BBC Radio 4

In Our Time (Melvyn Bragg), BBC Radio 4, available online for your listening pleasure In Your Own Time.

A series of radio broadcasts on the history of ideas. Good, bad, indifferent, often erring on the side of Anglocentricity, and sometimes slipper-throwing-inducingly WRONG … although some individual programmes will make you nod in agreement and glow with smugness.

In Our Time is invariably, however, some sort of a decent introduction to a topic, and a good starting-point for debate. Recommended for setting up students with idées reçues for discussion. In the selection below, I’ve snuck in a few that aren’t directly Medieval and Renaissance. Though some should have been – ah, the ignorance of those Moderns and Modernists. Good background material for teaching – and, indeed, a good start for student research. Not just students: I, a very serious scholar, hereby admit to using such resources as a first step in approaching a new topic. The second step, admittedly, is spending lots of quality time ensconsed in primary texts (on which I am just as seriously old-fashioned and philological).

Main section titles in capitals (e.g. CULTURE ARCHIVE) link to the complete archive for that category, so will lead you to full listings (from Homer to Borges). Programmes appear in reverse chronological order of first broadcast. Some programmes are cross-listed; some aren’t, but should be; some may belong in a different category from the one used. The boundaries used to distinguish between IOT‘s chosen categories of history, philosophy, and religion are – as one might expect – somewhat blurry. All responsibility for this, as well as for content, rests with the BBC and with those appearing on individual programmes.


The Metaphysical Poets – sex and death in the 17th century
The Music of the Spheres – a dose of heavenly harmonies
King Lear – Shakespeare’s finest fairy tale
The Fisher King – the wound that does not heal
The Pilgrim Fathers – the original American dream
Renaissance Astrology – ‘we are merely the stars’ tennis balls, struck and bandied which way please them’
Epistolary Literature – great novels of fictional letters
Hell – its representation through the ages
Faeries – supernatural creatures that are neither gods nor humans
The Carolingian Renaissance – the revival of early medieval Western Europe
Don Quixote – Spanish romance and the first novel
Geoffrey Chaucer – the first Great English Poet
Christopher Marlowe – poet, spy, atheist, murder victim?
Merlin – the original Welsh wizard
Paganism in the Renaissance – how the classical gods returned to the Christian cities
Faust – the original pact with the Devil
Renaissance Magic – the great passion of the age
The Sublime – defining the state of awe
Youth – from Adonis to James Dean
Originality – is it just a romantic notion?
The Epic – from Homer to Joyce
The Artist – a special kind of human being?


The Arab Conquests – the 7th century new world order
The Black Death – a plague on all our houses
The Norman Yoke – 1067 and all that
The Dissolution of the Monasteries – religion in ruins
The Court of Rudolf II – the lost powerhouse of Renaissance ideas
The Sassanian Empire – in the shadow of Ancient Persia
Divine Right of Kings – “there’s such divinity doth hedge a king”
The Pilgrim Fathers – the original American dream
The Siege of Orleans – did Joan of Arc really rescue France?
Genghis Khan – founder of one of the world’s largest ever land-based empires
The Siege of Constantinople – the end of a thousand years of the Byzantine Empire
The Peasants’ Revolt – a lasting legacy for popular uprising?
The Spanish Inquisition – one of the most barbaric episodes in European history
The Carolingian Renaissance – the revival of early medieval Western Europe
The Abbasid Caliphs – when Baghdad ruled the Muslim world.
Seventeenth Century Print Culture – piety, populism and political protest
Field of the Cloth of Gold – a Renaissance entente cordiale
Abelard and Heloise – love, sex and theology in 12th century Paris
Alfred and the Battle of Edington – without Alfred, no England?
Machiavelli and the Italian City States – high politics and low cunning in the Italian Renaissance
The Venerable Bede – the father of English history
Agincourt – the real facts behind the battle.
The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
The Mughal Empire – the glory of India
The Alphabet – its creation and development
Robin Hood – the greatest of English myths.
The Aristocracy – how the ruling class survives
The Art of War – maintaining the objective?
Roman Britain – the effects of 400 years of occupation
The Aztecs – looking behind the myths
The History of Heritage – its influence on national identity
Bohemia – what did it mean to be Bohemian?
The Celts – what were the Celts in Britain really like?
Marriage – its various forms and the role of the State
John Milton – poet or politician?


