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Academic Insights for the Thinking World

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Revisiting the Sleepy Lagoon murder trial

If you were accused of a crime that you did not commit, how confident are you that you would be found innocent? And what injuries and injustices could you endure before your innocence was finally proven?

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How can history inform public policy today?

As a historian of philanthropy, I have wrestled with how to bring historical perspectives to my my own gifts of time and money. I study philanthropists in North America, the British Isles, and the Caribbean in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The distant past, you might think, and of little concern to our philanthropic practices today.

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Aldo Leopold’s legacy on our national parks

As my family gazed down on the stratified color bands of geological history in the Grand Canyon, snow and ice lined each ridge, and made each step on the path going down a dangerous adventure, highlighting the glorious drama of the miles-deep gorge. It was dizzying and frightening and awe-inspiring.

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Alexander Hamilton and the public debt

have not yet seen Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hit Broadway show Hamilton. I feel badly about this for three reasons. First, Miranda is a 2002 Wesleyan graduate, a loyal and generous alumnus who gave a great commencement speech in 2015 and remains solidly committed to the university. Second, the music and lyrics are, quite simply, amazing. Third, as an economic historian, it is heartening to see one of America’s economic heroes make it to Broadway.

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This year’s other elections

The primaries, the conventions, and the media have focused so much attention on the presidential candidates that it’s sometime easy to forget all the other federal elections being held this year, for 34 seats in the Senate and 435 in the House (plus five nonvoting delegates). The next president’s chances of success will depend largely on the congressional majorities this election will produce.

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Was Anton LaVey serenading Satan in his cover of “Answer Me”?

Anton Szandor LaVey was the most outspoken and most notorious apostle of Satan in the twentieth century. On his life before founding the Church of Satan in 1966, LaVey liked to spun wild tales, but he did actually work as a professional and semi-professional musician in the carnival circuit. The High Priest of Satan was fond of bombastic classic music in the Wagnerian mould and popular tunes from the thirties, forties, and fifties, the period in which he himself had been young.

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Are Americans information junkies?

It would seem so obvious that they are information junkies. With 70 plus percent of the population over the age of 10 walking around with their smart phones—more computer than telephone—they often hold them in their hands so they can instantly keep up. E-books are popular, while the sale of hardcopy books continues to rise. The New York Times boasted in 2016 that it now had over a million online subscribers. A number close to that reads the Harvard Business Review.

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The Paradoxical Muhammad Ali

Muhammad Ali’s funeral and memorial service brought together a seemingly incongruous cast of characters, once again spotlighting the many contradictions that have made it so difficult for commentators and biographers to extract a realistic assessment of his life. Even with a staggering amount written about him, Ali leaves behind a contested image largely characterized by misinterpretation.

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Benjamin Franklin Says “WE ARE ONE”

A year before signing the Declaration of Independence, Benjamin Franklin wrote to Jonathan Shipley, one of his closest English friends, about American congressional affairs. He told of his day-long meetings (he worked from 9 AM often until 9 PM) in Congress. Despite his physical exhaustion, Franklin was impressed with his colleagues. Members of Congress, he wrote, attend “closely” to congressional affairs, “without being bribed to it, by either Salary, Place or Pension, or the hopes of any.”

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Liking Ike: Eisenhower, Advertising, and the Rise of Celebrity Politics

The Broadway song that nominated a president

The astounding success of Hamilton, its capacity to engage audiences from third graders to the president and first lady, reminds us that Broadway musicals have a healthy tradition of mining political history. From 1776 to Evita, songwriters have been fascinated by political power. What drives people to become leaders? How do they rally supporters around them? What reservations do they have about their failures and successes?

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The profanity of disease

Over spring break, I spent a day in Tombstone, Arizona. This is the town where, if you don’t know the story, Wyatt Earp and his brothers, accompanied by their friend Doc Holliday, had a shootout with a group of cattle rustlers at the OK Corral. Though the Earp brothers wore the badges, when the tale is told the hero is usually Doc Holliday—noted gambler, crack shot, prodigious drinker

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Diplomatic History

17 US foreign relations must-reads

The annual meeting of the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations (SHAFR) begins this week in San Diego. Are you caught up on your reading? If not, have no fear! We’ve put together a list of your SHAFR “must-reads,” including Diplomatic History’s most popular articles from the past year and a selection of recent books and blog posts on US foreign relations.

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