Thursday, July 08, 2010

More History of Science on “In Our Time”

Posted by Darin Hayton on 07/08 at 10:07 PM

Melvyn Bragg, host of BBC Radio 4’s “In Our Time,” consistently produces excellent programs on the history of science (along with programs on other topics). The most recent program looks at Pliny’s Natural History. His guests include Liba Taub from Cambridge’s Department of History and Philosophy of Science, Serafina Cuomo from Birkbeck, and Aude Doody from University College, Dublin.

The beginning of book two of Pliny’s Historia naturalis, from the 1582 edition (Source: Voyages. A Smithsonian Libraries Exhibition, original image here)

Pliny claims to have consulted more than 2,000 sources in compiling his massive, 36-volume (plus a first volume that is merely the table of contents for the remaining 36) Historia naturalis, which covers astronomy, geography, stones, mining, zoology, and dozens of other topics. This vast compendium survived in its entirety and became a fundamental resource for scholars throughout the medieval and Renaissance periods.

Last month, “In Our Time” had a program on the Muslim polymath al-Biruni. The focus of this program was al-Biruni’s 11th-century book India, a detailed study of Hindu religion, science, and everyday life.

A couple other programs from the archives:
Renaissance Astrology explores the question: “But why did astrological ideas flourish in the period, how did astrologers interpret and influence the course of events and what new ideas eventually brought the astrological edifice tumbling down?” Lauren Kassell from Cambridge’s HPS is one of the guests.

Renaissance Magic asks: “[W]hy did magic appeal so strongly to the Renaissance mind? And how did the scholarly Magus, who became a feature of the period, manage to escape prosecution and relate his work to science and the Church?”

The Habsburg emperor Rudolf II, known for his patronage of magicians, alchemists, and astrologers was the topic of another program.

Podcasts are available for only a short period after the original broadcast, so it is well worth signing up for them: In Our Time Podcast. If you miss the podcast, you can listen to the shows through the BBC iPlayer on the website.

Tags: al-biruni, astrology, in our time, magic, melvyn bragg, pliny the elder, rudolf ii