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On 15th October 1998 Melvyn Bragg welcomed listeners to a new Radio 4 programme called In Our Time. "In this series," he said, "I hope we'll look at the ideas and events which have shaped the century." The first subject was War in the Twentieth Century; Melvyn's guests were the military historian Sir Michael Howard and the writer (and now leader of the Canadian Liberal Party) Michael Ignatieff.

Thirteen years later, on March 10th, IOT will celebrate its 500th edition. In Our Time was originally produced by Olivia Seligman and she and Melvyn worked together on the format for the programme. It has changed quite a bit since those early days. In 2000 it was extended from half an hour to 45 minutes, and the original two guests became three. And the programme's original remit - to survey the key ideas of the 20th century- seemed a bit passé post-millennium; so Melvyn, Olivia and his then producer Charlie Taylor came up with the brilliantly simple formula that persists, a decade on.

I've been a fan since that first series, and many highlights still stick in my mind: a gripping account of the writing of the Encyclopedie; a lively discussion of Robin Hood, whose many surprises included Melvyn's on-air debut as a singer; and a fascinating programme about gravity and what causes it.

That diversity of subject matter has always been one of IOT's great strengths. Even the first few programmes included discussions of brain function, the nation state and attitudes to work. Melvyn Bragg, as one of the few people to have been made a Fellow of both the Royal Academy and the Royal Society, is as interested in science as he is in history and literature. Look back through previous IOT subjects and you'll find quantum physics rubbing shoulders with medieval philosophy, calculus with Egyptology.

When we came to plan the 500th programme, Melvyn and I were determined to show off that range as much as we could. So number 499 will look at the age of the universe - and the state of current knowledge of the subject - with a panel which includes the Astronomer Royal, Martin Rees; the 500th examines one of the oldest problems of philosophy, Free Will (are we free to act as we choose?); and the 501st will look at the medieval universities and the tremendous influence they exerted on European intellectual life.

One of the great joys of taking over as producer of In Our Time a year ago was browsing the archive (every programme is available on our website) and finding juicy subjects the programme had never covered. Here was a great excuse to learn more about Pliny's Natural History, random numbers and Foxe's Book of Martyrs. So on the list they went; and thus our current run of programmes reflects my interests, as it does Melvyn's and those of our contributors.

In future weeks we'll be covering subjects including Hinduism, the Iron Age and neutrino physics. But, as I quickly discovered, we've still barely scratched the surface of several millennia of human endeavour. So we'd love to know what subjects you think we should discuss - and also what your highlights of the last 499 programmes have been. Please do make your suggestions - either by submitting a comment below or on Twitter, using the hashtag #IOT500.

Tom Morris is producer of In Our Time

  • As Tom points out, you can listen to the whole In Our Time archive on the Radio 4 web site - the largest programme archive at the BBC.
  • Get In Our Time delivered to your computer automatically every week - sign up for the In Our Time podcast.
  • Sign up for the free In Our Time newsletter - a rather clever and often very funny weekly update written by Melvyn Bragg - often while he's crossing St James's Park on the way to the office.
  • In The Guardian, Radio reviewer Elisabeth Mahoney asks "Is In Our Time Radio 4's best programme?"

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  • Comment number 83. Posted by Mark Bladon

    on 17 Mar 2011 22:48

    My congraqtulations to the entire team - In Our Time is fantastic!

    I download the episode and listen to it walking into work... It's important to take a route which avoids intersections, as some episodes have been sufficiently engaging for me to be risking my life crossing the road!

    I do have a suggestion for an episode - The Hedgerows of England. Did they appear naturally, or were they cultivated? How does this form of agriculture compare with other forms being practised elsewhere, at the same time? How did they impact other developments in early English history - land titles, etc, etc?

    I look forward to listening to this one as one of the next 500 episodes!

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  • Comment number 82. Posted by Tony Wright

    on 17 Mar 2011 17:44

    Hello Tom, I think Melvyn and yourself will find this of great interest, I send a rough draft manuscript outlining my research to Charlie Taylor maybe 6 or 7 years ago, he asked me to get in touch again when it was published. It all took a bit longer than expected and I wasn’t sure what kind of reaction I would get for what is an extremely radical discovery with massive implications. However it seems that initial broad-spectrum academic endorsement (where there should really be none at all) suggests this must be worth further investigation at the very least. Something I think will initiate some heated debate among your listeners.

    Introductory material here http://leftinthedark.org.uk/
    and here http://beyond-belief.org.uk/

    Best Wishes

    Tony

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  • Comment number 81. Posted by JcFx

    on 17 Mar 2011 13:22

    Some (late) program suggestions:

    History of Modern Linguistincs (Saussure, Chomsky, etc.)
    Speech Act Theory
    Kant
    Phenomenology
    History of Literary Criticism
    Noam Chomsky
    Author Theory (Barthes, Foucault, etc - do get Sean Burke as guest).
    Structuralism
    Deconstrucion (or Derrida)
    Post-Modern Literature
    Anthropology (or Levi-Strauss)

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  • Comment number 80. Posted by Jennifer Jackson

    on 16 Mar 2011 09:53

    Congratulations on reaching your 500th episode. I should like to suggest the composer Giacomo Meyerbeer for a future programme. Meyerbeer (1791-1864) was a stupendously successful opera composer, not just during his lifetime but for several decades after his death. Natural waning of grand operas (including Wagner) in early 20th century was overtaken by Nazi prohibition on Jewish artists. But - there has been little attempt to revive his works since 1945 and, far from respecting an innovator, he is today airbrushed from the record or grotesquely caricatured.

