Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

Creativity and mental health

I am constantly perplexed by the recurring tendency in western history to connect creativity with mental disability and illness. It cannot be denied that a number of well-known creative people, primarily in the arts, have been mentally ill—for example, Vincent Van Gogh, Virginia Woolf, Robert Schumann, Robert Lowell, and Sylvia Plath.

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Why we like to blame buildings

On 27 October 2005, two French youths of Tunisian and Malian descent died of electrocution in a local power station in the Parisian suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois. Police had been patrolling their neighborhood, responding to a reported break-in, and scared that they might be subject to an arbitrary interrogation, the youngsters decided to hide in the nearest available building. Riots immediately broke out in the high-rise suburbs of Paris and in hundreds of neighborhoods across the country.

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10 moments in the life of Vincent van Gogh

Today, 29 July 2015 marks the 125th anniversary of the death of Vincent Willem van Gogh, the legendary Dutch post-impressionist painter behind Starry Night and Café Terrace at Night. His talents went widely unrecognized until after his death. Van Gogh was a brilliant artist with a tormented soul suffering from a mental illness.

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Down the doughnut hole: fried dough in art

Fried dough has been enjoyed for centuries in various forms, from the celebratory zeppole of St. Joseph’s Day to the doughnuts the Salvation Army distributed to soldiers during World War I. So important were doughnuts for boosting troop morale that when World War II came around, the Red Cross followed closely behind the US Army as it advanced across Europe, offering doughnuts from trucks specially outfitted with vats for deep-frying.

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The criminal enterprise of stealing history

After illegal drugs, illicit arms and human trafficking, art theft is one of the largest criminal enterprises in the world. According to the FBI Art Crime Team (ACT), stolen art is a lucrative billion dollar industry. The team has already made 11,800 recoveries totaling $160 million in losses.

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Six people who helped make ancient Naples great

The city that we now call Naples began life in the seventh century BC, when Euboean colonists from the town of Cumae founded a small settlement on the rocky headland of Pizzofalcone. This settlement was christened ‘Parthenope’ after the mythical siren whose corpse had supposedly been discovered there, but it soon became known as Palaepolis (‘Old City’), after a Neapolis (‘New City’) was founded close by.

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Redefining beauty in the suburbs of Victorian London

The British Museum’s current blockbuster show, Defining Beauty: the Body in Ancient Greek Art, amasses a remarkable collection of classical sculpture focusing on the human body. The most intriguing part of the show for me was the second room, “Body colour,” which displays plaster casts of several Greek sculptures brightly painted in green, blue, yellow, red and pink. The press has not known what to make of “Body colour.” It has been met with surprise, sneers, or been entirely ignored in otherwise glowing reviews.

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Vincent van Gogh’s images of motherhood

Vincent van Gogh’s turbulent relationship with mothers—especially his own—began a full year before his birth. On 30 March 1852, Anna Carbentus van Gogh gave birth to a son, Vincent Willem van Gogh, who was stillborn. Anna tearfully buried her son in the cemetery of the parsonage where the Van Goghs lived. A year later to the day, Anna would give birth to another son, whom she also named Vincent Willem van Gogh.

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A picture of violence and degradation

It is absolutely essential to take a critical view of source material when it comes to violent images and war photographs. Photos taken by perpetrators are always an expression of a relationship that is characterized by an imbalance of power between photographers and their subjects.

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The destruction of an Assyrian palace

Ashurnasirpal’s palace at Nimrud (Assyrian Kalḫu) was constructed around 865 BCE during a period in which Assyria was slowly becoming the empire that would come to rule most of the Middle East two centuries later. Ashurnasirpal’s palace is among the few Assyrian palaces to have been excavated (more or less) in its entirety. Measuring at least 2 hectares, it must have been one of the largest and most monumental buildings of its time.

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The final years of Fanny Cornforth

Family historians know the sensation of discovery when some longstanding ‘brick wall’ in their search for an elusive ancestor is breached. Crowds at the recent ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ exhibition at Birmingham explored the new resources available to assist their researches, and millions worldwide subscribe to online genealogical sites, hosting ever-growing volumes of digitized historical records, in the hope of tracking down their family roots.

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Civil War peas, shamrocks, and state beds: collecting a collection

The Chipstone Foundation in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, an organization devoted to innovative museum practice as well as to the study of historic American furniture, American and British ceramics, and American prints, doesn’t always collect what one might expect. Recently we acquired three peas said to have been served at Andersonville Prison, a swatch from bareknuckle boxer Joe Goss’s colors, splinters from the wreck of an ill-fated arctic expedition, and a feather collected from a Russian state bed.

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Who was Leonardo da Vinci? [quiz]

On 15 April, nations around the globe will be celebrating World Art Day, which is also Leonardo da Vinci’s birthday. A creative mastermind and one of the top pioneers of the Italian Renaissance period, his artistic visions fused science and nature producing most notably the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper.

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Animal Mother, Mother of Animals, Guardian of the Road to the Land of the Dead

We were working in Baga Oigor II when I heard my husband yelling from above, “Esther, get up here, fast!” Thinking he had seen some wild animal on a high ridge, I scrambled up the slope. There, at the back of a protected terrace marked by old stone mounds was a huge boulder covered with hundreds of images. Within that maze of elements I could distinguish a hunting scene and several square patterns suggesting the outlines of dwellings.

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A profile of Zelda Wynn Valdes: costume and fashion designer

In this interview with Professor Nancy Deihl, Master Teacher of Costume Studies at New York University, we look back in history to discuss and discover the life and accomplishments of Zelda Wynn Valdes, celebrity dressmaker and designer of the original Playboy bunny costume.

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Women in Philosophy: A reading list

To celebrate Women in Philosophy as part of Women’s History Month, we have created a reading list of books, journals, and online resources that explore significant female philosophers and feminist philosophy in general. Recommendations range from general interest books to biographies to advanced reader books and more.

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