Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World


Why are Americans addicted to polls?

Before going into battle, Roman generals would donate a goat to their favorite god and ask their neighborhood temple priest to interpret a pile of pigeon poop to predict if they would take down the Greeks over on the next island. Americans in the nineteenth century had fortune tellers read their hands read and phrenologists check out the bumps on their heads. Statistics came along by the late 1800s, then “scientific polls” which did something similar.

Read More

The not-so glamorous origins of American celebrity politics

“In America,” the filmmaker Francois Truffaut once wrote, “politics always overlaps show business, as show business overlaps advertising.” Indeed, as the Republicans and Democrats head into the fall campaign, the spectacle of celebrity politics will be on full display.

Read More
American History

11 facts about the modern peace movement

On this day on 28 August 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous “I have a dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech left an indelible mark on American history and the world. His universal cry for a more humane and united world became a source of inspiration for all.His speech and the Civil Rights Movement were an important part of the broader peace movement.

Read More
American History

10 facts worth knowing about the US women’s rights movement

Today, August 26th, is Women’s Equality Day which commemorates the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920, granting women the right to vote. This day reflects the culmination of a movement which had begun in the 1830s when rising middle-class American women, with an increasing educational background, began to critique the oppressive systems of the early 19th century.

Read More

Remembering John Muir on the centennial of the National Park Service

This year, Americans celebrate the centennial of the National Park Service. On August 25, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed the National Park Service Organic Act. The bill culminated decades of effort by a remarkable generation of dedicated men and women who fought to protect the nation’s natural wonders for the democratic enjoyment of the people.

Read More

Jim Crow redux: Donald Trump and the racial fear factor

Donald Trump’s mantra, to “make America great again,” plays on the word “again,” and is presumably meant to evoke among his supporters a return to an earlier, more bountiful, time. To paraphrase Bill Clinton, it all depends on what the word “again” means. According

Read More
Journal of Social History

A curve in the road to a “Drug-Free America”

Virtually every American over 35 who had access to a television set in the waning years of the Reagan Administration is familiar with the PDFA’s handiwork. The frying pan with a sizzling egg stand-in for “your brain on drugs.” The stern, middle-aged father confronting his son over the boy’s pot stash, only to be told, “I learned it by watching you!”

Read More

What makes a good campaign slogan?

Slogan-wise, this year’s presidential campaign gives us Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” and Hillary Clinton’s “Stronger Together” and “I’m with Her.” Trump’s slogan is a call to bring something back from the past. Clinton’s are statements of solidarity.

Read More

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?

Read More

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.

Read More

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.

Read More

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.

Read More

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.

Read More

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.

Read More