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2018-01-23T13:51:17.852Z
0
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Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss The South Sea Bubble, the speculation mania in early 18th-century England which ended in the financial ruin of many of its investors. The South Sea Company was founded in 1711 with a view to restructuring government debt and restoring public credit. The company would ostensibly trade with South America, hence its name; and indeed, it did trade in slaves for the Spanish market even after the Bubble burst in 1720. People from all walks of life bought shares in the South Sea Company, from servants to gentry, and it was said the entire country was gripped by South Sea speculation mania. When the shares crashed and the company collapsed there was a public outcry and many people faced financial ruin, although some investors sold before the crash and made substantial amounts of money. For example, the bookseller Thomas Guy made his fortune and founded a hospital in his name the following year. But how did such a financial crisis develop and were there any lessons learnt following this early example of a stock market boom and bust? With: Anne Murphy Senior Lecturer in History at the University of Hertfordshire Helen Paul Lecturer in Economics and Economic History at the University of Southampton Roey Sweet Head of the School of History at the University of Leicester Producer: Natalia Fernandez.
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the epic poem the Shahnameh of Ferdowsi, the 'Book of Kings', which has been at the heart of Persian culture for the past thousand years. The poem recounts a legendary history of Iran from the dawn of time to the fall of the Persian Empire in the 7th century and serves, in a sense, as a creation myth for the Persian nation. The Shahnameh took Ferdowsi thirty years to write and, consisting of over 50,000 verses, is said to be the longest poem ever written by a single author. Laced with tragedy, Ferdowsi's epic chronicles battles, romances, family rifts and Man's interior struggle with himself. Although the stories may not always be true they have a profound resonance with Iranians even today, and the poem has been referred to as both the 'encyclopaedia of Iranian culture' and the identity card of the Persian people. With: Narguess Farzad Senior Fellow in Persian at SOAS, University of London Charles Melville Professor of Persian History at Pembroke College at the University of Cambridge Vesta Sarkhosh Curtis Curator of Middle Eastern Coins at the British Museum Producer: Natalia Fernandez.
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the influential British philosopher Bertrand Russell. Born in 1872 into an aristocratic family, Russell is widely regarded as one of the founders of Analytic philosophy, which is today the dominant philosophical tradition in the English-speaking world. In his important book The Principles of Mathematics, he sought to reduce mathematics to logic. Its revolutionary ideas include Russell's Paradox, a problem which inspired Ludwig Wittgenstein to pursue philosophy. Russell's most significant and famous idea, the theory of descriptions, had profound consequences for the discipline. In addition to his academic work, Russell played an active role in many social and political campaigns. He supported women's suffrage, was imprisoned for his pacifism during World War I and was a founder of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. He wrote a number of books aimed at the general public, including The History of Western Philosophy which became enormously popular, and in 1950 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. Russell's many appearances on the BBC also helped to promote the public understanding of ideas. With: AC Grayling Master of the New College of the Humanities and a Supernumerary Fellow of St Anne's College, Oxford Mike Beaney Professor of Philosophy at the University of York Hilary Greaves Lecturer in Philosophy and Fellow of Somerville College, Oxford Producer: Victoria Brignell.
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the history of crystallography, the study of crystals and their structure. The discovery in the early 20th century that X-rays could be diffracted by a crystal revolutionised our knowledge of materials. This crystal technology has touched most people's lives, thanks to the vital role it plays in diverse scientific disciplines - from physics and chemistry, to molecular biology and mineralogy. To date, 28 Nobel Prizes have been awarded to scientists working with X-ray crystallography, an indication of its crucial importance. The history of crystallography began with the work of Johannes Kepler in the 17th century, but perhaps the most crucial leap in understanding came with the work of the father-and-son team the Braggs in 1912. They built on the work of the German physicist Max von Laue who had proved that X-rays are a form of light waves and that it was possible to scatter these rays using a crystal. The Braggs undertook seminal experiments which transformed our perception of crystals and their atomic arrangements, and led to some of the most significant scientific findings of the last century - such as revealing the structure of DNA. With: Judith Howard Director of the Biophysical Sciences Institute and Professor of Chemistry at the University of Durham Chris Hammond Life Fellow in Material Science at the University of Leeds Mike Glazer Emeritus Professor of Physics at the University of Oxford and Visiting Professor of Physics at the University of Warwick Producer: Natalia Fernandez.
