Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

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Militias and citizenship: the eighteenth century and today

Citizenship is central to our political discourse in Britain today. From John Major’s ‘Citizen’s Charter’ to New Labour’s introduction of citizenship classes for schoolchildren – and citizenship tests for immigrants – it is a preoccupation that spans the political spectrum. Citizenship suggests membership of the national community, membership that comes with both rights and responsibilities.

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Mary Somerville: the new face on Royal Bank of Scotland’s ten-pound note is worthy of international recognition

From 2017, ten-pound notes issued by the Royal Bank of Scotland will feature a new face: that of the great nineteenth-century science communicator Mary Somerville. Her book on mathematical astronomy, Mechanism of the Heavens — published in 1831, when she was fifty years old — was used as an advanced textbook at Cambridge for a hundred years. This is a phenomenal achievement for a woman who taught herself science and mathematics.

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Brexit and the fear of immigrants

Brexit—the prospect of Britain exiting the European Union—has garnered a great deal of attention in the past year as Britons debate the pros and cons of remaining a member of the EU. So-called Eurosceptics oppose integration with Europe for a variety of reasons, among them the constraints it places on the UK’s ability to negotiate more advantageous trade agreements, and the regulations and bureaucratic excesses the EU imposes on Britain in economic, financial, and judicial matters.

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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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Illuminating Shakespeare

Shakespeare and sex in the 16th century [infographic]

Sex was far from simple in 16th century England. Shakespeare himself wed a woman eight years his senior, a departure from the typical ages of both partners. While some of his characters follow the common conventions of Elizabethan culture (male courtship and the “transfer” of a woman from the care of her father to her husband), others show marked indifference toward appropriate gender roles and sexuality.

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The surprising history of Britain’s elephants

England’s first and most surprising elephant was given to Henry III in 1235 by the Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick II, probably to mark his betrothal to Henry’s sister Isabella. Frederick had elephants to spare – he took several on his journeys round Europe along with lions, leopards, dromedaries, camels, falcons and bearded owls. This was an African elephant (recognized by its big ears).

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Illuminating Shakespeare

Sex, love, and Shakespeare [slideshow]

Whether he fills his scenes with raunchy innuendos, or boldly writes erotic poetry, or frequently reverses the gender norms of the time period, Shakespeare addresses the multifaceted ways in which sex, love, marriage, relationships, gender, and sexuality play an integral part of human life.

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Solidarity: an art worth learning

Can solidarity exist? Or is it just a fantasy, a pious dream of the soft of heart and weak of brain? Gross inequality, greed and prejudice: these manifestations of selfishness which stalk our world may seem to invite our condemnation and to call for an alternative – but what if they are part of the natural order?

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Illuminating Shakespeare

5 facts about marriage, love, and sex in Shakespeare’s England

Considering the many love affairs, sexual liaisons, and marriages that occur in Shakespeare’s plays, how many of them accurately represent their real-life counterparts? Genuine romantic entanglements certainly don’t work out as cleanly as the ending of Twelfth Night, where Sebastian and Olivia, Duke Orsino and Viola, and Toby and Maria all wind up as married couples.

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What was Shakespeare’s religion?

What was Shakespeare’s religion? It’s possible to answer this seemingly simple question in lots of different ways. Like other English subjects who lived through the ongoing Reformation, Shakespeare was legally obliged to attend Church of England services. Officially, at least, he was a Protestant. But a number of scholars have argued that there is evidence that Shakespeare had connections through his family and school teachers with Roman Catholicism, a religion which, through the banning of its priests, had effectively become illegal in England.

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Illuminating Shakespeare

Shakespeare and religion in 16th and 17th century England

The politics and religious turmoil of 16th century England provided Shakespeare with the fascinating characters and intriguing plots. From the publication of Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses in 1517, which some historians argue ignited the Protestant cause, to the publication of the Geneva Bible in 1560, English religious history has dramatically influenced Shakespeare’s work.

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The exceptional English?

There is nothing new about the notion that the English, and their history, are exceptional. This idea has, however, recently attracted renewed attention, since certain EU-sceptics have tried to advance their cause by asserting the United Kingdom’s historic distinctiveness from the Continent.

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Money, money, money

In All’s Well that Ends Well (3.7), Helena devises a plan to ignite the affections of her husband, for which she needs the help of her new acquaintances, a widow and her daughter. The widow is naturally suspicious, but Helena persuades her by offering to pay for her daughter’s marriage.

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Illuminating Shakespeare

10 crisp facts about money during Shakespeare’s time

Would you like to pay a halfpenny for a small beer, 1 shilling for a liter of wine, or less than 2 pounds for a horse? If you lived in 17th century England you could buy all of these and even afford Shakespeare’s First Folio, which was only £1 when it was published.

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Terrorist tactics, terrorist strategy

Terrorism in the early modern world was rather different from terrorism today. In the first place, there wasn’t any dynamite or automatic weaponry. It was harder to kill. In the second place, the idea of killing people indiscriminately, without regard to their identity, didn’t seem to occur to anyone yet. But still, there was lots of violence using terrorist tactics.

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