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In Our Time - 440 archived programmes
February 4, 2010 9:19 AM   Subscribe

You guys know about BBC Radio 4's In Our Time, right? Each week, the broadcaster Melvyn Bragg hosts a 45-minute discussion on some aspect of culture, history, philosophy, religion or science. His guests are always three academics with expert knowledge of the chosen subject, and the tone is serious and detailed but never inaccessible. By respecting his audience's intelligence, Bragg delivers a programme of unrivaled interest, depth and educational value. The topics covered this year alone include The Frankfurt School, The Glencoe Massacre, Silas Marner and Ibn Khaldun. Eclectic, yes, but never less than fascinating. The good news is that the programme has just redesigned its website, making all 440 episodes to date available for your listening pleasure in its eminently browsable archive. In the dumbed-down 21st Century, it's a miracle that a programme like this still exists, so let's all make the most of it while we can.
posted by Paul Slade (59 comments total) 128 users marked this as a favorite

 
Wow, you can get to it from non UK IPs. Awesome!
posted by BrotherCaine at 9:22 AM on February 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


Ok, this looks fantastic and I didn't know about it. Thanks!

BUT - .ram files? Really?! Ugh. What is the easiest way for me to convert all these to an actually decent format?
posted by pziemba at 9:24 AM on February 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


In Our Time is all kinds of awesome - it's one of the best justifications of the BBC there is. What I find most interesting are the discussions on subjects I know nothing about; when I started listening about the Frankfurt School, I was expecting a snoozefest, but I found it absolutely fascinating and actually quite relevant to my work.

(that said, I thought this week's one on Silas Marner was distinctly sub-par)
posted by adrianhon at 9:30 AM on February 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


I've been listening to the IOT podcast for a few years now. Absolutely a highlight of my week when the new one shows up in iTunes. Easily the best radio going.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:39 AM on February 4, 2010


In Our Time remains one of the most compelling arguments for the licence fee. It's stubbornly high-brow, far too eclectic for its own good and often fails to be within even a century of the zeitgeist in its selection of topics. In short, the kind of thing that would never be commissioned by a commercial broadcaster. Personally, I'd pay the hundred-odd quid a year just for In Our Time. The fact that iPlayer's thrown in is a bonus.
posted by him at 9:46 AM on February 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


I fear this will feed into the not-insignificant part of me that truly, deeply enjoys being pretentious and British even though I have no right to be either.

Thank you.
posted by greekphilosophy at 9:49 AM on February 4, 2010


pziemba - I have no idea of the legality of this, but I found mp3 archives on bittorrent. I don't think the BBC is offering archives in non-streaming format.
posted by bonecrusher at 9:51 AM on February 4, 2010


Ah, I almost made an FPP about IOT's Royal Society 4-parter, but got distracted and discouraged after looking up pictures of churches for several hours. I love everything about the show, from Bragg gently but firmly admonishing panelists to speed it up to the occasional clitter-clatter of teacups rattling back into their sauces. And also the knowledge is pretty useful, too. And seconding the uncharacteristic mehness of last week's episode; the show can easily get by with one weak panelist, but man, that crew were pretty lackluster, at least when it came to Silas Marner.

pziemba: Perhaps - and I certainly wouldn't know too much about such matters - something to your liking could be found bobbing about in the frothing torrents of that great river known as the internet.
Oho, I am so sneaky.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 9:58 AM on February 4, 2010


Well, so much for sneakiness.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 9:59 AM on February 4, 2010


This is wonderful and yet, as so often happens to me on the Internet, I feel suddenly overwhelmed. I still haven't finished listening to the 20 Pieces of Music that Changed the World.
posted by JanetLand at 10:03 AM on February 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Sadly many episodes are not currently available.
posted by DieHipsterDie at 10:04 AM on February 4, 2010


DieHipsterDie: Sadly many episodes are not currently available.

I started listening last winter. I've yet to find an episode from before that which is available.
posted by Kattullus at 10:07 AM on February 4, 2010


And the .ram format is unfortunate for me at least since I can't listen to it at work.
posted by DieHipsterDie at 10:07 AM on February 4, 2010


.ram pretty much makes it useless.
posted by bz at 10:09 AM on February 4, 2010


I started listening last winter. I've yet to find an episode from before that which is available

Even episodes listed on their front page as highlites are not available.