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Borgias, the most notorious family in Renaissance Italy. Famed for their treachery and corruption, the Borgias produced two popes during their time of dominance in Rome in the late 15th century. The most well-known of these two popes is Alexander VI, previously Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia. He was accused of buying votes to elect him to the papacy and openly promoted his children in positions of power. Rodrigo's daughter, Lucrezia, is widely remembered as a ruthless poisoner; his son, Cesare, as a brutal soldier. Murder, intrigue and power politics characterised their rule, but many of the stories now told about their depraved behaviour and evil ways emerged after their demise and gave rise to the so-called 'Black Legend'. The sullied reputation of the Borgia dynasty endures even today and their lives have provided a major theme for plays, novels and over forty films. With: Evelyn Welch Professor of Renaissance Studies at Queen Mary, University of London Catherine Fletcher Lecturer in Public History at the University of Sheffield Christine Shaw Honorary Research Fellow at Swansea University Producer: Natalia Fernandez.
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the French philosopher and social activist Simone Weil. Born in Paris in 1909 into a wealthy, agnostic Jewish family, Weil was a precocious child and attended the prestigious Ecole Normale Superieure in Paris, achieving the top marks in her class (Simone de Beauvoir came second). Weil rejected her comfortable background and chose to work in fields and factories to experience the life of the working classes at first hand. She was acutely sensitive to human suffering and devoted her life to helping those less fortunate than herself. Despite her belief in pacifism she volunteered on the Republican side during the Spanish Civil War and later joined the French Resistance movement in England. Her philosophy was both complex and intense. She argued that the presence of evil and suffering in the world was evidence of God's love and that Man has no right to ask anything of God or of anyone whom they love. Love which expects reward was not love at all in Weil's eyes. Weil died of TB in Kent at the age of only 34. Her strict lifestyle and self-denial may have contributed to her early death. T.S Eliot said "she was not just a woman of genius, but was a genius akin to that of a saint"; Albert Camus believed she was "the only great spirit of our time." With: Beatrice Han-Pile Professor of Philosophy at the University of Essex Stephen Plant Runcie Fellow and Dean of Trinity Hall at the University of Cambridge David...
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Upanishads, the ancient sacred texts of Hinduism. Dating from about 700 BC, the Upanishads were passed down through an oral tradition in priestly castes and were not written down until the 6th century AD. They constitute the final part of the Vedas, the collection of texts which form the foundation of the Indian Hindu world, and were originally spoken during sacrificial rituals. Yet the Upanishads go beyond incantations performed during sacrifices, and ask profound questions about human existence and man's place in the cosmos. The concepts of Brahman (the universal cosmic power) and Atman (the deeper soul of the individual) are central to the understanding of the Upanishads. Each individual treatise has its own character. Some are poetic; some are scientific; others are dialogues between kings and sages or metaphysical reflections. More than one hundred Upanishads were produced, thirteen of which are regarded as the canonical scriptures of Hinduism. With: Jessica Frazier Lecturer in Religious Studies at the University of Kent and a Research Fellow at the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies at the University of Oxford Chakravarthi Ram-Prasad Professor of Comparative Religion and Philosophy at Lancaster University Simon Brodbeck Lecturer in Religious Studies at the University of Cardiff Producer: Natalia Fernandez.
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss The Anarchy, the civil war that took place in mid-twelfth century England. The war began as a succession dispute between the Empress Matilda, daughter of Henry I, and her cousin, Stephen of Blois. On Henry's death Stephen seized the English throne and held it for a number of years before Matilda wrestled it from him, although she was chased out of London before she could be crowned. The Anarchy dragged on for nearly twenty years and is so called because of the chaos and lawlessness that characterised the period. Yet only one major battle ever took place, the Battle of Lincoln in 1141, and any other fighting associated with the conflict was fairly localised. This has led historians to question the accuracy of labelling the civil war as The Anarchy, a name only bestowed on the era in the 19th century. But why did Matilda fail to become the monarch, and what impact did it have on the way England was ruled in centuries to come? With: John Gillingham Emeritus Professor of History at the London School of Economics and Political Science Louise Wilkinson Reader in Medieval History at Canterbury Christ Church University David Carpenter Professor of Medieval History at Kings College London. Producer: Natalia Fernandez.
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Fermat's Last Theorem. In 1637 the French mathematician Pierre de Fermat scribbled a note in the margin of one of his books. He claimed to have proved a remarkable property of numbers, but gave no clue as to how he'd gone about it. "I have found a wonderful demonstration of this proposition," he wrote, "which this margin is too narrow to contain". Fermat's theorem became one of the most iconic problems in mathematics and for centuries mathematicians struggled in vain to work out what his proof had been. In the 19th century the French Academy of Sciences twice offered prize money and a gold medal to the person who could discover Fermat's proof; but it was not until 1995 that the puzzle was finally solved by the British mathematician Andrew Wiles. With: Marcus du Sautoy Professor of Mathematics & Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science at the University of Oxford Vicky Neale Fellow and Director of Studies in Mathematics at Murray Edwards College at the University of Cambridge Samir Siksek Professor at the Mathematics Institute at the University of Warwick. Producer: Natalia Fernandez.
