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Academic Insights for the Thinking World

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George Burroughs: Salem’s perfect witch

On 19 August 1692, George Burroughs stood on the ladder and calmly made a perfect recitation of the Lord’s Prayer. Some in the large crowd of observers were moved to tears, so much so that it seemed the proceedings might come to a halt. But Reverend Burroughs had uttered his last words. He was soon “turned off” the ladder, hanged to death for the high crime of witchcraft.

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An appreciation of air conditioning

This week—August 15, to be exact—celebrates the climax of Air Conditioning Appreciation Days, a month-long tribute to the wonderful technology that has made summer heat a little more bearable for millions of people.

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Transparency at the Fed

By Richard S. Grossman
As an early-stage graduate student in the 1980s, I took a summer off from academia to work at an investment bank. One of my most eye-opening experiences was discovering just how much effort Wall Street devoted to “Fed watching,” that is, trying to figure out the Federal Reserve’s monetary policy plans.

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The long journey to Stonewall

By Nancy C. Unger
When I was invited by the Commonwealth Club of San Francisco to participate in its month-long program “The LGBT Journey,” I was a bit overwhelmed by all the possibilities. I’ve been teaching “Lesbians and Gay Men in the U.S.” since 2002, and my enthusiasm for the subject grows every time the course is offered. It’s a passion shared by my students. They never sigh and say, “Gay and lesbian history again?” But what to present in only forty-five minutes? My most recent scholarship examines lesbian alternative environments in the 1970s and 1980s. In the end, though, I decided to make a larger point. For many people, LGBTQ American history begins with the Stonewall Riots in 1969, so I determined to use this opportunity to talk about the history of same-sex desire that is as old as this nation.

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A Q&A with John Ferling on the American Revolution

John Ferling is one of the premier historians on the American Revolution. He has written numerous books on the battles, historical figures, and events that led to American independence, most recently with contributions to The American Revolution: A Historical Guidebook. Here, he answers questions and discusses some of the lesser-known aspects of the American Revolution.

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On the 95th anniversary of the Chicago Race Riots

By Elaine Lewinnek
On 27 July 1919, a black boy swam across an invisible line in the water. “By common consent and custom,” an imaginary line extending out across Lake Michigan from Chicago’s 29th Street separated the area where blacks were permitted to swim from where whites swam. Seventeen-year-old Eugene Williams crossed that line.

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Why we don’t go to the moon anymore

By Matthew D. Tribbe
Today marks the forty-fifth anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. To understand Apollo’s place in history, it might be helpful to go back forty-four rather than forty-five years, to the very first anniversary of the event in 1970. That July, several newspapers conducted informal surveys that revealed large majorities of Americans could no longer remember the name of Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon.

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On the anniversary of air conditioning

By Salvatore Basile
Those who love celebrations, take note — July 17 marks the birthday of air conditioning. To recap the story, it was 112 years ago today that young engineer Willis Carrier unveiled the plans for his “Apparatus for Treating Air,” a contraption that was designed to lower the humidity in a Brooklyn printing plant.

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Same-sex marriage now and then

By Rachel Hope Cleves
Same-sex marriage is having a moment. The accelerating legalization of same-sex marriage at the state level since the Supreme Court’s June 2013 United States v. Windsor decision, striking down the Defense of Marriage Act, has truly been astonishing. Who is not dumbstruck by the spectacle of legal same-sex marriages performed in a state such as Utah, which criminalized same-sex sexual behavior until 2003?

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The trouble with military occupations: lessons from Latin America

By Alan McPherson
Recent talk of declining US influence in the Middle East has emphasized the Obama administration’s diplomatic blunders. Its poor security in Benghazi, its failure to predict events in Egypt, its difficulty in reaching a deal on withdrawal in Afghanistan, and its powerlessness before sectarian violence in Iraq, to be sure, all are symptoms of this loss of influence.

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Rhetorical fireworks for the Fourth of July

By Russ Castronovo
Ever since 4 July 1777 when citizens of Philadelphia celebrated the first anniversary of American independence with a fireworks display, the “rockets’ red glare” has lent a military tinge to this national holiday. But the explosive aspect of the patriots’ resistance was the incendiary propaganda that they spread across the thirteen colonies.

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1776, the First Founding, and America’s past in the present

By Elvin Lim
When a nation chooses to celebrate the date of its birth is a decision of paramount significance. Indeed, it is a decision of unparalleled importance for the world’s “First New Nation,” the United States, because it was the first nation to self-consciously write itself into existence with a written Constitution.

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Calvin Coolidge, unlikely US President

By Michael Gerhardt
The Fourth of July is a special day for Americans, even for our presidents. Three presidents — John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe — died on the Fourth of July, but only one — Calvin Coolidge — was born on that day (in 1872). Interestingly, Coolidge was perhaps the least likely of any of these to have attained the nation’s highest elective office.

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What if the Fourth of July were dry?

By Kyle Volk
In 1855, the good citizens of the state of New York faced this very prospect. Since the birth of the republic, alcohol and Independence Day have gone hand in hand, and in the early nineteenth century alcohol went hand in hand with every day. Americans living then downed an average 7 gallons of alcohol per year, more than twice what Americans drink now. In homes and workshops, churches and taverns; at barn-raisings, funerals, the ballot box; and even while giving birth—they lubricated their lives with ardent spirits morning, noon, and night. If there was an annual apex in this prolonged cultural bender, it was the Fourth of July, when many commemorated the glories of independence with drunken revelry.

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