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23
SEP

Herodotus

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Greek writer known as the father of histories, dubbed by his detractors as the father of lies. Herodotus (c484 to 425 BC or later) was raised in Halicarnassus in modern Turkey when it was part of the Persian empire and, in the years after the Persian Wars, set about an inquiry into the deep background to those wars. He also aimed to preserve what he called the great and marvellous deeds of Greeks and non-Greeks, seeking out the best evidence for past events and presenting the range of evidence for readers to assess. Plutarch was to criticise Herodotus for using this to promote the least flattering accounts of his fellow Greeks, hence the 'father of lies', but the depth and breadth of his Histories have secured his reputation from his lifetime down to the present day.

With

Tom Harrison
Professor of Ancient History at the University of St Andrews

Esther Eidinow
Professor of Ancient History at the University of Bristol

And

Paul Cartledge
A. G. Leventis Senior Research Fellow at Clare College, University of Cambridge

Producer: Simon Tillotson
16
SEP

The Evolution of Crocodiles

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the remarkable diversity of the animals that dominated life on land in the Triassic, before the rise of the dinosaurs in the Jurassic, and whose descendants are often described wrongly as 'living fossils'. For tens of millions of years, the ancestors of alligators and Nile crocodiles included some as large as a bus, some running on two legs like a T Rex and some that lived like whales. They survived and rebounded from a series of extinction events but, while the range of habitats of the dinosaur descendants such as birds covers much of the globe, those of the crocodiles have contracted, even if the animals themselves continue to evolve today as quickly as they ever have.

With

Anjali Goswami
Research Leader in Life Sciences and Dean of Postgraduate Education at the Natural History Museum

Philip Mannion
Lecturer in the Department of Earth Sciences at University College London

And

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

Producer Simon Tillotson
09
SEP

Samuel Beckett (Summer Repeat)

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Samuel Beckett (1906 - 1989), who lived in Paris and wrote his plays and novels in French, not because his French was better than his English, but because it was worse. In works such as Waiting for Godot, Endgame, Molloy and Malone Dies, he wanted to show the limitations of language, what words could not do, together with the absurdity and humour of the human condition. In part he was reacting to the verbal omnipotence of James Joyce, with whom he’d worked in Paris, and in part to his experience in the French Resistance during World War 2, when he used code, writing not to reveal meaning but to conceal it.

With

Steven Connor
Professor of English at the University of Cambridge

Laura Salisbury
Professor of Modern Literature at the University of Exeter

And

Mark Nixon
Associate Professor in Modern Literature at the University of Reading and co-director of the Beckett International Foundation

Producer: Simon Tillotson
02
SEP

Bergson and Time (Summer Repeat)

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the French philosopher Henri Bergson (1859-1941) and his ideas about human experience of time passing and how that differs from a scientific measurement of time, set out in his thesis on 'Time and Free Will' in 1889. He became famous in France and abroad for decades, rivalled only by Einstein and, in the years after the Dreyfus Affair, was the first ever Jewish member of the Académie Française. It's thought his work influenced Proust and Woolf, and the Cubists. He died in 1941 from a cold which, reputedly, he caught while queuing to register as a Jew, refusing the Vichy government's offer of exemption.

With

Keith Ansell-Pearson
Professor of Philosophy at the University of Warwick

Emily Thomas
Assistant Professor in Philosophy at Durham University

And

Mark Sinclair
Reader in Philosophy at the University of Roehampton

Producer: Simon Tillotson
26
AUG

The Treaty of Limerick (Summer Repeat)

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.

With

Jane Ohlmeyer
Chair of the Irish Research Council and Erasmus Smith’s Professor of Modern History at Trinity College Dublin

Dr Clare Jackson
Senior Tutor, Trinity Hall, and Faculty of History, University of Cambridge

and

Thomas O'Connor
Professor of History at Maynooth University

Producer: Simon Tillotson
19
AUG

Auden (Summer Repeat)

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the life and poetry of WH Auden (1907-1973) up to his departure from Europe for the USA in 1939. As well as his personal life, he addressed suffering and confusion, and the moral issues that affected the wider public in the 1930s and tried to unpick what was going wrong in society and to understand those times. He witnessed the rise of totalitarianism in the austerity of that decade, travelling through Germany to Berlin, seeing Spain in the Civil War and China during its wars with Japan, often collaborating with Christopher Isherwood. In his lifetime his work attracted high praise and intense criticism, and has found new audiences in the fifty years since his death, sometimes taking literally what he meant ironically.