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the life and influence of William Caxton, the merchant who brought the printing press to the British Isles. After spending several years working as a printer in Bruges, Caxton returned to London and in 1476 set up his first printing press in Westminster, and also imported and sold other printed books. Caxton concentrated on producing popular books that he knew would sell, such as Chaucer's 'Canterbury Tales' and small liturgical 'books of hours'. The standard of Caxton's printing may have lagged behind that on the continent, but he was a skilful businessman and unusually for printers at the time, he managed not to go bankrupt. The advent of print is now seen as one of the great revolutions in intellectual history - although many scholars believe it was a revolution that took many generations to have an effect. With: Richard Gameson Professor of the History of the Book at the University of Durham Julia Boffey Professor of Medieval Studies in the English Department at Queen Mary, University of London David Rundle Member of the History Faculty at the University of Oxford Producer: Natalia Fernandez.
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the life and achievements of Hannibal. One of the most celebrated military leaders in history, Hannibal was the Carthaginian general who led an entire army, complete with elephants, across the Alps in order to attack the Roman Republic. He lived at a time of prolonged hostility between the two great Mediterranean powers, Rome and Carthage, and was the Carthaginians' inspirational leader during the Second Punic War which unfolded between 218 and 202 BC. His career ended in defeat and exile, but he achieved such fame that even his enemies the Romans erected statues of him. Centuries later his tactical genius was admired and studied by generals including Napoleon and Wellington. With: Ellen O'Gorman Senior Lecturer in Classics at the University of Bristol Mark Woolmer Senior Tutor in the Department of Classics and Ancient History at the University of Durham Louis Rawlings Senior Lecturer in Ancient History at Cardiff University. Producer: Natalia Fernandez.
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the medieval scholar Gerald of Wales. Born around the middle of the twelfth century, Gerald was a cleric and courtier. For much of his life he was close to Henry II and the Church hierarchy, and wrote accounts of official journeys he made around Wales and Ireland in their service. Both Anglo-Norman and Welsh by parentage, he had a unique perspective on the political strife of his age. Gerald's Journey Around Wales and Description of Ireland are among the most colourful and informative chronicles of the Middle Ages, and had a powerful influence on later historians. With: Henrietta Leyser Emeritus Fellow of St Peter's College, University of Oxford Michelle Brown Professor Emerita of Medieval Manuscript Studies at the School of Advanced Study, University of London Huw Pryce Professor of Welsh History at Bangor University Producer: Thomas Morris.
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Ontological Argument. In the eleventh century St Anselm of Canterbury proposed that it was possible to prove the existence of God using reason alone. His argument was ridiculed by some of his contemporaries, but was analysed and improved by later thinkers including Descartes, Spinoza and Leibniz. Other philosophers have been less kind, with the Enlightenment thinker David Hume offering one possible refutation. But the debate continued, fuelled by interventions from such heavyweights as Immanuel Kant and Kurt Gödel; and it remains one of the most discussed problems in philosophy. With: John Haldane Professor of Philosophy at the University of St Andrews Peter Millican Professor of Philosophy at the University of Oxford Clare Carlisle Lecturer in Philosophy of Religion at King's College London Producer: Thomas Morris.
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Druids, the priests of ancient Europe. Active in Ireland, Britain and Gaul, the Druids were first written about by Roman authors including Julius Caesar and Pliny, who described them as wearing white robes and cutting mistletoe with golden sickles. They were suspected of leading resistance to the Romans, a fact which eventually led to their eradication from ancient Britain. In the early modern era, however, interest in the Druids revived, and later writers reinvented and romanticised their activities. Little is known for certain about their rituals and beliefs, but modern archaeological discoveries have shed new light on them. With: Barry Cunliffe Emeritus Professor of Archaeology at the University of Oxford Miranda Aldhouse-Green Professor of Archaeology at Cardiff University Justin Champion Professor of the History of Early Modern Ideas at Royal Holloway, University of London Producer: Thomas Morris.
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the cell, the fundamental building block of life. First observed by Robert Hooke in 1665, cells occur in nature in a bewildering variety of forms. Every organism alive today consists of one or more cells: a single human body contains up to a hundred trillion of them. The first life on Earth was a single-celled organism which is thought to have appeared around three and a half billion years ago. That simple cell resembled today's bacteria. But eventually these microscopic entities evolved into something far more complex, and single-celled life gave rise to much larger, complex multicellular organisms. But how did the first cell appear, and how did that prototype evolve into the sophisticated, highly specialised cells of the human body? With: Steve Jones Professor of Genetics at University College London Nick Lane Senior Lecturer in the Department of Genetics, Evolution and Environment, University College London Cathie Martin Group Leader at the John Innes Centre and Professor in the School of Biological Sciences at the University of East Anglia Producer: Thomas Morris.
