In Our Time
In Our Time
BBC Radio 4
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Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the history of ideas
Alan Turing
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Alan Turing (1912-1954) whose 1936 paper On Computable Numbers effectively founded computer science. Immediately recognised by his peers, his wider reputation has grown as our reliance on computers has grown. He was a leading figure at Bletchley Park in the Second World War, using his ideas for cracking enemy codes, work said to have shortened the war by two years and saved millions of lives. That vital work was still secret when Turing was convicted in 1952 for having a sexual relationship with another man for which he was given oestrogen for a year, or chemically castrated. Turing was to kill himself two years later. The immensity of his contribution to computing was recognised in the 1960s by the creation of the Turing Award, known as the Nobel of computer science, and he is to be the new face on the £50 note. With Leslie Ann Goldberg Professor of Computer Science and Fellow of St Edmund Hall, University of Oxford Simon Schaffer Professor of the History of Science at the University of Cambridge and Fellow of Darwin College And Andrew Hodges Biographer of Turing and Emeritus Fellow of Wadham College, Oxford Producer: Simon Tillotson
Oct 15
53 min
Deism
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the idea that God created the universe and then left it for humans to understand by reason not revelation. Edward Herbert, 1583-1648 (pictured above) held that there were five religious truths: belief in a Supreme Being, the need to worship him, the pursuit of a virtuous life as the best form of worship, repentance, and reward or punishment after death. Others developed these ideas in different ways, yet their opponents in England's established Church collected them under the label of Deists, called Herbert the Father of Deism and attacked them as a movement, and Deist books were burned. Over time, reason and revelation found a new balance in the Church in England, while Voltaire and Thomas Paine explored the ideas further, leading to their re-emergence in the French and American Revolutions. With Richard Serjeantson Fellow and Lecturer in History at Trinity College, Cambridge Katie East Lecturer in History at Newcastle University And Thomas Ahnert Professor of Intellectual History at the University of Edinburgh Producer: Simon Tillotson
Oct 8
48 min
Macbeth
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss one of Shakespeare’s greatest tragedies. When three witches prophesy that Macbeth will be king one day, he is not prepared to wait and almost the next day he murders King Duncan as he sleeps, a guest at Macbeth’s castle. From there we explore their brutal world where few boundaries are distinct – between safe and unsafe, friend and foe, real and unreal, man and beast – until Macbeth too is slaughtered. The image above shows Nicol Williamson as Macbeth in a 1983 BBC TV adaptation. With: Emma Smith Professor of Shakespeare Studies at Hertford College, University of Oxford Kiernan Ryan Emeritus Professor of English Literature at Royal Holloway, University of London And David Schalkwyk, Professor of Shakespeare Studies and Director of Global Shakespeare at Queen Mary, University of London Producer: Simon Tillotson
Oct 1
51 min
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
Sep 24
48 min
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
Sep 17
48 min
Frankenstein
In a programme first broadcast in May 2019, Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Mary Shelley's (1797-1851) Gothic story of a Swiss natural philosopher, Victor Frankenstein, and the creature he makes from parts of cadavers and which he then abandons, horrified by his appearance, and never names. Rejected by all humans who see him, the monster takes his revenge on Frankenstein, killing those dear to him. Shelley started writing Frankenstein when she was 18, prompted by a competition she had with Byron and her husband Percy Shelley to tell a ghost story while they were rained in in the summer of 1816 at the Villa Diodati by Lake Geneva. The image of Mary Shelley, above, was first exhibited in 1840. With Karen O'Brien Professor of English Literature at the University of Oxford Michael Rossington Professor of Romantic Literature at Newcastle University And Jane Thomas Professor of Victorian and Early 20th Century Literature at the University of Hull Producer: Simon Tillotson This programme is a repeat
Mar 19
55 min
The Covenanters
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the bonds that Scottish Presbyterians made between themselves and their monarchs in the 16th and 17th Centuries, to maintain their form of worship. These covenants bound James VI of Scotland to support Presbyterians yet when he became James I he was also expected to support episcopacy. That tension came to a head under Charles I who found himself on the losing side of a war with the Covenanters, who later supported Parliament before backing the future Charles II after he had pledged to support them. Once in power, Charles II failed to deliver the religious settlement the Covenanters wanted, and set about repressing them violently. Those who refused to renounce the covenants were persecuted in what became known as The Killing Times, as reflected in the image above. With Roger Mason Professor of Scottish History at the University of St Andrews Laura Stewart Professor of Early Modern British History at the University of York And Scott Spurlock Professor of Scottish and Early Modern Christianities at the University of Glasgow Producer: Simon Tillotson
Mar 12
53 min
Paul Dirac
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the theoretical physicist Dirac (1902-1984), whose achievements far exceed his general fame. To his peers, he was ranked with Einstein and, when he moved to America in his retirement, he was welcomed as if he were Shakespeare. Born in Bristol, he trained as an engineer before developing theories in his twenties that changed the understanding of quantum mechanics, bringing him a Nobel Prize in 1933 which he shared with Erwin Schrödinger. He continued to make deep contributions, bringing abstract maths to physics, beyond predicting anti-particles as he did in his Dirac Equation. With Graham Farmelo Biographer of Dirac and Fellow at Churchill College, Cambridge Valerie Gibson Professor of High Energy Physics at the University of Cambridge and Fellow of Trinity College And David Berman Professor of Theoretical Physics at Queen Mary University of London Producer: Simon Tillotson
Mar 5
50 min
The Evolution of Horses
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the origins of horses, from their dog sized ancestors to their proliferation in the New World until hunted to extinction, their domestication in Asia and their development since. The genetics of the modern horse are the most studied of any animal, after humans, yet it is still uncertain why they only have one toe on each foot when their wider family had more, or whether speed or stamina has been more important in their evolution. What is clear, though, is that when humans first chose to ride horses, as well as eat them, the future of both species changed immeasurably. With Alan Outram Professor of Archaeological Science at the University of Exeter Christine Janis Honorary Professor in Palaeobiology at the University of Bristol and Professor Emerita in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Brown University And John Hutchinson Professor in Evolutionary Biomechanics at the Royal Veterinary College Producer: Simon Tillotson
Feb 27
50 min
The Valladolid Debate
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the debate in Valladolid, Spain in 1550, over Spanish rights to enslave the native peoples in the newly conquered lands. Bartolomé de Las Casas (pictured above), the Bishop of Chiapas, Mexico, was trying to end the encomienda system in which those who now owned the land could also take the people in forced labour. Juan Gines Sepulveda, a philosopher, argued for the colonists' property rights over people, asserting that some native Americans were 'natural slaves' as defined by Aristotle. Valladolid became seen as the first open attempt by European colonists to discuss the ethics of slavery, and Las Casas became known as 'Saviour of the Indians' and an advocate for human rights, although for some time he argued that African slaves be imported to do the work in place of the native people, before repenting. With Caroline Dodds Pennock Senior Lecturer in International History at the University of Sheffield John Edwards Faculty Fellow in Spanish at the University of Oxford And Julia McClure Lecturer in Late Medieval and Early Modern Global History at the University of Glasgow Producer: Simon Tillotson
Feb 20
53 min
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