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BBC Radio 4 - In Our Time with Melvyn Bragg

In Our Time

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the ideas, people and events that have shaped our world.

In Our Time

  • The Battle of Trafalgar
    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the events of 21st October 1805, in which the British fleet led by Nelson destroyed a combined Franco-Spanish fleet in the Atlantic off the coast of Spain. Nelson's death that day was deeply mourned in Britain, and his example proved influential, and the battle was to help sever ties between Spain and its American empire. In France meanwhile, even before Nelson's body was interred at St Paul's, the setback at Trafalgar was overshadowed by Napoleon's decisive victory over Russia and Austria at Austerlitz, though Napoleon's search for his lost naval strength was to shape his plans for further conquests. The image above is from 'The Battle of Trafalgar' by JMW Turner (1824). With James Davey Lecturer in Naval and Maritime History at the University of Exeter Marianne Czisnik Independent researcher on Nelson and editor of his letters to Lady Hamilton And Kenneth Johnson Research Professor of National Security at Air University, Alabama Producer: Simon Tillotson

  • Plato's Gorgias
    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss one of Plato's most striking dialogues, in which he addresses the real nature of power and freedom, and the relationship between pleasure and true self-interest. As he tests these ideas, Plato creates powerful speeches, notably from Callicles who claims that laws of nature trump man-made laws, that might is right, and that rules are made by weak people to constrain the strong in defiance of what is natural and proper. Gorgias is arguably the most personal of all of Plato's dialogues, with its hints of a simmering fury at the system in Athens that put his mentor Socrates to death, and where rhetoric held too much sway over people. With Angie Hobbs Professor of the Public Understanding of Philosophy at the University of Sheffield Frisbee Sheffield University Lecturer in Classics and Fellow of Downing College, University of Cambridge And Fiona Leigh Associate Professor in the Department of Philosophy at University College London Producer: Simon Tillotson

  • The Decadent Movement
    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the British phase of a movement that spread across Europe in the mid-19th and early 20th centuries. Influenced by Charles Baudelaire and by Walter Pater, these Decadents rejected the mainstream Victorian view that art needed a moral purpose, and valued instead the intense sensations art provoked, celebrating art for art’s sake. Oscar Wilde was at its heart, Aubrey Beardsley adorned it with his illustrations and they, with others, provoked moral panic with their supposed degeneracy. After burning brightly, the movement soon lost its energy in Britain yet it has proved influential. The illustration above, by Beardsley, is from the cover of the first edition of The Yellow Book in April 1894. With Neil Sammells Professor of English and Irish Literature and Deputy Vice Chancellor at Bath Spa University Kate Hext Senior Lecturer in English Literature at the University of Exeter And Alex Murray Senior Lecturer in English at Queen’s University, Belfast Producer: Simon Tillotson

  • William and Caroline Herschel
    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss William Herschel (1738 – 1822) and his sister Caroline Herschel (1750 – 1848) who were born in Hanover and made their reputation in Britain. William was one of the most eminent astronomers in British history. Although he started life as a musician, as a young man he became interested in studying the night sky. With an extraordinary talent, he constructed telescopes that were able to see further and more clearly than any others at the time. He is most celebrated today for discovering the planet Uranus and detecting what came to be known as infrared radiation. Caroline also became a distinguished astronomer, discovering several comets and collaborating with her brother. With Monica Grady Professor of Planetary and Space Sciences at the Open University Carolin Crawford Institute of Astronomy, Cambridge and an Emeritus Fellow of Emmanuel College, University of Cambridge And Jim Bennett Keeper Emeritus at the Science Museum in London. Studio producer: John Goudie

  • The Song of Roland
    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss an early masterpiece of French epic poetry, from the 12th Century. It is a reimagining of Charlemagne’s wars in Spain in the 8th Century in which Roland, his most valiant knight, chooses death before dishonour, guarding the army’s rear from a pagan ambush as it heads back through the Roncesvalles Pass in the Pyrenees. If he wanted to, Roland could blow on his oliphant, his elephant tusk horn, to summon help by calling back Charlemagne's army, but according to his values that would bring shame both on him and on France, and he would rather keep killing pagans until he is the last man standing and the last to die. The image above is taken from an illustration of Charlemagne finding Roland after the Battle of Roncevaux/Roncesvalles, from 'Les Grandes Chroniques de France', c.1460 by Jean Fouquet, Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris, Ms Fr 6465 f.113 With Laura Ashe Professor of English Literature and Fellow in English at Worcester College, University of Oxford Miranda Griffin Assistant Professor of Medieval French at the University of Cambridge and Fellow of Murray Edwards College And Luke Sunderland Professor in the School of Modern Languages and Cultures at Durham University Studio producer: John Goudie