Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

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Six people who helped make ancient Naples great

The city that we now call Naples began life in the seventh century BC, when Euboean colonists from the town of Cumae founded a small settlement on the rocky headland of Pizzofalcone. This settlement was christened ‘Parthenope’ after the mythical siren whose corpse had supposedly been discovered there, but it soon became known as Palaepolis (‘Old City’), after a Neapolis (‘New City’) was founded close by.

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From Galileo to Rosetta

For some people, recent images of the Rosetta space program have been slightly disappointing. We expected to see the nucleus of the Churyumov-Gerasimenko comet as a brilliantly shining body. Instead, images from Rosetta are as black as a lump of coal. Galileo Galilei would be among those not to share this sense of disappointment.

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How do we remember the Battle of Waterloo?

From the moment the news of the victory was announced in London, Waterloo was hailed as a victory of special significance, all the more precious for being won on land against England’s oldest rival, France. Press and politicians alike built Waterloo into something exceptional. Castlereagh in Parliament would claim, for instance, that Waterloo was Wellington’s victory over Napoleon and that ‘it was an achievement of such high merit, of such pre-eminent importance, as had never perhaps graced the annals of this or any other country till now’.

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Magna Carta: the international dimension

The importance of Magna Carta—both at the time it was issued on 15 June 1215 and in the centuries which followed, when it exerted great influence in countries where the English common law was adopted or imposed—is a major theme of events to mark the charter’s 800th anniversary.

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Redefining beauty in the suburbs of Victorian London

The British Museum’s current blockbuster show, Defining Beauty: the Body in Ancient Greek Art, amasses a remarkable collection of classical sculpture focusing on the human body. The most intriguing part of the show for me was the second room, “Body colour,” which displays plaster casts of several Greek sculptures brightly painted in green, blue, yellow, red and pink. The press has not known what to make of “Body colour.” It has been met with surprise, sneers, or been entirely ignored in otherwise glowing reviews.

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Italian women and 16th-century social media

Venetian courtesan Veronica Franco (1546-1591) describes the perils of her profession in one of her Familiar Letters, which she published in 1580: “To give oneself as prey to so many men, with the risk of being stripped, robbed or killed, that in one single day everything you have acquired over so much time may be taken from you, with so many other perils of injuries and horrible contagious diseases; to drink with another’s mouth, sleep with another’s eyes, move according to another’s desires, always running the clear risk of shipwreck of one’s faculties and life, what could be a greater misery?”

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A picture of violence and degradation

It is absolutely essential to take a critical view of source material when it comes to violent images and war photographs. Photos taken by perpetrators are always an expression of a relationship that is characterized by an imbalance of power between photographers and their subjects.

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OUP Philosophy Creast

How much do you know about Søren Kierkegaard? [quiz]

This May, we’re featuring Søren Kierkegaard as our philosopher of the month. Born in Copenhagen, Denmark, Kierkegaard made his name as one of the first existentialist philosophers of his time. Centuries later, scholars continue to comb through his works, which were produced in such abundance that it is difficult, even now, to come away with a cohesive portrait of the Danish scholar; not to mention the fact that many details of Kierkegaard’s personal life remain unknown.

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FEMS Microbiology Letters

Is the history of science still relevant?

It was a simple request: “Try and put the fun back into microbiology”. I was about to write a new practical course for first year students, and apparently there had been complaints that microbiology is just another form of cookbook chemistry. Discussions showed that they liked the idea of doing their own experiments without a pre-determined outcome. Of course, with living microorganisms, safety must be a major concern, and some control was needed to prevent hazardous surprises, but “fun” and safety are not mutually exclusive.

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Salamone Rossi and the preservation of Jewish identity

Like other Jewish musicians in later times, among them Ernest Bloch, Darius Milhaud, and Leonard Bernstein, Rossi confronted the problems, in his own time, of preserving his Jewish identity in a non-Jewish environment and of communicating with Jews and Christians in such a way as to be understood and appreciated by both.

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Where was Christopher Columbus really from?

Of the many controversies surrounding the life and legacy of Christopher Columbus, who died on this day 510 years ago, one of the most intriguing but least discussed questions is his true country of origin. For reasons lost in time, Columbus has been identified with unquestioned consistency as an Italian of humble beginnings from the Republic of Genoa. Yet in over 536 existing pages of his letters and documents, not once does the famous explorer claim to have come from Genoa.

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The final years of Fanny Cornforth

Family historians know the sensation of discovery when some longstanding ‘brick wall’ in their search for an elusive ancestor is breached. Crowds at the recent ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ exhibition at Birmingham explored the new resources available to assist their researches, and millions worldwide subscribe to online genealogical sites, hosting ever-growing volumes of digitized historical records, in the hope of tracking down their family roots.

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Who said it? Napoleon or Clausewitz

How well do you know your military strategists? Napoleon Bonaparte and Carl von Clausewitz are considered some of the finest thinkers on war and strategy. Although they were enemies on the battlefield, both men’s insights into the dynamics of war are still widely consulted today. Take our quiz and see if you can tell who said what. Quotes are drawn from Napoleon: On War and On War by Carl Von Clausewitz.

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The long history of World War II

World War Two was the most devastating conflict in recorded human history. It was both global in extent and total in character. It has understandably left a long and dark shadow across the decades. Yet it is three generations since hostilities formally ended in 1945 and the conflict is now a lived memory for only a few. And this growing distance in time has allowed historians to think differently about how to describe it, how to explain its course, and what subjects to focus on when considering the wartime experience.

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Peter Acton

Five lessons from ancient Athens

There’s a lot we can learn from ancient Athens. The Greek city-state, best recognized as the first democracy in the world, is thought to have laid the foundation for modern political and philosophical theory, providing a model of government that has endured albeit in revised form. Needless to say, the uniqueness of its political institutions shaped many of its economic principles and practices, many of which are still recognizable in current systems of government.

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Vergil in Russia: milestones of identity

In 1979, one of the most prominent Russian classical scholars of the later part of the twentienth century, Mikhail Gasparov, stated: “Vergil did not have much luck in Russia: they neither knew nor loved him.” Gasparov mostly blamed this lack of interest on the absence of canonical Russian translations of Vergil, especially when it came to the Aeneid.

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