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Hadrian's Wall, the largest Roman structure and one of the most important archaeological monuments in Britain. Stretching for eighty miles from the mouth of the River Tyne to the Solway Firth and classified today as a World Heritage Site, it has been a source of fascination ever since it came into existence. It was built in about 122 AD by the Emperor Hadrian, and a substantial part of it still survives today. Although its construction must have entailed huge cost and labour, the Romans abandoned it within twenty years, deciding to build the Antonine Wall further north instead. Even after more than a century of excavations, many mysteries still surround Hadrian's Wall, including its exact purpose. Did it have a meaningful defensive role or was it mainly a powerful emperor's vanity project? With: Greg Woolf Professor of Ancient History at the University of St Andrews David Breeze Former Chief Inspector of Ancient Monuments for Scotland and Visiting Professor of Archaeology at the University of Durham Lindsay Allason-Jones Former Reader in Roman Material Culture at the University of Newcastle Producer: Victoria Brignell.
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Scepticism, the idea that it may be impossible to know anything with complete certainty. Scepticism was first outlined by ancient Greek philosophers: Socrates is reported to have said that the only thing he knew for certain was that he knew nothing. Later, Scepticism was taught at the Academy founded by Plato, and learnt by students who included the Roman statesman Cicero. The central ideas of Scepticism were taken up by later philosophers and came to the fore during the Renaissance, when thinkers including Rene Descartes and Michel de Montaigne took up its challenge. A central plank of the philosophical system of David Hume, Scepticism had a powerful influence on the religious and scientific debates of the Enlightenment. With: Peter Millican Professor of Philosophy at Hertford College, Oxford Melissa Lane Professor of Politics at Princeton University Jill Kraye Professor of the History of Renaissance Philosophy and Librarian at the Warburg Institute, University of London. Producer: Thomas Morris.
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the life and work of the Arab philosopher al-Kindi. Born in the early ninth century, al-Kindi was heavily influenced by Greek philosophy and supervised the translation of many works by Aristotle and others into Arabic. The author of more than 250 works, he wrote on many different subjects, from optics to mathematics, music and astrology. He was the first significant thinker to argue that philosophy and Islam had much to offer each other and need not be kept apart. Today al-Kindi is regarded as one of the greatest scholars of the medieval Islamic world. With: Hugh Kennedy Professor of Arabic at SOAS, University of London James Montgomery Sir Thomas Adams's Professor of Arabic Elect at the University of Cambridge Amira Bennison Senior Lecturer in Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies at the University of Cambridge. Producer: Thomas Morris.
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the life of the prominent 19th-century social reformer Annie Besant. Born in 1847, Annie Besant espoused a range of causes including secularism, women's rights, Socialism, Irish Home Rule, birth control and better conditions for workers. Described by Beatrice Webb as having "the voice of a beautiful soul", Besant became an eloquent public speaker as well as writing numerous campaigning articles and pamphlets. She is perhaps most famous for the key role she played in the successful strike by female workers at the Bryant and May match factory in East London in 1888, which brought the appalling working conditions of many factory workers to greater public attention. Later in life she became a follower of theosophy, a belief system bringing together elements of Hinduism, Buddhism and other Eastern religions. She moved to India, its main base, and took on a leading role in the Indian self-rule movement, being appointed the first female president of the Indian National Congress in 1917. With: Lawrence Goldman Fellow in Modern History at St Peter's College, University of Oxford David Stack Reader in History at the University of Reading Yasmin Khan Senior Lecturer in Politics and International Relations at Royal Holloway, University of London. Producer: Victoria Brignell.
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss James Joyce's novel Ulysses. First published ninety years ago in Paris, Joyce's masterpiece is a sprawling and startlingly original work charting a single day in the life of the Dubliner Leopold Bloom. Some early readers were outraged by its sexual content and daringly scatalogical humour, and the novel was banned in most English-speaking countries for a decade after it first appeared. But it was soon recognised as a genuinely innovative work: overturning the ban on its publication, an American judge described Ulysses as "a sincere and serious attempt to devise a new literary method for the observation and description of mankind."Today Ulysses is widely regarded as the greatest example of literary modernism, and a work that changed literature forever. It remains one of the most discussed novels ever written.Steven ConnorProfessor of Modern Literature and Theory at Birkbeck, University of LondonJeri JohnsonSenior Fellow in English at Exeter College, OxfordRichard BrownReader in Modern English Literature at the University of LeedsProducer: Thomas Morris.