In Our Time: History
In Our Time: History
About In Our Time: History
Historical themes, events and key individuals from Akhenaten to Xenophon.
On 21 May 1838 an estimated 150,000 people assembled on Glasgow Green for a mass demonstration. There they witnessed the launch of the People’s Charter, a list of demands for political reform. The changes they called for included voting by secret ballot, equal-sized constituencies and, most importantly, that all men should have the vote. The Chartists, as they came to be known, were the first national mass working-class movement. In the decade that followed, they collected six million signatures for their Petitions to Parliament: all were rejected, but their campaign had a significant and lasting impact. With Joan Allen Visiting Fellow in History at Newcastle University and Chair of the Society for the Study of Labour History Emma Griffin Professor of Modern British History at the University of East Anglia and President of the Royal Historical Society and Robert Saunders Reader in Modern British History at Queen Mary, University of London. The image above shows a Chartist mass meeting on Kennington Common in London in April 1848.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the pioneering Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe (1546 – 1601) whose charts offered an unprecedented level of accuracy. In 1572 Brahe's observations of a new star challenged the idea, inherited from Aristotle, that the heavens were unchanging. He went on to create his own observatory complex on the Danish island of Hven, and there, working before the invention of the telescope, he developed innovative instruments and gathered a team of assistants, taking a highly systematic approach to observation. A second, smaller source of renown was his metal prosthetic nose, which he needed after a serious injury sustained in a duel. The image above shows Brahe aged 40, from the Atlas Major by Johann Blaeu. With Ole Grell Emeritus Professor in Early Modern History at the Open University Adam Mosley Associate Professor of History at Swansea University and Emma Perkins Affiliate Scholar in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Cambridge.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the stench from the River Thames in the hot summer of 1858 and how it appalled and terrified Londoners living and working beside it, including those in the new Houses of Parliament which were still under construction. There had been an outbreak of cholera a few years before in which tens of thousands had died, and a popular theory held that foul smells were linked to diseases. The source of the problem was that London's sewage, once carted off to fertilise fields had recently, thanks to the modern flushing systems, started to flow into the river and, thanks to the ebb and flow of the tides, was staying there and warming in the summer sun. The engineer Joseph Bazalgette was given the task to build huge new sewers to intercept the waste, a vast network, so changing the look of London and helping ensure there were no further cholera outbreaks from contaminated water. The image above is from Punch, July 10th 1858 and it has this caption: The 'Silent Highway'-Man. "Your Money or your Life!" With Rosemary Ashton Emeritus Quain Professor of English Language and Literature at University College London Stephen Halliday Author of ‘The Great Stink of London: Sir Joseph Bazalgette and the Cleansing of the Victorian Metropolis’ And Paul Dobraszczyk Lecturer at the Bartlett School of Architecture at University College London
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the momentum behind rebellion in Ireland in 1798, the people behind the rebellion and the impact over the next few years and after. Amid wider unrest, the United Irishmen set the rebellion on its way, inspired by the French and American revolutionaries and their pursuit of liberty. When it broke out in May the United Irishmen had an estimated two hundred thousand members, Catholic and Protestant, and the prospect of a French invasion fleet to back them. Crucially for the prospects of success, some of those members were British spies who exposed the plans and the military were largely ready - though not in Wexford where the scale of rebellion was much greater. The fighting was initially fierce and brutal and marked with sectarianism but had largely been suppressed by the time the French arrived in August to declare a short-lived republic. The consequences of the rebellion were to be far reaching, not least in the passing of Acts of Union in 1800. The image above is of Theobald Wolfe Tone (1763 - 1798), prominent member of the United Irishmen With Ian McBride Foster Professor of Irish History at Hertford College, University of Oxford Catriona Kennedy Senior Lecturer in Modern History at the University of York And Liam Chambers Head of Department and Senior Lecturer in History at Mary Immaculate College, Limerick Producer: Simon Tillotson
