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Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Neoplatonism, the school of thought founded in the 3rd century AD by the philosopher Plotinus. Born in Egypt, Plotinus was brought up in the Platonic tradition, studying and reinterpreting the works of the Greek thinker Plato. After he moved to Rome Plotinus became the most influential member of a group of thinkers dedicated to Platonic scholarship. The Neoplatonists - a term only coined in the nineteenth century - brought a new religious sensibility to bear on Plato's thought. They outlined a complex cosmology which linked the human with the divine, headed by a mysterious power which they called the One. Neoplatonism shaped early Christian, Jewish and Muslim religious scholarship, and remained a dominant force in European thought until the Renaissance. With:Angie HobbsAssociate Professor of Philosophy and Senior Fellow in the Public Understanding of Philosophy at the University of WarwickPeter AdamsonProfessor of Ancient and Medieval Philosophy at King's College LondonAnne SheppardProfessor of Ancient Philosophy at Royal Holloway, University of LondonProducer: Thomas Morris.
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the emergence of geology as a scientific discipline. A little over two hundred years ago a small group of friends founded the Geological Society of London. This organisation was the first devoted to furthering the discipline of geology - the study of the Earth, its history and composition. Although geology only emerged as a separate area of study in the late eighteenth century, many earlier thinkers had studied rocks, fossils and the materials from which the Earth is made. Ancient scholars in Egypt and Greece speculated about the Earth and its composition. And in the Renaissance the advent of mining brought further insight into the nature of objects found underground and how they got there. But how did such haphazard study of rocks and fossils develop into a rigorous scientific discipline?With:Stephen PumfreySenior Lecturer in the History of Science at Lancaster UniversityAndrew ScottProfessor of Applied Palaeobotany at Royal Holloway, University of LondonLeucha VeneerResearch Associate at the Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine at the University of Manchester.Producer: Thomas Morris.
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the origins of Quakerism. In the mid-seventeenth century an itinerant preacher, George Fox, became the central figure of a group known as the Religious Society of Friends, whose members believed it was possible to obtain contact with Christ without priestly intercession. The Quakers, as they became known, rejected the established Church and what they saw as the artificial pomp and artifice of its worship. They argued for religious toleration and for the equality of men and women. Persecuted for many years, particularly after the Restoration of Charles II in 1660, the Quakers survived to become an influential religious group, known for their pacifism and philanthropy. With:Justin ChampionProfessor of the History of Early Modern Ideas at Royal Holloway, University of LondonJohn CoffeyProfessor of Early Modern History at the University of LeicesterKate PetersFellow in History at Murray Edwards College at the University of Cambridge.Producer: Thomas Morris.
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the measurement of time. Early civilisations used the movements of heavenly bodies to tell the time, but even in the ancient world more sophisticated timekeeping devices such as waterclocks were known. The development of mechanical clocks in Europe emerged in the medieval period when monks used such devices to sound an alarm to signal it was the hour to pray, although these clocks did not tell them the time. For hundreds of years clocks were inaccurate and it proved hard to remedy the problems, let alone settle on a standard time that the country should follow. It was with the advent of the railways that time finally became standardised in Britain in the mid-19th century and only in 1884 that Greenwich became the prime meridian of the world. Atomic clocks now mark the passing of the days, hours, and minutes and they are capable of keeping time to a second in 15 million years. With:Kristen LippincottFormer Director of the Royal Observatory, GreenwichJim BennettDirector of the Museum of the History of Science at the University of OxfordJonathan BettsSenior Curator of Horology at the Royal Observatory, GreenwichProducer: Natalia Fernandez.
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the work and influence of the eighteenth-century philosopher Moses Mendelssohn. A prominent figure at the court of Frederick the Great, Mendelssohn was one of the most significant thinkers of his age. He came from a humble, but culturally rich background and his obvious intelligence was recognised from a young age and nurtured by the local rabbi where he lived in the town of Dessau in Prussia. Moses's learning earned him the sobriquet of the 'German Socrates' and he is considered to be one of the principal architects of the Haskala, the Jewish Enlightenment, and widely regarded as having helped bring Judaism into the mainstream of European culture. Mendelssohn is perhaps best remembered today for his efforts to bring Jewish and German culture closer together and for his plea for religious toleration.With:Christopher ClarkProfessor of Modern European History at the University of CambridgeAbigail GreenTutor and Fellow in History at the University of OxfordAdam SutcliffeSenior Lecturer in European History at King's College, London Producer: Natalia Fernandez.