Materialism – are we living in a material world?
Avicenna – wine, women and philosophy
Ockham’s Razor – cutting medieval philosophy down to size
Spinoza – believed that God and Nature were the same thing
Averroes – the battle between faith and reason
Friendship – thinking philosophically about our close companions
Relativism – the battle against transcendent knowledge
Beauty – the philosophy of beauty
The Mind/Body Problem – does the mind rule the body or the body rule the mind?
Rhetoric – from the original sophists to latter-day demagogues
Heroism – do we live in an heroic age?
Duty – concepts of obligation.
Human Nature – innate or nurtured?
Imagination – just what is it?
The Soul – the key to our individuality as humans?
Virtue – is it derived from reason?


The Arab Conquests – the 7th century new world order
The Dissolution of the Monasteries – religion in ruins
The Fisher King – the wound that does not heal
The Nicene Creed – when Christ became God
Guilt – what is it good for?
St Hilda – the life and times of the Abbess of Whitby
The Jesuits – the school masters of Europe
Hell – its representation through the ages
The Diet of Worms – Luther’s stand against the Church
The Spanish Inquisition – one of the most barbaric episodes in European history
Heaven – a journey through the afterlife
Greyfriars and Blackfriars – philosophy, evangelism and fund-raising in the 13th century Church
Angels – how they got their wings
The Venerable Bede – the father of English history
Zoroastrianism – was the religion of the Persian Empire the first monotheism?
Witchcraft – Reformation Europe turned upon itself
Toleration – from medieval intolerance to religious freedom
The Fall – how Adam and Eve affect us all
The Norse Gods – the great myths of pagan Europe
The Devil – a brief biography
St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre – slaughter in Paris.
The Schism – between East and West in Christianity.
The Apocalypse – was it a revelation?
Redemption – the concept of salvation
The Lindisfarne Gospels – unifying Christianity in Britain
Cordoba and Muslim Spain – a culture of tolerance?
Blood – its religious, medical and moral significance
The Holy Grail – just a medieval myth?
The Soul – the key to our individuality as humans?
Budhhism – why has it captured the spirit of our age?


The Brain: A History – food for thought
Newton’s Laws of Motion – they put a man on the Moon
The Four Humours – yellow bile, blood, choler and phlegm in the original theory of everything
The Fibonacci Sequence – the numbers in nature
Symmetry – the pattern at the heart of our physical world
The History of Optics – from telescopes to microscopes, a new way of seeing the world
Indian Maths – laying the foundations for modern numerals and zero as a number
The Heart – its anatomical and cultural history
Mathematics and Music – the science behind sound and composition
Negative numbers – how they spread across civilizations
Prime Numbers – the building blocks of mathematics
Artificial Intelligence – the quest for a machine that can think
Magnetism – an attractive history
Renaissance Maths – the birth of modern mathematics?
Perception and the Senses – how do we see what we see?
Alchemy – seeking the perfection of all things
Zero – everything about nothing
Hysteria – the normal state of human beings?
Dreams – is there a science of dreams?
Cryptography – secret history of ciphers and codes
Infinity – a brief history.
Nature – from Homer to Darwin
Memory – and the brain
Meteorology – why does it still fascinate us?
Disease – the fight against diseases and plagues
The Calendar – a history of the Calendar
The scientist in history – missionary or monster?
History of drugs – their role in medicine and the arts
Chaos Theory – was the universe chaotic or orderly?
Anatomy – 2000 years of anatomical study

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