Oh well.
posted by DieHipsterDie at 10:09 AM on February 4, 2010


For me the best part of In Our Time is the whole no-nonsense nature of it, as exemplified by the opening: no theme music, no introductory platitudes, no post-production, just a "hello" and then launching right into it without so much as a pause:

"Hello, uniquely in Ancient Greece, the city-state of Sparta didn't see any need to build a wall around itself..."

"Hello, by the time it was cut short in 1797, the life of the pioneering thinker and writer Mary Woolstonecraft was a gift to the obituarists..."

"Hello, when contemplating the vacuum of space in the 17th century, the physicist Blaise Pascal proclaimed, 'The eternal silence of these infinite spaces fills me with dread.' ..."

I've been listening to the podcast ever since someone posted a link to it in one of Ask MeFi's regular "recommend some podcasts" threads, and while it took an episode or two to get used to, it's now one of my favourites.
posted by Johnny Assay at 10:11 AM on February 4, 2010 [5 favorites]


Can anyone recommend other sites with similar programming?
posted by DieHipsterDie at 10:13 AM on February 4, 2010


I have no idea of the legality of this, but I found mp3 archives on bittorrent. I don't think the BBC is offering archives in non-streaming format.

The program is offered as a MP3 podcast, once a week, and only available during that week. I don't collect them religiously, but have indeed a lot of the programs on MP3; legally obtained.
posted by ijsbrand at 10:23 AM on February 4, 2010


I loved the Royal Society series and actually found the Silas Marner one interesting (then again I have a special love for all things George Eliot) but the episode on the Glencoe Massacre was impenetrable. I think I needed a little more background. Anyway, great show and thanks.
posted by chinston at 10:23 AM on February 4, 2010


the episode on the Glencoe Massacre was impenetrable

I've actually been meaning to ask a question on the green about this for some time. I enjoy listening to this show, but a lot of the episodes are just over my head. I have a feeling it is because my engineering education managed to bypass classical education entirely.

Can anybody recommend books, other podcasts, etc. that would help to fill in an education lacking the "classical" things as well as make In Our Time easier to listen to?
posted by dforemsky at 10:29 AM on February 4, 2010


I love this program, especially, as mentioned above, that they dive right it. It can be majorly jarring if it comes up at random after, for example, Bill Burr's Monday Morning Podcast, though.

I also agree that the Glencoe episode was hard to understand - I didn't know enough about the context, the before-and-after events. But that was notably atypical for IOT.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 10:34 AM on February 4, 2010


The Glencoe Massacre podcast bizarrely began *right in the middle* of the massacre, with no context whatsoever (who are all these clans, anyway?), and then proceeded to skip around in time more than an episode of Lost. Maybe the producer was on holiday that week...
posted by adrianhon at 10:37 AM on February 4, 2010


Ooh, a big thumbs-up from me over here. Thanks for the notification.
posted by painquale at 10:37 AM on February 4, 2010


This is excellent, thanks for the heads up on the archive, I have torrented those I didn't have.
One of my friends appears on many of the mathematics specials... she has a lovely voice!
posted by artaxerxes at 10:40 AM on February 4, 2010


IOT (and other radio 4) saved my sanity when I was working data entry. I think the BBC could do quite well out of a DVD box set consisting entirely of mp3s. Or a special-edition mp3 player. iOT?
posted by Wrinkled Stumpskin at 10:44 AM on February 4, 2010


A fantastic show and my favorite podcast. Thanks!
posted by iwhitney at 11:04 AM on February 4, 2010


If you have VLC (VideoLan Media Player) you can listen in without having to download Real Player. Just go the the In Our Time program you're interested in and right click the "listen now" link and choose to copy the link to your clipboard.

Then in VLC just click Media > Open Network Stream and paste in the link you copied, and away you go.

