Mevlyn Bragg discusses the Great Reform Act of 1832, a landmark on the road to British democracy. Melvyn is joined by Dinah Birch, Professor of English at Liverpool University; Michael Bentley, Professor of Modern History at the University of St Andrews; and Catherine Hall, Professor of Modern British Social and Cultural History at University College London.
At its height, the Mughal Empire stretched from Bengal in the East to Gujarat in the West, and from Lahore in the North to Madras in the South. It covered the whole of present day northern India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, and became famous for the Taj Mahal, the Koh-i-Noor and the Peacock Throne.
In 1631 a Dutch naturalist Johannes de Laet published his account of the vast Empire, “the nobles live in indescribable luxury and extravagance, caring only to indulge themselves whilst they can, in every kind of pleasure. Their greatest magnificence is in their women’s quarters, for they marry three or four wives or sometimes more”.
But were they really the opulent despots of European imagination? If so, how did they maintain such a vast territory? And to what extent was the success of the British Raj a legacy of their rule?
"When Adam delved and Eve span, who was then the Gentleman?" – the opening words of a rousing sermon, said to be by John Ball, which fires a broadside at the deeply hierarchical nature of fourteenth century England. Ball, along with Wat Tyler, was one of the principal leaders of the Peasants’ Revolt – his sermon ends: "I exhort you to consider that now the time is come, appointed to us by God, in which ye may (if ye will) cast off the yoke of bondage, and recover liberty". The subsequent events of June 1381 represent a pivotal and thrilling moment in England’s history, characterised by murder and mayhem, beheadings and betrayal, a boy-King and his absent uncle, and a general riot of destruction and death. By most interpretations, the course of this sensational story threatened to undermine the very fabric of government as an awareness of deep injustice was awakened in the general populace. But who were the rebels and how close did they really come to upending the status quo? And just how exaggerated are claims that the Peasants’ Revolt laid the foundations of the long-standing English tradition of radical egalitarianism?
Around 550BC, Lucretia, the daughter of an aristocrat, was raped by the son of Tarquin, the king of Rome. Lucretia told her family what had happened to her and then, in front of them, killed herself from shame. The Roman historian Livy describes what was believed to have happened next:
"Brutus, while the others were absorbed in grief; drew out the knife from Lucretia's wound, and holding it up, dripping with gore, exclaimed, "By this blood, most chaste until a prince wronged it, I swear, and I take you, gods, to witness, that I will pursue Lucius Tarquinius Superbus and his wicked wife and all his children, with sword, with fire, aye with whatsoever violence I may; and that I will suffer neither them nor any other to be king in Rome!". The King was duly expelled from the city and the Roman Republic was founded and lasted for 500 years.
But in what form did this republic evolve, what were its values and ideals and what ultimately caused the end of the world’s first true experiment in constitutional government?
The Spanish Civil War was a defining war of the twentieth century. It was a brutal conflict that polarised Spain, pitting the Left against the Right, the anti-clericals against the Church, the unions against the landed classes and the Republicans against the Monarchists. It was a bloody war which saw, in the space of just three years, the murder and execution of 350,000 people. It was also a conflict which soon became internationalised, becoming a battleground for the forces of Fascism and Communism as Europe itself geared up for war.
But what were the roots of the Spanish Civil War? To what extent did Franco prosecute the war as a religious crusade? How did Franco institutionalise his victory after the war? And has Spain fully come to terms with its past?
On Monday September 10th 1792 The Times of London carried a story covering events in revolutionary France:
"The streets of Paris, strewed with the carcases of the mangled victims, are become so familiar to the sight, that they are passed by and trod on without any particular notice. The mob think no more of killing a fellow-creature, who is not even an object of suspicion, than wanton boys would of killing a cat or a dog".
These were the infamous September Massacres when Parisian mobs killed thousands of suspected royalists and set the scene for the events to come, when Madame La Guillotine took centre stage and The Terror ruled in France.
But how did the French Revolution descend into such extremes of violence? Who or what drove The Terror? And was it really an aberration of the revolutionary cause or the moment when it truly expressed itself?
First of two programmes which go behind the elegant facades of legal London to meet the barristers, clerks and staff of Outer Temple Chambers, one of London's leading law chambers, as they prepare for the biggest upheaval in their history: the full implementation of the 2007 Legal Services Act.
Due to be fully implemented in 2012, the Act will produce greater competition in who can provide legal services. Many of the cosy arrangements of the past will be swept away, and barristers will need to show that they can provide the service and value for money that the public wants.
Second of two programmes which go behind the elegant facades of legal London to meet the barristers, clerks and staff of Outer Temple Chambers, one of London's leading law chambers.
