Al-Ghazali was a leading intellectual in the Islamic world of the 11th Century AD, a philosopher, lawyer, teacher, thinker and mystic who made important contributions to Islamic philosophy and to sharia law. The experts on In Our Time who discussed his life and work were Peter Adamson (LMU in Munich), Carole Hillenbrand (Edinburgh and St Andrews Universities) and Robert Gleave (University of Exeter).
The epic poem Beowulf is probably the best known piece of Anglo-Saxon literature - it's certainly one I was aware of, and had an idea of the shape of the story before we listened to the In Our Time episode about it. However it was unknown until the 19th Century when a single manuscript copy dating from around 1100AD was discovered. The three experts who discussed it on the programme were Laura Ashe (University of Oxford), Clare Lees (King's College London) and Andy Orchard (University of Oxford).
Modern Western culture is unusual in having no role for eunuchs in the machinery of bureaucracy - throughout history in a variety of different cultures castrated men have played an important part in governance (and in some cases in the arts). The In Our Time episode about eunuchs took a compare and contrast approach to three cultures in which eunuchs were particularly important.
Ashoka was the ruler of a vast empire in the 4th Century BC which included nearly all of India. He is known today from both archaeological evidence (a series of pillars & rocks inscribed with his edicts) and textual evidence (later Buddhist histories). The three experts who discussed him on In Our Time were Jessica Frazier (University of Kent and the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies), Naomi Appleton (University of Edinburgh) and Richard Gombrich (Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies and University of Oxford).
Thucydides was a Greek historian who lived in the 5th Century BC, and is regarded as a "Father of History" alongside Herodotus - although I confess that before I listened to the In Our Time programme about him I had never heard of him. I think he's been seen as more of a "historian's historian", whereas Herodotus is more of a "popular historian". The programme also told me that Thucydides's work is still important in the field of international relations.
It's the 800th anniversary of the first issuing of Magna Carta this year, and so there are currently a flurry of programmes about the document on the BBC on both radio and TV. We been listening to the Melvyn Bragg presented radio series that was on at the beginning of the year as our Sunday breakfast listening. This was a four part series that covered the context for the document, the thing itself, and its legacy.
Rudyard Kipling is one of the most well known British writers of the late 19th & early 20th Century - I suspect nearly everyone has heard of something he wrote ("The Jungle Book", "If--", "Tommy" ...). His reputation as a great writer in modern times has been overshadowed by the fact that he was an apologist for the British Empire with the sort of racist views that that entails.
In 751AD Arabian and Chinese forces met in battle at a river called Talas in Central Asia. This was to mark the end of the eastward expansion of the Islamic Empire, and the westward expansion of the Chinese Empire. Discussing it on In Our Time were Hilde de Weerdt (Leiden University), Michael Höckelmann (King's College London) and Hugh Kennedy (SOAS, University of London).
Julius Caesar is one of the most well known Roman historical figures. He conquered Gaul, changed the nature of the Roman state from republic to almost empire (although it took Augustus to finish that job), and his writings are still read today in Latin classes. Discussing him on In Our Time were Christopher Pelling (University of Oxford), Catherine Steel (University of Glasgow) and Maria Wyke (University College London).