Should work on Mac/Linux/Windows.
posted by Static Vagabond at 11:07 AM on February 4, 2010


Sorry, somehow I messed up the link to VLC, it's here.
posted by Static Vagabond at 11:08 AM on February 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


I've loved IOT for years for all the reasons listed above and more. One of the things I've really come to like about it is that Melvyn is pretty effective as a moderator. The guests, being academics, love to go on about their own preferred subjects, and he does a good job of keeping them on track and on time, since the program only has so many minutes. Sometimes I'm a little disappointed when he cuts someone off because I was enjoying the tangent, but I think it makes for a well-run program overall. He's also generally good at 'translating', in that he's able to pose focused questions to the experts to make things clearer for the audience, which is helpful for the science- and math-based episodes.
posted by Kosh at 11:27 AM on February 4, 2010


I love this show, but I wish I was two-hours long. Maybe there could be a two-hour web version and an edited shorter one for traditional broadcast. As it stands, the show either shortchanges commentary in favor of background or vice versa. The perfect show, in my head, would be one in which the first hour is about historical (or philosophical or whatever) context and the second hour is an in-depth look at the subject itself and its ramifications. So much of the show now is about Bragg hurrying people along.
posted by grumblebee at 11:36 AM on February 4, 2010


The program is offered as a MP3 podcast, once a week, and only available during that week. I don't collect them religiously, but have indeed a lot of the programs on MP3; legally obtained.
posted by ijsbrand at 10:23 AM on February 4 [+] [!]


That's what I wonder about - if I have found complete archives on a bittorrent, is that kosher? Had I been listening from day one, I could have archived them myself.

As for comparable podcasts - there's really nothing else like this. Most of what passes for intellectual content on the web (as podcasts) is aggressively middlebrow, often almost folksy. (Think everything you've ever heard on NPR).

Philosophy Bites edges up to that line. I also really like The History of Rome podcast, which is pretty solid. But those are both very specific. There's nothing else out there with the breadth of topics and deep knowledge of IOT that I've found.
posted by bonecrusher at 11:36 AM on February 4, 2010


> Melvyn is pretty effective as a moderator.
Except that one episode about Schopenhauer when he totally loses track of it and ends the show in the middle of someone's sentence :) I would also like a 2-hour version, but failing that there is usually a little more written up on the website each week.

It's been a bit hit-and-miss, recently, and I am really looking forward to being able to listen to some of the early ones. Here's the chronological list. The first one was "War in the 20th Century", the second " Politics in the 20th Century", before "The Revelations of Science" and "The Perceptions of Science" - what a start!

Bragg had previously presented Start The Week, but his appoinment to the house of lords as a labour peer created a "conflict of interest" which led to him creating a show to "do what [he] always wanted to do," and we should count ourselves lucky that he did, and that it is now available to all of us.

For those want more in the same vein, the show ends: "If you've enjoyed this Radio 4 podcast, why not try others, such as Thinking Allowed?"
posted by mjg123 at 12:18 PM on February 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


This is awesome. I started using the Smile Timeline interface to build a timeline of In Our Time programs - by subject of course, not date of program, but only got about 75 shows in. I should finish it up.
posted by shothotbot at 12:51 PM on February 4, 2010


What I find most interesting are the discussions on subjects I know nothing about

I'm going to add a caveat here. For subjects where you have, let's say, a postgraduate understanding of the topic, it can sometimes feel a bit sloppy. Some of that is obviously down to the compressed nature of the discussion, and I'm forgiving of that, but it reminds me that a topic where I don't know much is probably harder listening for people with expertise in other topics. Ignorance can be bliss.

(Simon Schaffer is consistently brilliant on the history of science: he played a big role in the 4-parter on the Royal Society, and his recent appearance with the Patricia Fara on the Leibniz/Newton dispute over the calculus was a delight. On the other hand, John Mullan has become a regular for most c-18 literary topics, and he always manages to irritate me, as he did in the programme on Swift's 'A Modest Proposal'.)

It's also worth subscribing to the IOT email newsletter, where Lord Melv talks fairly candidly about the green room conversation, and the subjects that the panel wish they'd covered, or messed up a bit, or spent more time on, and how the programmes that are broadcasted live, with an eye on the clock, often seem to work better than the pre-recorded ones. And he'll tell you about walking to Parliament and the ducks in St James's Park.
posted by holgate at 1:13 PM on February 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


dforemsky: Can anybody recommend books, other podcasts, etc. that would help to fill in an education lacking the "classical" things as well as make In Our Time easier to listen to?
These 15 videos are from two series (The Great Philosopers, and Men of Ideas) of public "television dialogues with philosophers in the 70s and 80s" conducted by Bryan Magee. Magee is a first rate interviewer. He knows his subject matter very well, and which questions will illicit the most illuminating and relevant discussion.