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the speeches that became a byword for fierce attacks on political opponents. It was in the 4th century BC, in Athens, that Demosthenes delivered these speeches against the tyrant Philip II of Macedon, father of Alexander the Great, when Philip appeared a growing threat to Athens and its allies and Demosthenes feared his fellow citizens were set on appeasement. In what became known as The Philippics, Demosthenes tried to persuade Athenians to act against Macedon before it was too late; eventually he succeeded in stirring them, even if the Macedonians later prevailed. For these speeches prompting resistance, Demosthenes became famous as one of the Athenian democracy’s greatest freedom fighters. Later, in Rome, Cicero's attacks on Mark Antony were styled on Demosthenes and these too became known as Philippics. The image above is painted on the dome of the library of the National Assembly, Paris and is by Eugene Delacroix (1798-1863). It depicts Demosthenes haranguing the waves of the sea as a way of strengthening his voice for his speeches. With Paul Cartledge A. G. Leventis Senior Research Fellow at Clare College, University of Cambridge Kathryn Tempest Reader in Latin Literature and Roman History at the University of Roehampton And Jon Hesk Reader in Greek and Classical Studies at the University of St Andrews Producer: Simon Tillotson
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the rebellion that broke out in Jamaica on 11th October 1865 when Paul Bogle (1822-65) led a protest march from Stony Gut to the courthouse in nearby Morant Bay. There were many grounds for grievance that day and soon anger turned to bloodshed. Although the British had abolished slavery 30 years before, the plantation owners were still dominant and the conditions for the majority of people on Jamaica were poor. The British governor suppressed this rebellion brutally and soon people in Jamaica lost what right they had to rule themselves. Some in Britain, like Charles Dickens, supported the governor's actions while others, like Charles Darwin, wanted him tried for murder. The image above is from a Jamaican $2 banknote, printed after Paul Bogle became a National Hero in 1969. With Matthew J Smith Professor of History and Director of the Centre for the Study of the Legacies of British Slavery at University College London Diana Paton The William Robertson Professor of History at the University of Edinburgh And Lawrence Goldman Emeritus Fellow in History at St Peter’s College, University of Oxford Producer: Simon Tillotson
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the military order founded around 1119, twenty years after the Crusaders captured Jerusalem. For almost 200 years the Knights Templar were a notable fighting force and financial power in the Crusader States and Western Europe. Their mission was to protect pilgrims in the Holy Land, and they became extremely wealthy yet, as the crusader grip on Jerusalem slipped, their political fortune declined steeply. They were to be persecuted out of existence, with their last grand master burned at the stake in Paris in 1314, and that sudden end has contributed to the strength of the legends that have grown up around them. With Helen Nicholson Professor of Medieval History at Cardiff University Mike Carr Lecturer in Late Medieval History at the University of Edinburgh And Jonathan Phillips Professor of Crusading History at Royal Holloway, University of London Producer: Simon Tillotson
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
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Czech educator Jan Amos Komenský (1592-1670) known throughout Europe in his lifetime under the Latin version of his name, Comenius. A Protestant and member of the Unity of Brethren, he lived much of his life in exile, expelled from his homeland under the Catholic Counter-Reformation, and he wanted to address the deep antagonisms underlying the wars that were devastating Europe especially The Thirty Years War (1618-1648). A major part of his plan was Universal Education, in which everyone could learn about everything, and better understand each other and so tolerate their religious differences and live side by side. His ideas were to have a lasting influence on education, even though the peace that followed the Thirty Years War only entrenched the changes in his homeland that made his life there impossible. The image above is from a portrait of Comenius by Jürgen Ovens, 1650 - 1670, painted while he was living in Amsterdam and held in the Rikjsmuseum With Vladimir Urbanek Senior Researcher in the Department of Comenius Studies and Early Modern Intellectual History at the Institute of Philosophy of the Czech Academy of Sciences Suzanna Ivanic Lecturer in Early Modern European History at the University of Kent And Howard Hotson Professor of Early Modern Intellectual History at the University of Oxford and Fellow of St Anne’s College Producer: Simon Tillotson
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the impact of David I of Scotland (c1084-1153) on his kingdom and on neighbouring lands. The youngest son of Malcolm III, he was raised in exile in the Anglo-Norman court and became Earl of Huntingdon and Prince of Cumbria before claiming the throne in 1124. He introduced elements of what he had learned in England and, in the next decades, his kingdom saw new burghs, new monasteries, new ways of governing and the arrival of some very influential families, earning him the reputation of The Perfect King. With Richard Oram Professor of Medieval and Environmental History at the University of Stirling Alice Taylor Professor of Medieval History at King’s College London And Alex Woolf Senior Lecturer in History at the University of St Andrews Producer: Simon Tillotson