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Vitruvius' De Architectura. Written almost exactly two thousand years ago, Vitruvius' work is a ten-volume treatise on engineering and architecture, the only surviving work on the subject from the ancient world. This fascinating book offers unique insights into Roman technology and contains discussion of the general principles of architecture, the training of architects and the design of temples, houses and public buildings.The rediscovery of this seminal treatise in the 15th century provided the impetus for the neoclassical architectural movement, and Vitruvius exerted a significant influence on the work of Renaissance architects including Palladio, Brunelleschi and Alberti. It remains a hugely important text today, two millennia after it was written.With:Serafina CuomoReader in Roman History at Birkbeck, University of LondonRobert TavernorEmeritus Professor of Architecture and Urban Design at the London School of EconomicsAlice KoenigLecturer in Latin and Classical Studies at the University of St Andrews.Producer: Thomas Morris.
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Lyrical Ballads, the collection of poems by William Wordsworth and Samuel Coleridge first published in 1798. The work was conceived as an attempt to cast off the stultifying conventions of formal 18th-century poetry. Wordsworth wrote that the poems it contains should be "considered as experiments. They were written chiefly with a view to ascertain how far the language of conversation in the middle and lower classes of society is adapted to the purpose of poetic pleasure."Lyrical Ballads contains some of the best-known work by Coleridge and Wordsworth, including The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Tintern Abbey - and is today seen as a point of radical departure for poetry in English.With:Judith HawleyProfessor of Eighteenth-Century Literature at Royal Holloway, University of LondonJonathan BateProvost of Worcester College, OxfordPeter SwaabReader in English Literature at University College London.Producer: Thomas Morris.
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the life and work of Benjamin Franklin. A printer, statesman, diplomat, writer and scientist, Franklin was one of the most remarkable individuals of the eighteenth century. His discoveries relating to the nature of electricity, and in particular a celebrated experiment which involved flying a kite in a thunderstorm, made him famous in Europe and America. His inventions include bifocal spectacles, and a new type of stove. In the second half of his life he became prominent as a politician and a successful diplomat. As the only Founding Father to have signed all three of the fundamental documents of the United States of America, including its Declaration of Independence and Constitution, Benjamin Franklin occupies a unique position in the history of the nation. With:Simon MiddletonSenior Lecturer in American History at the University of SheffieldSimon NewmanSir Denis Brogan Professor of American History at the University of GlasgowPatricia FaraSenior Tutor at Clare College, University of Cambridge.Producer: Thomas Morris.
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the physics of electrical conduction. Although electricity has been known for several hundred years, it was only in the early twentieth century that physicists first satisfactorily explained the phenomenon. Electric current is the passage of charged particles through a medium - but a material will only conduct electricity if its atomic structure enables it to do so. In investigating electrical conduction scientists discovered two new classes of material. Semiconductors, first exploited commercially in the 1950s, have given us the transistor, the solar cell and the silicon chip, and have revolutionised telecommunications. And superconductors, remarkable materials first observed in 1911, are used in medical imaging and at the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva. With:Frank CloseProfessor of Physics at the University of OxfordJenny NelsonProfessor of Physics at Imperial College LondonLesley CohenProfessor of Solid State Physics at Imperial College LondonProducer: Thomas Morris.
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the An Lushan Rebellion, a major uprising against the imperial rule of the Chinese Tang Dynasty. In 755 AD a senior general, An Lushan, orchestrated a plot against Emperor Xuanzong, taking the regime's capital city before declaring a rival dynasty in northern China. The rebellion lasted eight years but was eventually put down by Tang forces. Although the dynasty's authority was restored, it never regained the prosperity of previous generations. The An Lushan Rebellion displaced millions of people and killed many more. It changed the relationship between the Chinese state and neighbouring powers; but it also left a rich cultural legacy in the poetry memorialising this seismic event.With:Frances WoodLead Curator of Chinese at the British LibraryNaomi StandenProfessor of Medieval History at the University of BirminghamHilde de WeerdtFellow and Lecturer in Chinese History at Pembroke College, Oxford.Producer: Thomas Morris.