I've watched them all and they're absolutely fascinating.
posted by Anything at 1:38 PM on February 4, 2010


I bought the book and it's brilliant!
posted by turgid dahlia at 2:07 PM on February 4, 2010


Bryan Magee is a wanker who can't stop talking about himself. "When", "I", "was", "at" and "Oxford" are his five most commonly-used words. I hate you, Bryan Magee.
posted by turgid dahlia at 2:11 PM on February 4, 2010


Although as someone born in the slums and evacuated during the second world war, he may also not feel any need to feign modesty in referring to his university days.
posted by Hartster at 2:42 PM on February 4, 2010


How can these (other than the newest one on Ibn Khaldun) be downloaded? All I can see is a button to listen on the page with Flash.

Is Ibn Khaldun the first one ever to be offered as a podcast?
posted by k. at 5:08 PM on February 4, 2010


I'm another long-time fan of IOT (it saved my brain from melting when I worked data entry); thought I'd just mention a link to a blog post from last year by Mary Beard, who's been on IOT a few times; in the post she discusses what it's like to be a guest - particularly, she mentions that guests aren't allowed notes, and don't really know what sort of questions they'll be asked.
posted by iona at 6:04 PM on February 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


I wonder if IOT has become a kind of rite of passage among British academics. My favourite moment was in the episode on "The Aristocracy" where one of the guests tried to ask Melvyn what it was like to "hobnob" around the House of Lords and was summarily shut down. Merciless (and awkward).
posted by eagle-bear at 6:32 PM on February 4, 2010


I see from iona's link that notes aren't allowed, but I'm certain I hear some scribbling (pencil? dry erase?) from time to time on the program. Is it Melvyn giving hints about the direction of the conversation?
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 7:00 PM on February 4, 2010


My favorite thing about In Our Time: I regularly go into an episode expecting that the topic will never be able to hold my interest for a full forty minutes, only to find myself not wanting it to be over. The one on chloroform is a particular favorite.

Also, yes, much love for the "Hello," thing. I wish I had the guts to start my own presentations this way--I'm almost sure they'd be better for it.
posted by moss at 7:16 PM on February 4, 2010


Is Ibn Khaldun the first one ever to be offered as a podcast?

Link to the podcast feed. Unfortunately, it appears that they only keep one episode up at a time, which makes me glad that I've saved the last two
posted by Johnny Assay at 7:34 PM on February 4, 2010


... years or so in my iTunes library.
posted by Johnny Assay at 7:34 PM on February 4, 2010


A working familiarity with Scottish/British history was assumed for the programme on Glencoe.

There's nothing else like it but 'From Our Own Correspondent' is often good.
posted by BadMiker at 8:12 PM on February 4, 2010


I wonder if IOT has become a kind of rite of passage among British academics.

Certainly, for the kind of academic who wants to front a series on BBC FOUR. Simon Schaffer passed the test (his four-parter, Light Fantastic, is really good), and Jim al-Khalili is doing Elements right now. Those two are regulars of long standing -- along with Steve Jones, who shows up for most biology-related topics and is always good value.

One thing that Melv has done very well in recent years, it seems, is introduce listeners to the crucible of Islamic learning during the middle ages, with programmes on the Abbasid Caliphs, Averroes, Avicenna and the translation of Greek works into Arabic. The programme on the Observatory at Jaipur was also fascinating, as an expansion of the scope of 17th century natural philosophy.
posted by holgate at 9:08 PM on February 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


I've been a fan of this show for some time, but the fact that they won't just give you an MP3 to download is a bummer. For a while, I was playing them (in real time) and recording them to MP3 so I could listen on my MP3 player instead listening on the computer, which I don't find enjoyable. I have about 100 shows in MP3 format. Anybody want to do some trading?
posted by king walnut at 9:56 PM on February 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's good to see so much love for this extraordinary programme.

