Duration: 42 mins
Complexity is a young discipline which can help us understand the world around us. When individuals come together and act in a group, they do so in complicated and unpredictable ways: societies often behave very differently from the people within them. Research into complex systems now has important applications in many different fields, from biology to political science. Today it is being used to explain how birds flock, to predict traffic flow in cities and to study the spread of diseases. Melvyn Bragg is joined by Ian Stewart, Emeritus Professor of Mathematics at the University of Warwick; Jeff Johnson, Professor of Complexity Science and Design at the Open University and Professor Eve Mitleton-Kelly, Director of the Complexity Research Group at the London School of Economics.
Pliny the Younger was a prolific Roman letter-writer. A prominent lawyer in the 1st century AD, Pliny later became governor of the province of Bithynia, in modern Turkey. Pliny's letters offer fascinating insights into life and government in ancient Rome and its empire, from the mundane details of irrigation schemes to his vivid eyewitness account of the eruption of Vesuvius. Melvyn Bragg is joined by Catharine Edwards, Professor of Classics and Ancient History at Birkbeck, University of London; Roy Gibson, Professor of Latin at the University of Manchester and Alice König, Lecturer in Latin and Classical Studies at the University of St Andrews.
Hinduism has no single creation story. Throughout history, Hindu thinkers have taken a variety of approaches to the question of where we come from, with some making the case for divine intervention and others asking whether it is even possible for humans to comprehend the nature of creation. The origin of our existence, and the nature of the Universe we live in, is one of the richest strands of Hindu thought. Melvyn Bragg is joined by Jessica Frazier, Lecturer in Religious Studies at the University of Kent and a Research Fellow of the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies at the University of Oxford; Chakravarthi Ram-Prasad, Professor of Comparative Religion and Philosophy at Lancaster University and Gavin Flood, Professor of Hindu Studies and Comparative Religion at the University of Oxford.
Duration: 43 mins
The microscope has revolutionised our knowledge of the world and the organisms that inhabit it. Invented in the seventeenth century, the microscope became an essential component of scientific enquiry by the nineteenth century, but in the 1930s a German physicist, Ernst Ruska, discovered that by using a beam of electrons he could view structures much tinier than was possible using visible light. Today light and electron microscopy are among the most powerful tools at the disposal of modern science, and new techniques are still being developed.
Pocahontas was a Native American woman who became a symbol of the New World to English eyes. During the colonisation of Virginia in the early 17th century, Pocahontas was captured by the English, converted to Christianity, married a settler and travelled to England where she was regarded as a curiosity. She died in 1617 aged 22 and was buried in Gravesend; her story has fascinated generations on both sides of the Atlantic and has been reinterpreted by many writers and artists. Melvyn Bragg is joined by Susan Castillo, Harriet Beecher Stowe Emeritus Professor of American Studies at King's College London; Tim Lockley, Reader in American Studies at the University of Warwick and Jacqueline Fear-Segal, Reader in American History and Culture at the University of East Anglia.
The Tempest is thought to be one of Shakespeare's final works and contains some of his most poetic and memorable passages. It was influenced by accounts of distant lands written by contemporary explorers, and by the complex politics of the early Jacobean age. The play is set entirely on an unnamed island inhabited by the magician Prospero, his daughter Miranda and the monstrous Caliban, one of Shakespeare's most intriguing characters. Its themes include magic and the nature of theatre itself - and some modern critics have seen it as an early meditation on the ethics of colonialism. Melvyn Bragg is joined by Jonathan Bate, Provost of Worcester College, Oxford; Erin Sullivan, Lecturer and Fellow at the Shakespeare Institute, University of Birmingham and Katherine Duncan-Jones, Emeritus Fellow of Somerville College, Oxford.
Ordinary Language Philosophy was a school of thought which emerged in Oxford in the years following World War II. With its roots in the work of Ludwig Wittgenstein, Ordinary Language Philosophy is concerned with the meanings of words as used in everyday speech. Its adherents believed that many philosophical problems were created by the misuse of words, and that if such 'ordinary language' were correctly analysed, such problems would disappear. Philosophers associated with the school include some of the most distinguished British thinkers of the 20th century, such as Gilbert Ryle and JL Austin. Melvyn Bragg is joined by Stephen Mulhall, Professor of Philosophy at New College, Oxford; Ray Monk, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Southampton and Julia Tanney, Reader in Philosophy of Mind at the University of Kent.
The Berlin Conference of 1884 brought together Europe's leading powers to discuss trade and territorial rights in Africa. It is widely seen as one of the most significant events in the process known as the Scramble for Africa, and the decisions reached had effects which have lasted to the present day. In the following decades, European nations laid claim to most of the continent. Melvyn Bragg is joined by Richard Drayton, Rhodes Professor of Imperial History at King's College London; Richard Rathbone, Emeritus Professor of African History at SOAS, University of London and Joanna Lewis, Assistant Professor of Imperial History at the LSE, University of London.
