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01In Our Time20100104Melvyn Bragg travels to Oxford, where the young Christopher Wren and friends experimented.
As part of the BBC's year of science programming, Melvyn Bragg looks at the history of the oldest scientific learned society of them all: the Royal Society.
Melvyn travels to Wadham College, Oxford, where under the shadow of the English Civil War, the young Christopher Wren and friends experimented in the garden of their inspirational college warden, John Wilkins.
Back in London, as Charles II is brought to the throne from exile, the new Society is formally founded one night in Gresham College. When London burns six years later, it is two of the key early Fellows of the Society who are charged with its rebuilding. And, as Melvyn finds out, in the secret observatory in The Monument to the fire, it is science which flavours their plans.
02In Our Time20100105How Newton tested the lines between government-funded research and public access.
As part of the BBC's year of science programming, Melvyn Bragg looks at the history of the oldest scientific learned society of them all: the Royal Society.
Programme two begins in the coffee house Isaac Newton and the fellows of the early 18th century frequented. At the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, we learn how Newton's feud with the Astronomer Royal John Flamsteed tested the lines between government-funded research and public access. In the age of exploration, senior fellows accompany naval expeditions, such as Cook's expedition to Tahiti and subsequent discovery of Australia. International relations are fostered between scientists such as Benjamin Franklin, whose house in London serves as live-in lab and de facto American embassy.
By the end of the century the President, Sir Joseph Banks, successfully embeds the Royal Society in the imperial bureaucratic hub of the new Somerset House. But while senior fellows concentrated on foreign fields, a more radical, dissident science and manufacturing base wrought the Industrial Revolution right under their noses.
03In Our Time20100106The 19th century blooms scientifically with numerous alternative, specialist societies.
As part of the BBC's year of science programming, Melvyn Bragg looks at the history of the oldest scientific learned society of them all: the Royal Society.
The 19th century blooms scientifically with numerous alternative, specialist learned societies and associations, all threatening the Royal Society's pre-eminence. Attempts to reform the membership criteria - marking scientific leadership's painful transition from patronage to expertise - are troubled, and organisations such as the British Association for the Advancement of Science (now the BSA) excite and enliven scientific discourse outside of London. Science becomes a realistic career and a path of improvement, and by the time HG Wells writes science fiction at the end of the 19th century, there are sufficient numbers of interested, informed readers to suggest that Edwardian society contained the beginnings of a scientific society.
04 LASTIn Our Time20100107The more discreet role played by the Society in the 20th century.
As part of the BBC's year of science programming, Melvyn Bragg looks at the history of the oldest scientific learned society of them all: the Royal Society.
The horrors of the First World War were a shocking indictment of the power of science. Picking up the thread at this hiatus in scientific optimism, this programme, recorded in the current home of the Royal Society in Carlton House Terrace in London, looks at the more subtle, discreet role the Society played in the 20th century, such as secretly arranging for refugee scientists to flee Germany, co-ordinating international scientific missions during the Cold War and quietly distributing government grant money to fund the brightest young researchers in the land. As ever more important scientific issues face the world and Britain today, the programme asks how well placed the Royal Society is to take an important lead in the future.

Genre

  • 20th century / Documentaries / History / Factual / Science and Nature / History of science / Scientist / 19th century / H. G. Wells / 18th century / 17th century / Charles II of England / English Civil War / Oxford