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the life and work of the Dutch humanist scholar Desiderius Erasmus. In his lifetime Erasmus was almost universally recognised as the greatest classical scholar of his age, the translator and editor of numerous Latin and Greek texts. But above all he was a religious scholar who published important editions of the Bible which expunged many corruptions to the texts of the Scriptures. He was an outspoken critic of the Church, whose biting satire on its excesses, In Praise of Folly, was famed throughout Europe.When the Reformation began in 1517, however, Erasmus chose to remain a member of the Catholic Church rather than side with Martin Luther and the reformers, and a few years later he engaged in a celebrated debate with Luther on the subject of free will. Through his writings on the Church, on education and the wide gamut of humanist scholarship, Erasmus is remembered today as one of the greatest thinkers of the northern Renaissance.With:Diarmaid MacCullochProfessor of the History of the Church at the University of OxfordEamon DuffyProfessor of the History of Christianity at the University of CambridgeJill KrayeProfessor 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 Kama Sutra, one of the most celebrated and often misunderstood texts of Indian literature. Probably composed during the reign of the Gupta dynasty around 1800 years ago, the work is a collection of writings about the art of love and sensual pleasure. Although it is best known today for a single chapter devoted to sexual pleasure, this important Sanksrit collection contains much besides. In particular it teaches the attainment of Kama (pleasure), one of the central goals of Hinduism. The Kama Sutra is a manual to a life of fulfilment, offering advice on such subjects as finding a spouse and how to behave in marriage; it has had a profound influence on Indian culture and thought. With:Julius LipnerProfessor of Hinduism and the Comparative Study of Religion at the University of CambridgeJessica FrazierLecturer in Religious Studies at the University of Kent and Research Fellow at the Oxford Centre for Hindu StudiesDavid SmithReader in South Asian Religions at the University of Lancaster.Producer: Thomas Morris.
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the evolution of the Scientific Method, the systematic and analytical approach to scientific thought. In 1620 the great philosopher and scientist Francis Bacon published the Novum Organum, a work outlining a new system of thought which he believed should inform all enquiry into the laws of nature. Philosophers before him had given their attention to the reasoning that underlies scientific enquiry; but Bacon's emphasis on observation and experience is often seen today as giving rise to a new phenomenon: the scientific method.The scientific method, and the logical processes on which it is based, became a topic of intense debate in the seventeenth century, and thinkers including Isaac Newton, Thomas Huxley and Karl Popper all made important contributions. Some of the greatest discoveries of the modern age were informed by their work, although even today the term 'scientific method' remains difficult to define.With: Simon SchafferProfessor of the History of Science at the University of CambridgeJohn WorrallProfessor of the Philosophy of Science at the London School of Economics and Political ScienceMichela MassimiSenior Lecturer in the Philosophy of Science at University College London.Producer: Thomas Morris.
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss 1848, the year that saw Europe engulfed in revolution. Across the continent, from Paris to Palermo, liberals rose against conservative governments. The first stirrings of rebellion came in January, in Sicily; in February the French monarchy fell; and within a few months Germany, Austria, Hungary and Italy had all been overtaken by revolutionary fervour. Only a few countries, notably Britain and Russia, were spared.The rebels were fighting for nationalism, social justice and civil rights, and were prepared to fight in the streets down to the last man. Tens of thousands of people lost their lives; but little of lasting value was achieved, and by the end of the year the liberal revolutions had been soundly beaten.With: Tim BlanningEmeritus Professor of History at the University of CambridgeLucy RiallProfessor of History at Birkbeck, University of LondonMike RapportSenior Lecturer in History at the University of Stirling.Producer: Thomas Morris.
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Safavid Dynasty, rulers of the Persian empire between the 16th and 18th centuries.In 1501 Shah Ismail, a boy of fifteen, declared himself ruler of Azerbaijan. Within a year he had expanded his territory to include most of Persia, and founded a ruling dynasty which was to last for more than two hundred years. At the peak of their success the Safavids ruled over a vast territory which included all of modern-day Iran. They converted their subjects to Shi'a Islam, and so created the religious identity of modern Iran - although they were also often ruthless in their suppression of Sunni practices. They thrived on international trade, and their capital Isfahan, rebuilt by the visionary Shah Abbas, became one of the most magnificent cities in the world. Under Safavid rule Persia became a cultural centre, producing many great artists and thinkers. With:Robert GleaveProfessor of Arabic Studies at the University of ExeterEmma LoosleySenior Lecturer at the School of Arts, Histories and Cultures at the University of ManchesterAndrew NewmanReader in Islamic Studies and Persian at the University of Edinburgh.Producer: Thomas Morris.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the giant molecules that form the basis of all life. Macromolecules, also known as polymers, are long chains of atoms. They form the proteins that make up our bodies, as well as many of the materials of modern life. Man's ability to mimic the structure of macromolecules has led to the invention of plastics such as nylon, paints and adhesives. Most of our clothes are made of macromolecules, and our food is macromolecular. The medical sciences are making increasingly sophisticated use of macromolecules, from growing replacement skin and bone to their increasing use in drug delivery. One of the most famous macromolecules is DNA, an infinitely more complex polymer than man has ever managed to produce. We've only known about macromolecules for just over a century, so what is the story behind them and how might they change our lives in the future?With:Tony RyanPro-Vice Chancellor for the Faculty of Science at the University of SheffieldAthene DonaldProfessor of Experimental Physics at the University of Cambridge and a Fellow of Robinson CollegeCharlotte WilliamsReader in Polymer Chemistry and Catalysis at Imperial College, London Producer: Natalia Fernandez.
