Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

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History lessons from Beijing taxi drivers

By Valerie Hansen
“You have made a grave error in deciding to focus on the history of the Silk Road. The most important, and the most interesting, period in all of Chinese history is the third century, after the overthrow of the Han dynasty, when China was divided into three major kingdoms.” The Beijing taxi driver was dead earnest. Like many other drivers he listened regularly to radio broadcasts about Chinese history.

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Olympic confusion in North and South Korea flag mix-up

By Jasper Becker
Do North and South Korea belong to the same country? Are they the same race sharing the same history and language? The answers to these questions are far from clear even to the Koreans themselves. It depends on the day really or the Olympics. In the 2000, 2004, and 2006 Olympics the two countries joined together at the games’ opening ceremonies and marched in matching uniforms behind the Korean Unification Flag.

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The sleeping giant wakes

By David Armstrong
Napoleon’s famous remark about China — “There lies a sleeping giant. Let him sleep! For when he wakes he will move the world” — has achieved a new lease of life in the context of China’s remarkable growth since the death of Mao in 1976. Since then, China has registered a real GDP growth of more than twenty times, it has some $2 trillion in foreign reserves, a million Chinese emigrants now work in Africa on behalf of Chinese economic interests there, China’s military power (land, sea, and air) is growing at around 12% annually, and its non-financial overseas direct investment is currently in excess of $330 billion, to mention just a few of the statistics that usually appear on this topic.

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Indian forces massacre Sikhs in Amritsar

This Day in World History
After months of standoff between India’s government and Sikh dissidents, the Indian army attacked those dissidents who had taken refuge in the holiest Sikh shrine — the Golden Temple, in Amritsar, India — on June 6, 1984. The fighting left hundreds dead and more captured. The attack also enraged many Sikhs across India, which would have fatal consequences for Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi, who had ordered the assault.

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Hillary and Tenzing climb Mt. Everest

This Day in World History
On May 29, 1953, at about 11:30 a.m., New Zealander Edmund Hillary and Tibetan Tenzing Norgay stood on top of the world. They had spent more than two hours straining every muscle against ice, snow, rock, and low oxygen to reach this point. But they were atop Mount Everest, more than 29,000 feet above sea level, the highest peak in the world.

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Afghanistan’s other regional casualty

By Alexander Cooley
As NATO leaders gather in Chicago to garner international support for an Afghanistan drawdown and stabilization strategy, they should also consider the overlooked toll that the campaign has taken on the adjacent Central Asian states. Western security assistance has made the Central Asian states more authoritarian and more corrupt, while these trends are only likely to deteriorate as the drawdown of US and ISAF forces accelerates.

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Da Gama reaches Calicut, India

This Day in World History
On May 20, 1498, sailing for the Portuguese crown, Vasco da Gama reached Calicut, India. Having successfully sailed around the southern tip of Africa, da Gama had pioneered a sea route from Europe to Asia that bypassed the Muslim nations that controlled the overland spice trade.

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Kublai Khan becomes Mongol Emperor

This Day in World History
In 1259, the great Mongol Empire — which stretched from parts of China west to Russia — was shaken for the second time by the death of its leader, or khan, when Mongke, a grandson of the founder Genghis Khan, died. One of his brothers, Kublai, left his army in China, came back to Mongolia, and had himself declared the Great Khan.

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Osama bin Laden killed

: This Day in World History
In the middle of the night, 2 May 2011, a brief message was radioed from Pakistan to CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia: “EKIA.” “EKIA” is military shorthand for “enemy killed in action.” The enemy was Osama bin Laden. After a manhunt of nearly ten years, the United States had found and killed the al Qaeda leader who had ordered the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, D.C.

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Captain Cook sights Australia

This Day in World History
“What we have as yet seen of this land appears rather low, and not very hilly, the face of the Country green and Woody, but the Sea shore is all a white Sand.” Thus James Cook concluded his log entry for April 19, 1770 — the day Europeans first sighted the continent of Australia.

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Nadir Shah enters Delhi and captures the Peacock Throne

This Day in World History
On March 21, 1739, Nadir Shah, leading Persian (Iranian) and Turkish forces, completed his conquest of the Mughal Empire by capturing Delhi, India, its capital. He seized vast stores of wealth, and among the prizes he carried away was the fabled Peacock Throne.

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Earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster strike Japan

: This Day in World History
Japan, situated on the Ring of Fire on the edge of the Pacific Ocean, has suffered some major earthquakes over the years. However, nothing before compared to the triple disaster of March 11, 2011: a massive earthquake followed by powerful tsunamis which led to a serious nuclear accident.

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Empress of China becomes first US ship to trade with China

This Day in World History
Carrying a full load of goods, including 30 tons of ginseng, and finally free of the ice that had choked the harbor for weeks, the Empress of China set out from New York on February 22, 1784 for China. Just months after the British had finally evacuated the city after the Revolutionary War, American merchants were seizing the opportunity afforded by independence to enter the China trade.

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Emperor Meiji issues new constitution of Japan

This Day in World History
On February 11, 1889, Japan’s Emperor Meiji furthered his plan to modernize and westernize his nation by promulgating a new constitution. The new plan of government created a western-style two-house parliament, called the Diet, and a constitutional monarchy — though one with a Japanese character.

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