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
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
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
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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
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the momentum behind teetotalism in 19th Century Britain, when calls for moderation gave way to complete abstinence in pursuit of a better life. Although arguments for temperance had been made throughout the British Isles beforehand, the story of the organised movement in Britain is often said to have started in 1832 in Preston, when Joseph Livesey and seven others gave a pledge to abstain. The movement grew quickly, with Temperance Halls appearing as new social centres in towns in place of pubs, and political parties being drawn into taking sides either to support abstinence or impose it or reject it. The image above, which appeared in The Teetotal Progressionist in 1852, is an example of the way in which images contained many points of temperance teaching, and is © Copyright Livesey Collection at the University of Central Lancashire. With Annemarie McAllister Senior Research Fellow in History at the University of Central Lancashire James Kneale Associate Professor in Geography at University College London And David Beckingham Associate Professor in Cultural and Historical Geography at the University of Nottingham Producer: Simon Tillotson
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the system that flourished from 1870 when gold became dominant and more widely available, following gold rushes in California and Australia. Banknotes could be exchanged for gold at central banks, the coins in circulation could be gold (as with the sovereign in the image above, initially worth £1), gold could be freely imported and exported, and many national currencies around the world were tied to gold and so to each other. The idea began in Britain, where sterling was seen as good as gold, and when other countries rushed to the Gold Standard the confidence in their currencies grew, and world trade took off and, for a century, gold was seen as a vital component of the world economy, supporting stability and confidence. The system came with constraints on government ability to respond to economic crises, though, and has been blamed for deepening and prolonging the Great Depression of the 1930s. With Catherine Schenk Professor of Economic and Social History at the University of Oxford Helen Paul Lecturer in Economics and Economic History at the University of Southampton And Matthias Morys Senior Lecturer in Economic History at the University of York Produced by Eliane Glaser and Simon Tillotson
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the empire that flourished in the Late Bronze Age in what is now Turkey, and which, like others at that time, mysteriously collapsed. For the next three thousand years these people of the Land of Hatti, as they called themselves, were known only by small references to their Iron Age descendants in the Old Testament and by unexplained remains in their former territory. Discoveries in their capital of Hattusa just over a century ago brought them back to prominence, including cuneiform tablets such as one (pictured above) which relates to an agreement with their rivals, the Egyptians. This agreement has since become popularly known as the Treaty of Kadesh and described as the oldest recorded peace treaty that survives to this day, said to have followed a great chariot battle with Egypt in 1274 BC near the Orontes River in northern Syria. With Claudia Glatz Professor of Archaeology at the University of Glasgow Ilgi Gercek Assistant Professor of Ancient Near Eastern Languages and History at Bilkent University And Christoph Bachhuber Lecturer in Archaeology at St John’s College, University of Oxford Producer: Simon Tillotson
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the violent protests in China on 4th May 1919 over the nation's humiliation in the Versailles Treaty after World War One. China had supported the Allies, sending workers to dig trenches, and expected to regain the German colonies on its territory, but the Allies and China's leaders chose to give that land to Japan instead. To protestors, this was a travesty and reflected much that was wrong with China, with its corrupt leaders, division by warlords, weakness before Imperial Europe and outdated ideas and values. The movement around 4th May has since been seen as a watershed in China’s development in the 20th century, not least as some of those connected with the movement went on to found the Communist Party of China a few years later. The image above is of students from Peking University marching with banners during the May Fourth demonstrations in 1919. With Rana Mitter Professor of the History and Politics of Modern China and Fellow of St Cross College, University of Oxford Elisabeth Forster Lecturer in Chinese History at the University of Southampton And Song-Chuan Chen Associate Professor in History at the University of Warwick Producer: Simon Tillotson
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
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