With

Mark Ford
Poet and Professor of English at University College London

Janet Montefiore
Professor Emerita of 20th Century English Literature at the University of Kent

And

Jeremy Noel-Tod
Senior Lecturer in Literature and Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia

Producer: Simon Tillotson
12
AUG

The Evolution of Teeth (Summer Repeat)

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss theories about the origins of teeth in vertebrates, and what we can learn from sharks in particular and their ancestors. Great white sharks can produce up to 100,000 teeth in their lifetimes. For humans, it is closer to a mere 50 and most of those have to last from childhood. Looking back half a billion years, though, the ancestors of sharks and humans had no teeth in their mouths at all, nor jaws. They were armoured fish, sucking in their food. The theory is that either their tooth-like scales began to appear in mouths as teeth, or some of their taste buds became harder. If we knew more about that, and why sharks can regenerate their teeth, then we might learn how humans could grow new teeth in later lives.

With

Gareth Fraser
Assistant Professor in Biology at the University of Florida

Zerina Johanson
Merit Researcher in the Department of Earth Sciences at the Natural History Museum

and

Philip Donoghue
Professor of Palaeobiology at the University of Bristol

Producer: Simon Tillotson
05
AUG

Catullus (Summer Repeat)

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Catullus (c84-c54 BC) who wrote some of the most sublime poetry in the late Roman Republic, and some of the most obscene. He found a new way to write about love, in poems to the mysterious Lesbia, married and elusive, and he influenced Virgil and Ovid and others, yet his explicit poems were to blight his reputation for a thousand years. Once the one surviving manuscript was discovered in the Middle Ages, though, anecdotally as a plug in a wine butt, he inspired Petrarch and the Elizabethan poets, as he continues to inspire many today.

The image above is of Lesbia and her Sparrow, 1860, artist unknown

With

Gail Trimble
Brown Fellow and Tutor in Classics at Trinity College at the University of Oxford

Simon Smith
Reader in Creative Writing at the University of Kent, poet and translator of Catullus

and

Maria Wyke
Professor of Latin at University College London

Producer: Simon Tillotson
29
JUL

The Rapture (Summer Repeat)

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the ideas developed by the Anglican priest John Nelson Darby (1800-1882), drawn from his reading of scripture, in which Jesus would suddenly take His believers up into the air, and those left behind would suffer on Earth until He returned with His church to rule for a thousand years before Final Judgement. Some believers would look for signs that civilization was declining, such as wars and natural disasters, or for new Roman Empires that would harbour the Antichrist, and from these predict the time of the Rapture. Darby helped establish the Plymouth Brethren, and later his ideas were picked up in the Scofield Reference Bible (1909) and soon became influential, particularly in the USA.

With

Elizabeth Phillips
Research Fellow at the Margaret Beaufort Institute at the University of Cambridge and Honorary Fellow in the Department of Theology and Religion at Durham University

Crawford Gribben
Professor of Early Modern British History at Queen’s University Belfast

and

Nicholas Guyatt
Reader in North American History at the University of Cambridge

Producer: Simon Tillotson
22
JUL

Doggerland (Summer Repeat)

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.

With

Vince Gaffney
Anniversary Professor of Landscape Archaeology at the University of Bradford

Carol Cotterill
Marine Geoscientist at the British Geological Survey

And

Rachel Bynoe
Lecturer in Archaeology at the University of Southampton

Producer: Simon Tillotson
15
JUL

Automata (Summer Repeat)

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the history of real and imagined machines that appear to be living, and the questions they raise about life and creation. Even in myth they are made by humans, not born. The classical Greeks built some and designed others, but the knowledge of how to make automata and the principles behind them was lost in the Latin Christian West, remaining in the Greek-speaking and Arabic-speaking world. Western travellers to those regions struggled to explain what they saw, attributing magical powers. The advance of clockwork raised further questions about what was distinctly human, prompting Hobbes to argue that humans were sophisticated machines, an argument explored in the Enlightenment and beyond.

The image above is Jacques de Vaucanson's mechanical duck (1739), which picked up grain, digested and expelled it. If it looks like a duck...

with

Simon Schaffer
Professor of History of Science at Cambridge University

Elly Truitt
Associate Professor of Medieval History at Bryn Mawr College

And

Franziska Kohlt
Doctoral Researcher in English Literature and the History of Science at the University of Oxford

Producer: Simon Tillotson
08
JUL

George Sand (Summer Repeat)

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the works and life of one of the most popular writers in Europe in C19th, Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin (1804-1876) who wrote under the name George Sand. When she wrote her first novel under that name, she referred to herself as a man. This was in Indiana (1832), which had the main character breaking away from her unhappy marriage. It made an immediate impact as it overturned the social conventions of the time and it drew on her own early marriage to an older man, Casimir Dudevant. Once Sand's identity was widely known, her works became extremely popular in French and in translation, particularly her rural novels, outselling Hugo and Balzac in Britain, perhaps buoyed by an interest in her personal life, as well as by her ideas on the rights and education of women and strength of her writing.

With

Belinda Jack
Fellow and Tutor in French at Christ Church, University of Oxford

Angela Ryan
Senior Lecturer in French at University College Cork

And

Nigel Harkness
Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Humanities and Social Sciences and Professor of French at Newcastle University

Producer: Simon Tillotson

113 episodes

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