I'll just add that Bragg is never afraid to admit he hasn't understood something and ask guests to go over the point again when he thinks that's necessary. He never yields to the temptation just to bluff his way through a difficult point, and that's one more reason why I love his way of chairing the programme.
posted by Paul Slade at 12:59 AM on February 5, 2010


I also suggest checking out The Forum and Thinking Allowed, for experts getting together for wide-ranging conversations about their fields. The Forum has more variety on a given week as their panel generally includes people from sciences and arts linked by some unifying theme, but occasionally comes across as a bit self-satisfied. Thinking Allowed is almost entirely about sociology, but it's Melvyn Bragg again and fascinating stuff.

Heck, check out the entire BBC Podcast Directory. My favourites are The Forum, Thinking Allowed, In Our Time, Material World (slightly irreverent science news), Science In Action (more serious science programme), More or Less: Behind The Stats (examining statistics claims from the week's news) and the Friday Night Comedy Podcast (topical comedy; at the moment it's The News Quiz, similar to "NPR's Wait Wait don't Tell Me").
posted by metaBugs at 2:31 AM on February 5, 2010


> Can anyone recommend other sites with similar programming?

You mights also like 'The Essay' from Radio 3.

> That's what I wonder about - if I have found complete archives on a bittorrent, is that kosher?

As a working class man whose life's passion was making the arts accessible to all, I suspect Lord Bragg would approve (even if the BBC's lawyers and accountants might not).
posted by boosh at 3:04 AM on February 5, 2010


One small correction: Thinking Allowed's actually hosted by a sociologist called Laurie Taylor. Nothing to do with Bragg.

For a magazine programme offering short but intelligent discussions of the week's new books, documentaries and public talks, give Radio 4's Start The Week a try. You can sometimes hear amazement in the American guests' voices that they're being allowed to discuss their books in a serious format like this on anything but a fringe internet station. That's available as a podcast too.

I just wish Radio 3 would do The Essay as a podcast, because I generally miss it in its broadcast slot. Night Waves is podcasted through, and that's often worth listening to.
posted by Paul Slade at 5:01 AM on February 5, 2010


I was going to post this. I was driving to work, listening to In Our Time on the radio when they announced the archive was going online and I thought, 'I'll post that to Metafilter'.

Glad that the post got so much love. It shows my impulse was right.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 11:31 AM on February 5, 2010


Late to the party, but the best way to download archived episodes of IOT I've found is using get_iplayer (despite first appearances it runs on Windows and OSX as well as Linux).

It's command line and a pain to figure out, but I've used it successfully a number of times when I've failed to download the mp3 of the latest episode from the BBC site. It appears to use mplayer and lame to pull down the Real stream, convert it to wav and then reencode it to mp3.
posted by Busy Old Fool at 3:40 AM on February 7, 2010


It's worth noting that the BBC's program pages usually have a list of recommended links and a suggested bibliography for each IOT topic eg. Leibniz v Newton on Calculus.
posted by pipstar at 3:52 AM on February 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


"Sadly many episodes are not currently available."

"Even episodes listed on their front page as highlites are not available.

Oh well."


445 episodes available now:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006qykl/episodes/player

If you can't see the "listen now" button, your set-up has problems.
posted by feelinglistless at 8:15 AM on February 7, 2010


Now all the episodes are working for me. Before I would click and get "this is not available" or something to that effect.
posted by Kattullus at 10:30 AM on February 7, 2010


Holy crap was this week's episode, about the 1857-8 rebellion in India against the British, a disaster. I feel like I know a lot less about it now than I did before I listened to the episode. It was interesting in that usually Bragg has a pretty good control of the flow of information but this time, for one reason or another, it broke down, highlighting how well he shepherds the discussion normally.
posted by Kattullus at 8:46 PM on February 20, 2010


Ooh, yes, and he admitted as much in the newsletter.

Will Self's LRB diary on In Our Time and dog-walking is a treat: "His methodology in In Our Time is – it struck me as I gained the path between the trees – not unlike that of a man throwing a stick for a dog: he chucks his questions ahead, and if the chosen academic fails to bring it right back, he chides them."
posted by holgate at 10:36 AM on February 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


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