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Daniel Defoe's novel Robinson Crusoe. Published in 1719, it was an immediate success and is considered the classic adventure story. There are several incidents that may have inspired the tale, although none of them exactly mirrors Defoe's thrilling yet didactic narrative. The plot is now universally known - the sailor stranded on a desert island who learns to tame the environment and the native population. The character of Friday, Crusoe's trusty companion and servant, has become almost as famous as Crusoe himself and their master-servant relationship forms one of the principal themes in the novel. Robinson Crusoe has been interpreted in myriad ways, from colonial fable to religious instruction manual to capitalist tract; although arguably above all of these, it is perhaps best known today as a children's story. With:Karen O'BrienPro-Vice Chancellor for Education at the University of Birmingham Judith HawleyProfessor of Eighteenth-Century Literature at Royal Holloway, University of LondonBob OwensEmeritus Professor of English Literature at the Open UniversityProducer: Natalia Fernandez.
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Concordat of Worms. This treaty between the papacy and the Holy Roman Empire, signed in 1122, put an end, at least for a time, to years of power struggle and bloodshed. The wrangling between the German kings and the Church over who had the ultimate authority to elect bishops, use the ceremonial symbols of office in his coronation and even choose the pope himself, was responsible for centuries of discord. The hatred between the two parties reached such a pinnacle that it resulted in the virtual destruction of Rome at the hands of the Normans in 1084.Nearly forty years later Emperor Henry V and Pope Calixtus II came to a compromise; their agreement became known as the Concordat of Worms, named after the town where they met and signed the treaty. The Concordat created a historic distinction between secular power and spiritual authority, and more clearly defined the respective powers of monarchs and the Church. Although in the short term the Concordat failed to prevent further conflict, some historians believe that it paved the way for the modern nation-state.With:Henrietta LeyserEmeritus Fellow of St Peter's College, University of OxfordKate CushingReader in Medieval History at Keele University John Gillingham Emeritus Professor of History at the London School of Economics and Political Science Producer: Natalia Fernandez.
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus. Writing in the 5th century BC, Heraclitus believed that everything is constantly changing or, as he put it, in flux. He expressed this thought in a famous epigram: "No man ever steps into the same river twice." Heraclitus is often considered an enigmatic thinker, and much of his work is complex and puzzling. He was critical of the poets Homer and Hesiod, whom he considered to be ignorant, and accused the mathematician Pythagoras (who may have been his contemporary) of making things up. Heraclitus despaired of men's folly, and in his work constantly strove to encourage people to consider matters from alternative perspectives. Donkeys prefer rubbish to gold, he observed, pointing out that the same thing can have different meanings to different people.Unlike most of his contemporaries he was not associated with a particular school or disciplinary approach, although he did have his followers. At times a rationalist, at others a mystic, Heraclitus is an intriguing figure who influenced major later philosophers and movements such as Plato and the Stoics.With:Angie HobbsAssociate Professor of Philosophy and Senior Fellow in the Public Understanding of Philosophy at the University of WarwickPeter AdamsonProfessor of Ancient and Medieval Philosophy at King's College LondonJames WarrenSenior Lecturer in Classics and a Fellow of Corpus Christi College, University of CambridgeProducer: Natalia Fernandez.
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the life and work of the Victorian poet Christina Rossetti. Rossetti was born into an artistic family and her siblings included Dante Gabriel, one of the leading lights of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, to whose journal, 'The Germ', Christina contributed poems. She was a devout Anglican all her life and her religious beliefs are a recurring theme in her work. Christina never married, although she was engaged twice - one of her fiancés was the Pre-Raphaelite painter, James Collinson. She spent her time writing and volunteering for charitable works. It is said she even considered going to the Crimea with Florence Nightingale, but in the end ill health prevented her from doing so. Best known for her ballads and long narrative poems, she also wrote some prose and children's verses. Christina was admired by contemporaries including Swinburne, Tennyson and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Her work was to have an influence on later writers such as Virginia Woolf and Gerard Manley Hopkins. Rossetti's poetry has a spirituality and sensitivity that has led to her redisovery in recent decades, not least by feminist critics who praise her powerful and independent poetic voice. With:Dinah BirchProfessor of English Literature and Pro-Vice Chancellor for Research at Liverpool University Rhian WilliamsLecturer in Nineteenth-Century English Literature at the University of GlasgowNicholas ShrimptonEmeritus Fellow of Lady Margaret Hall, University of Oxford Producer: Natalia Fernandez.