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Academic Insights for the Thinking World

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Financial networks and the South Sea Bubble

In 2015 the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography introduced an annual research bursary scheme for scholars in the humanities. As the first year of the scheme comes to a close, we ask the first of the 2015-16 recipients—the economic historian, Dr Helen Paul of Southampton University—about her research project, and how it’s developed through her association with the Oxford DNB.

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Cover of Marconi: The Man Who Networked the World by Marc Raboy

15 surprising facts about Guglielmo Marconi, the man behind radio communication

Guglielmo Marconi is popularly known as “the inventor of radio,” a mischaracterization that critics and supporters of his many rivals are quick to seize upon. Marconi was actually the first person to use radio waves to communicate. His first patent was for “Improvements in Transmitting Electrical Impulses and Signals and in Apparatus Therefor,” and he considered what he was doing to be a form of wireless telegraphy.

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A Copernican eye-opener

Approximately 500 years ago a Polish lawyer, medical doctor, and churchman got a radical idea: that the earth was not fixed solidly in the middle of all space, but was spinning at a thousand miles per hour at its equator and was speeding around the sun at a dizzying rate. Unbelievable, critics said. If that were true, at the equator people would be spun off into space. And it would be much harder to walk west than east.

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5 Edinburgh attractions for booklovers [slideshow]

The Edinburgh Fringe is in full swing with over 3,000 arts events coming to the vibrant Scottish capital over the next few weeks. With the International Book Festival kicking off on the 13th, we’ve compiled our favourite bookish spots around the city for you to squeeze into your schedule.

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Revealing lives of women in science and technology: the case of Sarah Guppy

Guppy, as a patent-holding female inventor, is a rare type for the early 19th century but one that we are clearly eager to hear about today. It is the kind of life that (mostly women) historians have been researching since the 1970s and, more recently, has been transformed into popular role model: the archetypical example is Ada Lovelace, whose name has been adopted for a day celebrating and encouraging women in science and technology.

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The mysterious search for the Cardinal’s girlfriend

From the goosebump-producing thrills of Wilkie Collins’s fiction and the melodramas on offer at the Royal Princess’ Theatre to the headlines blaring in the Illustrated Police News, the Victorians savoured the sensational. The attention-seeking title above is patently untrue, yet, for more than five decades, John Henry Newman (the Cardinal) was emotionally, spiritually, and textually connected with Maria Rosina Giberne, a wholly intriguing figure.

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Father and son, inspired: Joshua and Paul Laurence Dunbar

Despite the biographical clues that historical fact and fiction may afford in excavating Joshua’s life, the investigation itself rests on a set of assumptions that implicate literary studies of slavery and, in particular, the social and intellectual historiography by which we delineate the agency of slaves themselves. The attractive notion that we can access the life of Joshua by way of the literature of Paul betrays the complexity of that actual investigation.

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Naked City: The Death and Life of Authentic Urban Places

Jane Jacobs, even better at 100

The fourth of May marks the centenary of the birth of Jane Jacobs, patron saint of contemporary urbanism, at least for most urban planners, architects and local political officials in the US and for many of us who live in cities as well. Both by her writing and her activism, Jacobs promoted livable cities—walkable, enjoyable, sociable places where communities provide distinctive experiences and locals have a say in determining what goes on.

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How well do you know your quotes from Down Under?

“What a good thing Adam had. When he said a good thing he knew nobody had said it before.” Mark Twain put his finger on one of the minor problems for a relatively new nation: making an impact in the world of famous quotations. All the good lines seem to have already been used somewhere else, by somebody else.

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Who was Bill Philips?

Austerity, uncertainty, instability … all problems we associate with Europe today as it cycles from pre-GFC exuberance to today’s austerity. But to put things in perspective, these are minor problems compared what our grandparents endured after World War Two. In Britain many people did not have enough to eat, the government had secret plans for national catastrophe, the Cold War was raging, the colonies erupting, and Sterling was in crisis. In those days there were few policy economists, and macroeconomics was caught in a battle between non-interventionist classical economics and the Keynesian revolution of demand management.

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Francisco Goya’s deafness

By the time Francisco Goya died on this day in 1828, he had established himself as one of the greatest portraitists of modern times. During his 74 years, he featured both nobles and kings and humble workers and farmers in over 1,800 works. It is said that he painted at a pace so furious, he completed his wife’s portrait, now hanging in the Prado, in an hour.

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Passion and compassion: The people who created the words and numbers of environmental science

These are the images I carry in memory that form my understanding of passion and compassion in science: Rachel Carson waking at midnight to return to the sea the microscopic marine organisms she has been studying, when the tidal cycle is favorable to their survival; John Muir clinging to the upper branches of a tall pine during a violent storm, reveling in the power of natural forces.

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Let the people speak: history with voices

For 135 years the Dictionary of National Biography has been the national record of noteworthy men and women who’ve shaped the British past. Today’s Dictionary retains many attributes of its Victorian predecessor, not least a focus on concise and balanced accounts of individuals from all walks of national history. But there have also been changes in how these life stories are encapsulated and conveyed.

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Ringing in the new year with Who’s Who

As 2015 draws to a close, Who’s Who is already ushering in the new year with its latest cohort of changemakers from the United Kingdom. From government and media, to business and the arts, over 1,000 new entries provide a glimpse into the lives of the world’s most influential leaders.

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