Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

Illuminating Shakespeare

Shakespeare: living in a world of witches

Since he was born a year after the Witchcraft and Conjuration Act of 1563 brought about the era of the witch trials in England, it is hardly a surprise that witches and witchcraft would come to feature in Shakespeare’s work.

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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 forgotten history of piracy in the Indian Ocean

Strangely enough, in this contest between sovereignty and piracy, law played a minor role. European sovereigns periodically made ritual invocations of the natural law that held pirates as enemies of all mankind, but in reality, the seas remained an unbounded realm. Thus, in the context of India’s western seaboard, piracy happened more in the littoral than on the high seas.

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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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Bookselling and the feminist past

The ‘disappearance’ of booksellers from Hong Kong in recent months reminds us that the free circulation of print can be very directly challenging to the powerful. Within social movements ranging across civil rights, disability, anti-apartheid, socialism, and anti-colonial nationalisms, books, print presses, and bookshops have been central to the movements’ intellectual development and comradeship. The women’s movement has had a similarly close relationship to print; bookshops, periodicals, and presses were a thriving presence within Edwardian women’s suffrage circles.

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Book of the century: The Subjection of Women

In a dynamic demonstration of the motivating power of the written word, a ladies’ literary discussion group read The Subjection of Women in 1883. As soon as they had closed the book, they set up the Finnish Women’s Association to campaign for women in public life. It is not coincidental that in 1906 Finland became the first European country where women had the vote. J.S.Mill’s book is, with Marx’s Capital, one of the two most important political books written in Britain in the nineteenth century.

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100 years after the Easter Rising

This year marks the one hundredth anniversary of the Easter Rising, a violent attempt by Irish republicans to end British rule in Ireland. Though a momentous event in itself, the Rising should be understood in the context of a decade of revolutionary activity during which Irish political culture was profoundly radicalised and partition came to look inevitable. It must also be understood in the context of the First World War.

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Shifting commemorations, the 1916 Easter Rising

This Easter, Dublin experienced the culmination of the commemorative activities planned for the centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising. There was the traditional reading of the Proclamation in front of the General Post Office (GPO), the military parade, and a series of talks and seminars, held at various locations of historical and national significance.

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The evolution of evolution

How did it come to this? How was evolution transformed from a scientific principle of human-as-animal to a contentious policy battle concerning children’s education? From the mid-19th century to today, evolution has been in a huge tug-of-war as to what it meant and who, politically speaking, got to claim it.

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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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Commemorating Shakespeare in 1916

Easter was late in 1916, falling on 23 April, St George’s Day. This coincidence of faith and patriotism was inevitably both heightened and tempered by the ongoing struggles of the First World War. April 1916 came amidst the protracted fighting of the Battle of Verdun, a long and bloody conflict yet one which was only a foretaste of the horrors to come at the Somme the summer following. It also happened to mark the Tercentenary of the death of William Shakespeare.

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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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