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Academic Insights for the Thinking World

  • Arts & Humanities


The wooden box strung with taut wire and scraped with horse-hair tied to a stick

After a recent performance, a member of the audience came up to tell me that he’d enjoyed my playing. “I always think,” he said, as if he were being original, “that the violin is the instrument that most closely resembles the human voice.” Outwardly I nodded assent and smiled; inwardly I groaned. If you happen to be a violinist, then you’ll be only too familiar with this particular cliché.

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Separating Church and State

Since the 17th century Western thinkers have struggled with the problem of how to stop conflicts over religious differences. Not long ago, we mostly thought that the problem had been solved. Two rather different solutions served widely as paradigms, with many variations. One was the American Separation of Church and State, and the other French laïcité, usually if misleadingly translated as ‘secularism’.

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Which Shakespearean heroine are you? [quiz]

Did you know that out of a total of 981 characters from Shakespeare’s plays, only around 150 characters are women? There is an ongoing debate concerning what truly qualifies a character as female, but this ratio of male to female characters is nevertheless astounding.

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Piccinini - Physical Computation 9780199658855

The philosophical computer store

Once again, searching for unconventional computing methods as well as for a neurocomputational theory of cognition requires knowing what does and does not count as computing. A question that may appear of purely philosophical interest — which physical systems perform which computations — shows up at the cutting edge of computer technology as well as neuroscience.

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9780199890347 - A Storm of Witchcraft

Who was Giles Cory?

“Monday, Sept. 19, 1692. About noon, at Salem, Giles Cory was press’d to death for standing Mute; much pains was used with him two days, one after another, by the Court and Capt. Gardner of Nantucket who had been of his acquaintance: but all in vain.” Thus reads Judge Samuel Sewall’s terse account of one of the most gruesome incidents in early American history, one that continues to horrify yet fascinate. Who was Giles Cory? Why was he accused of witchcraft? And how did he come to such a horrible fate?

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Shakespeare and film around the world

From the birth of film, Shakespeare’s plays have been a constant source of inspiration for many screenwriters, directors, and producers. As a result, hundreds of film and television adaptations have been made, each featuring either a Shakespearean plot, theme, character, or all three.

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Pilgrimage VSI cover

How much do you know about pilgrimages?

Pilgrimage has been celebrated in literature from ‘The Canterbury Tales’> to Paulo Coelho’s ‘The Pilgrimage’. Test your knowledge of pilgrimages throughout history, across religions, and around the world.

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Five years of discovery

The librarians at Bates College became interested in Oxford Bibliographies a little over five years ago. We believed there was great promise for a new resource OUP was developing, in which scholars around the world would be contributing their expertise by selecting citations, commenting on them, and placing them in context for end users.

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The Mind's Ear

Beyond the page: music students and emotion

Even though I recently turned sixty and have taught at colleges and conservatories, when I hear the words “back to school,” the image that springs to mind is of my teenage self as a Juilliard student in the 1970s. If I ask that self what my main educational breakthrough from those years was, the answer surprises me: discovering what actors learn. Actors study their own emotions.

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Lawrence+McCartney_Mathmeticians (2)

Yes, maths can be for the amateur too

A friend of mine picked an argument with me the other day about how people go on about the beauty of mathematics, but this is not only not obvious to non-mathematicians, it cannot be accessed by those outside the field. Unlike, for example, the modern art, which is also not always obvious, mathematical beauty is elusive to all but the mathematicians. Or so he said.

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Hard Times Cover

The desnudas of Times Square

Because nothing noteworthy occurred anywhere in the world through the month of August and the first half of September, the local news in New York City turned its attentions to a few women who have apparently been bothering people in the otherwise calm, decent section of Manhattan known as Times Square.

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Twelve important figures in the modern history of wine

Many people have influenced the world of wine over the course of the last 400 years. They have changed, developed, and perfected the winemaking process, introduced grapes and viticulture to different continents, and left their mark on an industry that has been with us since the dawn of civilization.

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How well do you know the film adaptations of Shakespeare’s work? [quiz]

It’s fun to read Shakespearean plays, but watching our most beloved scenes on stage or screen makes the characters and the plots even more engaging. Reading the scene in which Juliet wakes up to find her Romeo dead is indeed tragic, but watching Claire Danes and Leonardo DiCaprio lock eyes right before he dies is heart-wrenching. Gazing, unable to reach through the screen and offer help, as Ralph Fiennes is outnumbered and murdered in his directorial debut, Coriolanus, is unparalleled.

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Paradoxes and promises

Imagine that, on a Tuesday night, shortly before going to bed one night, your roommate says “I promise to only utter truths tomorrow.” The next day, your roommate spends the entire day uttering unproblematic truths like: 1 + 1 = 2.

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Finding wisdom in Old English

Anglo-Saxon literature is full of advice on how to live a good life. Many Anglo-Saxon poems and proverbs describe the characteristics a wise person should strive to possess, offering counsel on how to treat others and how to obtain and use wisdom in life. Here are some words in Old English that describe what a wise person should aspire to be—and some qualities it’s better to avoid.

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