The new management structure is firmly in place and commercial director Christine is leading the work to get Chambers in shape for the implementation of the new Legal Services Act. Meanwhile, Chambers's big winter PR social event at the Royal Courts of Justice is nearly scuppered by a taxi strike coinciding with a foot of snow.
Barrister Cara is back at work after maternity leave, but when her nanny is called back to Poland she finds herself struggling to juggle work and home. New recruits are joining Chambers: Ali represents part of the business's ambitious plans for Middle East expansion, while Michael's tax expertise is put to good use at a tribunal in Manchester.
On QC Richard's farm, spring arrives as his new role as head of strategic development begins to take shape, while by July, the nerves of Chambers's pupils (trainee barristers) are shredded as decision day approaches for whether they are going to be kept on or unceremoniously 'let go'.
But at least it's summer and there is the annual party to look forward to.
In his first lecture Wole Soyinka considers from his viewpoint as a poet and drawing on his personal experience as a political activist the changes since the Cold War in the nature of fear and its impact on individuals and society
This lecture examines how difficult it can be to tell friend from foe in a climate of fear. Organisations that are set up to overthrow dictatorships can themselves turn into tyrannical regimes. Liberation movements may be forced to seek help from dangerous quarters. And these days it is not just countries that control and direct the lives of their citizens. When the rule of law breaks down, shadowy forces set themselves up as "quasi-states" - and these, more than anything else, have produced today's climate of fear
Between God and Nation, and Sieg Heil, a complex set of social impulses and goals are reduced to mere sound, but a potent tool that moves to vibrate a collective chord and displace reason. A willed hypnosis substitutes for individual volition and, the ecstasy of losing oneself in a sound-cloned crowd drives the most ordinary being to jettison all moral code and undertake hitherto unthinkable acts. Its religious versions prove even more deadly. Is the language of Political Correctness aiding and abetting its proliferation?
Even in defeat, negotiating terms of surrender, a defeated nation pleads - 'Leave us something of our dignity'. Denied this little consideration, a doomed struggle is promptly resumed. So what exactly is this 'dignity' that even nations enshrine in their constitutions and Bills of Human Rights? A basic core of volition? A sense of freedom? Obviously human dignity involves both, and encompasses more. No matter the mask that is worn to hide the reality of fear, dignity remains incompatible with the entry of fear into the human psyche
When Osama bin Laden declares that the world is divided between believers and non-believers, it is easy to identify the menace of the fanatic mind but, in what other company can we place George Bush when we hear him declare that 'you are either with us or you are on the side of the terrorists'? We fail at our peril to recognize a twin strain of the same fanatic spore that threatens to consume the world in its messianic fires. What could be the role of the 'invisible' religions and world views in tempering the forces that seek to dichotomise the world?
Almost exactly 93 years ago tonight, on 15 April 1912, over two thousand terrified and bewildered people found themselves with little warning drifting or drowning in the ice-cold North Atlantic. Only 712 of them survived that night. They were, of course, the passengers, officers, and crew of the White Star steamship Titanic, and they were in a sense victims of 'failures' of technology…
Four thousand years ago, just 5 miles north of present day Thetford, our Neolithic ancestors began what may have been the largest early industrial process in these islands. This is the site that the Anglo-Saxons called 'Grimes Graves' and it contains nearly four hundred mine-shafts, built to extract high-quality flints, which could be chipped to produce sharp cutting edges. Using nothing but tools of bone and wood and presumably the flints themselves, these ancient people excavated to a depth of up to twelve metres, to reach the buried flints. It has been calculated that the miners needed to remove 1000 tonnes of waste to produce eight tonnes of flint. The site covers nearly 40 hectares and the whole project is astonishing...
The 21st century will be marked by severe natural resource limits, the rise of new economic powers and the threats of failed states. These are tectonic changes with the potential to unleash global-scale upheavals. Global cooperation of an unprecedented depth and scale will be needed but we are not yet prepared for such cooperation
The biggest challenges that we face - climate change, alleviation of hunger, water stress, energy - are translated in the shadow of ignorance into "us versus them" problems, with only the weakest links to underlying scientific principles and technological options
Power and America have seemed synonymous for the last fifty years. No longer. Power in the 21st Century is shifting to the East: to India and above all to China. Facing up to the end of centuries of North Atlantic dominance - first Europe then the U.S. - will pose huge challenges
This lecture considers the challenges of extreme poverty and the extreme worry of the rest of the world which fears for its own prosperity. It spells out the limits of the free market to solve these problems and proposes a plan of action which presents choices to those listening
The key political novelty of our age is mass political awareness and mobilization. Mass mobilization has brought the Age of Empire to an end, and accounts for the failures in Iraq. No society any longer tolerates being ruled by another. Social mobilization can be a dramatic force for positive change