Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

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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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July 4th and the American Dream in a season of uncertainty

By Jim Cullen
There’s not much history in our holidays these days. For most Americans, they’re vehicles of leisure more than remembrance. Labor Day means barbeques; Washington’s Birthday (lumped together with Lincoln’s) is observed as a presidential Day of Shopping. The origins of Memorial Day in Confederate grave decoration or Veterans Day in the First World War are far less relevant than the prospect of a day off from work or school.

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What can poetry teach us about war?

There can be no area of human experience that has generated a wider range of powerful feelings than war. Jon Stallworthy’s celebrated anthology The New Oxford Book of War Poetry spans from Homer’s Iliad, through the First and Second World Wars, the Vietnam War, and the wars fought since. The new edition, published to mark the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War, includes a new introduction and additional poems from David Harsent and Peter Wyton amongst others.

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Mapping the American Revolution

By Frances H. Kennedy
The American Revolution: A Historical Guidebook takes readers to 147 sites and landmarks connected with the American Revolution. From Bunker Hill and Valley Forge to Blackstock’s Plantation and Bryan’s Station, these locations are integral to learning about where and how American independence was fought for, and eventually secured.

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What is the American Dream?

By Mark Rank
In celebrating the founding of this country, many things come to mind when asked to describe the essence of America — its energy and innovation; the various liberties that Americans enjoy; the racial and ethnic mix of its people. But perhaps fundamental to the essence of America has been the concept of the American Dream.

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Cultural memory and Canada Day: remembering and forgetting

By Eleanor Ty
Canada Day (Fête du Canada) is the holiday that suggests summer in all its glory for most Canadians — fireworks, parades, free outdoor concerts, camping, cottage getaways, beer, barbeques, and a few speeches by majors or prime ministers. For children, it is the end of a school year and the beginning of two months of summer vacation.

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The top 10 historic places from the American Revolution

By Frances Kennedy
In 1996, Congress commissioned the National Park Service to compile a list of sites and landmarks that played a part in the American Revolution. From battlefields to encampments, meeting houses to museums, these places offer us a chance to rediscover the remarkable men and women who founded this nation and to recognize the relevance of not just what they did, but where they did it.

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Historical memory, woman suffrage, and Alice Paul

By J.D. Zahniser
I saw a t-shirt the other day which brilliantly illustrated the ever-present contest over historical memory in America. The t-shirt featured the famous 1886 image of Geronimo with a few of his Apache followers, all holding weapons. The legend on the t-shirt? “HOMELAND SECURITY: Fighting Terrorism Since 1492.”

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Obama’s predicament in his final years as President

By Daniel J. Sargent
The arc of a presidency is long, but it bends towards failure. So, to paraphrase Barack Obama, seems to be the implication of recent events. Set aside our domestic travails, for which Congress bears primary responsibility, and focus on foreign policy, where the president plays a freer hand.

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Putting an end to war

By Barry S. Levy and Victor W. Sidel
War is hell. War kills people, mainly non-combatant civilians, and injures and maims many more — both physically and psychologically. War destroys the health-supporting infrastructure of society, including systems of medical care and public health services, food and water supply, sanitation and sewage treatment, transportation, communication, and power generation.

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The long, hard slog out of military occupation

By Alan McPherson
In 2003, former secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld infamously foresaw victory in Afghanistan and Iraq as demanding a “long, hard slog” and listed a multitude of unanswered questions. Over a decade later, as President Obama (slowly) fulfills his promise to pull all US troops from Afghanistan, a different set of questions emerges: Which Afghans can coalition troops trust to replace them? Will withdrawal lead to even more corruption in the Hamid Karzai government or that of his successor? Has the return of sectarian violence in Iraq been inevitable?

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Torture: what’s race got to do with it?

By Rebecca Gordon
June is Torture Awareness Month, so this seems like a good time to consider some difficult aspects of torture people in the United States might need to be aware of. Sadly, this country has a long history of involvement with torture, both in its military adventures abroad and within its borders.

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This empire of suffering

By Mary L. Dudziak
On 6 June 2014 at Normandy, President Barack Obama spoke movingly of the day that “blood soaked the water, bombs broke the sky,” and “entire companies’ worth of men fell in minutes.” The 70th anniversary of D-Day was a moment to remember the heroes and commemorate the fallen.

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The appeal of primitivism in British Georgia

By Geordan Hammond
The ideal of primitivism was common feature in eighteenth-century British society whether in architecture, art, economics, landscape gardening, literature, music, or religion. Nicholas Hawksmoor’s six London neo-classical churches are one example of the primivitist ideal in architecture and religion.

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“Stretch” Johnson, my father

By Wendy Johnson
In the grim period of McCarthyism during the 50s, Howard “Stretch” Johnson, my father, fought for freedom of thought and speech, protesting the persecution of artists and intellectuals. Despite the fact that he had grown away from the Communist Party, with the 22nd Congress of the Communist Party and the revelations of Stalin’s bloody deeds, Stretch stood trial and refused to denounce his comrades.

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