there were lasting consequences for Scotland and the notorious changes in Ireland were entrenched. The Dutch image of Oliver Cromwell, above, was published by Joost Hartgers c1649 With Clare Jackson Senior Tutor at Trinity Hall, University of Cambridge Micheál Ó Siochrú Professor in Modern History at Trinity College Dublin And Laura Stewart Professor in Early Modern History at the University of York Producer: Simon Tillotson
28
JUL

John Bull

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the origin of this personification of the English everyman and his development as both British and Britain in the following centuries. He first appeared along with Lewis Baboon (French) and Nicholas Frog (Dutch) in 1712 in a pamphlet that satirised the funding of the War of the Spanish Succession. The author was John Arbuthnot (1667-1735), a Scottish doctor and satirist who was part of the circle of Swift and Pope, and his John Bull was the English voter, overwhelmed by taxes that went not so much into the war itself but into the pockets of its financiers. For the next two centuries, Arbuthnot’s John Bull was a gift for cartoonists and satirists, especially when they wanted to ridicule British governments for taking advantage of the people’s patriotism.

The image above is by William Charles, a Scottish engraver who emigrated to the United States, and dates from 1814 during the Anglo-American War of 1812.

With

Judith Hawley
Professor of 18th Century Literature at Royal Holloway, University of London

Miles Taylor
Professor of British History and Society at Humboldt, University of Berlin

And

Mark Knights
Professor of History at the University of Warwick

Producer: Simon Tillotson
21
JUL

Angkor Wat

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the largest and arguably the most astonishing religious structure on Earth, built for Suryavarman II in the 12th Century in modern-day Cambodia. It is said to have more stone in it than the Great Pyramid of Giza, and much of the surface is intricately carved and remarkably well preserved. For the last 900 years Angkor Wat has been a centre of religion, whether Hinduism, Buddhism or Animism or a combination of those, and a source of wonder to Cambodians and visitors from around the world.

With

Piphal Heng
Postdoctoral scholar at the Cotsen Institute and the Programme for Early Modern Southeast Asia at UCLA

Ashley Thompson
Hiram W Woodward Chair of Southeast Asian Art at SOAS University of London

And

Simon Warrack
A stone conservator who has worked extensively at Angkor Wat

Producer: Simon Tillotson
14
JUL

Dylan Thomas

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the celebrated Welsh poet, Dylan Thomas (1914 - 1953). He wrote some of his best poems before he was twenty in the first half of his short, remarkable life, and was prolific in the second half too with poems such as those set in London under the Blitz and reworkings of his childhood in Swansea, and his famous radio play Under Milk Wood (performed after his death). He was ready widely and widely heard: with his reading tours in America and recordings of his works that sold in their hundreds of thousands after his death, he is credited with reviving the act of poetry as performance in the 20th century.

With

Nerys Williams
Associate Professor of Poetry and Poetics at University College Dublin

John Goodby
Professor of Arts and Culture at Sheffield Hallam University

And

Leo Mellor
The Roma Gill Fellow in English at Murray Edwards College, University of Cambridge

Producer: Simon Tillotson
07
JUL

The Death of Stars

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the abrupt transformation of stars after shining brightly for millions or billions of years, once they lack the fuel to counter the force of gravity. Those like our own star, the Sun, become red giants, expanding outwards and consuming nearby planets, only to collapse into dense white dwarves. The massive stars, up to fifty times the mass of the Sun, burst into supernovas, visible from Earth in daytime, and become incredibly dense neutron stars or black holes. In these moments of collapse, the intense heat and pressure can create all the known elements to form gases and dust which may eventually combine to form new stars, new planets and, as on Earth, new life.

The image above is of the supernova remnant Cassiopeia A, approximately 10,000 light years away, from a once massive star that died in a supernova explosion that was first seen from Earth in 1690

With

Martin Rees
Astronomer Royal, Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge

Carolin Crawford
Emeritus Member of the Institute of Astronomy and Emeritus Fellow of Emmanuel College, University of Cambridge

And

Mark Sullivan
Professor of Astrophysics at the University of Southampton

Producer: Simon Tillotson

162 episodes

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