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  • Comment number 79. Posted by Mark Goodwin

    on 15 Mar 2011 15:50

    Hlo! Yes, I agree - best show on 4!

    Here is a suggestion for a subject:

    "The evolution of landscape poetry, from its origins through to 21st century ‘radical pastoralism’."

    This subject is rather pertinent to our present time, regarding environmentalism, ecology, social geography and human beings’ understanding of their place in the physical and imagined world.

    To begin researching this subject, a good person to contact would be Dr Harriet Tarlo at Sheffield Hallam University http://www.shu.ac.uk/research/hrc/sp-harriet-tarlo.html

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  • Comment number 78. Posted by John Thompson

    on 13 Mar 2011 18:47

    Thanks for IOT and keep going and innovating your site.Here are some suggestions for future topics:The art of film
    Alfred Russell Wallace
    Heidegger-rogue or great philosopher?
    Anarchism
    Maurice Merleau-Ponty
    Phenomenology
    Civilization-has it still a meaning?
    George Lukacs
    Alfred Hitchcock
    New Wave cinema
    Capitalism-causes,development,crises
    Beat Generation
    Biopychology
    Naom Chomsky
    Dreamtime
    Essenes
    Zoroastrianism
    Jazz
    Paul Ricouer
    Hermeneutics
    From global village to global economy
    Telhard de Chardin
    Neo-Platonism
    Plotinus
    Claude Levi Strauss
    Structuralism
    Zen Buddhism
    Zionism
    Bertrand Russell
    History of Drama
    Richard Feynman
    Global Warming
    Seismology
    Post-war European literature
    Are we all alone?
    Mission to Mars

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  • Comment number 77. Posted by Bobby

    on 13 Mar 2011 18:04

    > This caused a minor panic in the office when it was first pointed out! But two of the 501 are frauds. Two editions of IOT have been repeated, and these two (on Darwin and the Decline of the Roman Empire) both appear twice in the archive. After carefully counting and comparing the website with our own records, we're confident that this week's programme really was the 499th.
    >
    > Tom Morris
    > Producer, In Our Time

    The repeated episode on the fall of the Roman Empire is:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00547ds - The Roman Empire's Collapse in the 5th Century (series 3)
    and
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p004y237 - The Roman Empire's Decline and Fall (series 6)

    The page for the second does not indicate that it's a repeat, and it's air date is shown as 18th March 2004, the first 5th April 2001. Perhaps the IOT archive can be updated to removed the second from the episode sequence?

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  • Comment number 76. Posted by tamthetyper

    on 12 Mar 2011 18:24

    Dear I.O.T.

    (a) you're the best; thank you, and Congratulations !!

    (b) my suggestion is theological: discuss the Evangelical Universalism which is now growing fast within world Christianity.

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  • Comment number 75. Posted by naijafan

    on 12 Mar 2011 17:04

    IOT is the best thing on Radio 4, if not the BBC.

    Best Episode: impossible to say and I haven't listened to them all by a long way). The Waste Land, Schopenhauer, the Infant Brain and Probability have stuck in my mind from recent years. The Geological Formation of Britain and The Whale - both of which I thought would be rather dull - were, of course, excellent. There have been many, many more.

    Suggestions: The attention given to East Asian and Islamic topics is welcome and the programme on Maimonides was a fascinating insight into Jewish thought. How about more on Africa (e.g. African peoples/migration, African History, and the History of the Sahara)? Tibet? Hinduism/Hindu texts? The history of specific cities (the double-episode on Cities could have drawn on a wider range of examples)? Human migrations? Slave Trades? George Orwell? Linguistics? Langauge families? Viruses? Biodiversity?

    Thank you for all the good work!

    PS: Podcasts of the archive would be tremendous.

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  • Comment number 74. Posted by Paul van Schaik

    on 12 Mar 2011 13:35

    There have been many instructive and enjoyable programmes in the series. Much more and better use could be made of the expertise of psychologists (depending on the topics, of course). Following on from the 500th programme about free will, I propose one on the psychology of decision-making. This is an important topic, both from the perspective of research and that of practice. The history of the psychology of decision-making goes back at least as far as Daniel Bernouilli’s work (1738), but most advances have been made in the last 50 years. Arguably, the high point in this history so far has been the award to Daniel Kahneman of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics in 2002 for his work on prospect theory. To discuss the history and development of the psychology of decision-making with the host will be three nominated eminent professors of the psychology of judgement and decision-making. They will discuss central theories and concepts in the psychology of decision-making, such as expected utility theory, prospect theory, the St Petersburg paradox, the Ellsberg paradox, loss aversion, the endowment effect, the concept of sunk cost, the attraction effect, and the compromise effect.

    Paul van Schaik (not nominated to take part in the programme)
    Professor of Psychology, Teesside University

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