The Corn Laws 24 Oct 13
The Corn Laws were passed by the British Government in 1815 to keep the price of corn artificially high. The measure was supported by landowners but strongly opposed by manufacturers and the urban working class. In the 1830s the Anti-Corn Law League was founded to campaign for their repeal. Robert Peel's Conservative government finally repealed the laws in 1846, splitting his party in the process. The resulting debate had profound consequences for the political and economic future of the country. Melvyn Bragg is joined by Lawrence Goldman, Fellow in Modern History at St Peter's College, Oxford; Boyd Hilton, Former Professor of Modern British History at the University of Cambridge and Fellow of Trinity College and Cheryl Schonhardt-Bailey, Reader in Political Science at the London School of Economics.
The Book of Common Prayer 17 Oct 13
The Book of Common Prayer, first published in 1549, contained versions of the liturgy in English. Compiled by Thomas Cranmer, the book was at the centre of the decade of religious turmoil that followed, and disputes over its use were one of the major causes of the English Civil War in the 1640s. The book was revised several times before the celebrated final version was published in 1662. It is still in use in many churches today, and remains not just a liturgical text of great importance but a literary work of profound beauty. Melvyn Bragg is joined by Diarmaid MacCulloch, Professor of the History of the Church at the University of Oxford; Alexandra Walsham, Professor of Modern History at the University of Cambridge and Martin Palmer, Director of the International Consultancy on Religion, Education, and Culture.
Galen 10 Oct 13
Galen was the most celebrated doctor in the ancient world. Greek by birth, he spent most of his career in Rome, where he was personal physician to three Emperors. Acclaimed in his own lifetime, he was regarded as the preeminent medical authority for centuries after his death, both in the Arab world and in medieval Europe. Melvyn Bragg is joined by Vivian Nutton, Emeritus Professor of the History of Medicine at University College London; Helen King, Professor of Classical Studies at the Open University and Caroline Petit, Wellcome Trust Senior Research Fellow in Classics at the University of Warwick.
Exoplanets 3 Oct 13
Exoplanets are planets beyond our solar system. Astronomers have speculated about their existence for centuries, but it was not until the 1990s that instruments became sophisticated enough to detect such remote objects. Since then, more than 900 exoplanets have been discovered, and scientists are now able to reach increasingly sophisticated conclusions about what they look like - and whether they might be able to support life. Melvyn Bragg is joined by Carolin Crawford, Gresham Professor of Astronomy and a member of the Institute of Astronomy at the University of Cambridge; Don Pollacco, Professor of Astronomy at the University of Warwick and Suzanne Aigrain, Lecturer in Astrophysics at the University of Oxford and a Fellow of All Souls College.
The Mamluks 26 Sep 13
The Mamluks ruled Egypt and Syria from 1250 to 1517. Originally slave soldiers who managed to depose their masters, they went on to repel the Mongols and the Crusaders to become the dominant force in the medieval Islamic world. Although the Mamluks were renowned as warriors, they were also great patrons of the arts. They remained in power for almost 300 years until they were finally overthrown by the Ottomans. Melvyn Bragg is joined by Amira Bennison, Reader in the History and Culture of the Maghrib at the University of Cambridge; Robert Irwin, Former Senior Research Associate in the Department of History at SOAS, University of London and Doris Behrens-Abouseif, Nasser D Khalili Professor of Islamic Art and Archaeology at SOAS, University of London.
Pascal 19 Sep 13
Duration: 42 mins
Pascal was a brilliant 17th-century mathematician and scientist who invented one of the first mechanical calculators and made important discoveries about fluids and vacuums while still a young man. In his thirties he experienced a religious conversion, after which he devoted most of his attention to philosophy and theology. Although he died in his late thirties, Pascal left a formidable legacy as a scientist and pioneer of probability theory, and as one of seventeenth century Europe's greatest writers.
The Invention of Radio 04 Jul 13
In the early 1860s the Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell derived four equations which together describe the behaviour of electricity and magnetism. They predicted the existence of a previously unknown phenomenon: electromagnetic waves. These waves were first observed in the early 1880s, and over the next two decades a succession of scientists and engineers built increasingly elaborate devices to produce and detect them. Eventually this gave birth to a new technology: radio. The Italian Guglielmo Marconi is commonly described as the father of radio - but many other figures were involved in its development, and it was not him but a Canadian, Reginald Fessenden, who first succeeded in transmitting speech over the airwaves. Melvyn Bragg is joined by Simon Schaffer, Professor of the History of Science at the University of Cambridge; Elizabeth Bruton, Postdoctoral Researcher at the University of Leeds and John Liffen, Curator of Communications at the Science Museum, London.
Romance of the Three Kingdoms 27 Jun 13
Romance of the Three Kingdoms is widely regarded as one of the greatest works of Chinese literature. Written 600 years ago, it is an historical novel that tells the story of a tumultuous period in Chinese history when the Han Dynasty fell from power in the 3rd century AD. The influence of Romance of the Three Kingdoms in East Asia has been likened to that of Homer in the West, and this warfare epic remains popular in China today. Melvyn Bragg is joined by Frances Wood, Former Lead Curator of Chinese Collections at the British Library; Craig Clunas, Professor of the History of Art at the University of Oxford and Margaret Hillenbrand, University Lecturer in Modern Chinese Literature at the University of Oxford and Fellow of Wadham College.