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The Oxford DNB at 10: new research opportunities in the humanities

The publication of the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography in September 2004 was a milestone in the history of scholarship, not least for crossing from print to digital publication. Prior to this moment a small army of biographers, myself among them, had worked almost entirely from paper sources, including the stately volumes of the first, Victorian ‘DNB’ and its 20th-century print supplement volumes. But the Oxford DNB of 2004 was conceived from the outset as a database and published online as web pages, not paper pages reproduced in facsimile.

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The construction of the Cartesian System as a rival to the Scholastic Summa

René Descartes wrote his third book, Principles of Philosophy, as something of a rival to scholastic textbooks. He prided himself in “that those who have not yet learned the philosophy of the schools will learn it more easily from this book than from their teachers, because by the same means they will learn to scorn it, and even the most mediocre teachers will be capable of teaching my philosophy by means of this book alone” (Descartes to Marin Mersenne, December 1640).

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The vision of Confucius

To understand China, it is essential to understand Confucianism. There are many teachings of Confucianist tradition, but before we can truly understand them, it is important to look at the vision Confucius himself had. In this excerpt below from Confucianism: A Very Short Introduction, Daniel K. Gardner discusses the future the teacher behind the ideas imagined.

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The Poetic Edda

“Young girl, I declare you are not like most men”: retranslating The Poetic Edda

Not every scholar of medieval English has the privilege of translating a major poetic text, and fewer still have the chance to do it all over again, eighteen years later. My first edition of the Poetic Edda was published in 1996 and about two years ago, I was invited to think about a second edition, one which would expand the number of poems and which could be brought up to date in other ways.

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The Scottish referendum: where is Cicero?

In a week’s time, the residents of Scotland (not the Scottish people: Scots resident south of the border are ineligible to vote) will decide whether or not to destroy the UK as currently constituted. The polls are on a knife edge; and Alex Salmond, the leader of the separatists, has a track record as a strong finisher. If he gets his way, the UK will lose 8% of its citizens and a third of its land mass; and Scotland, cut off, at least initially, from every international body (the UN Security Council, NATO, the EU) and every UK institution (the Bank of England, the pound sterling, the BBC, the security services), will face a bleak and uncertain future.

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Whose muse mews?

What could be more fun than an internet quiz about cats? We sat down with Oxford Scholarly Editions Online, and fired up the search, looking for cats stalking the pages of literature. We found some lovely stuff, and something more – a literary reflection of the cat’s unstoppable gambol up the social ladder: a mouser and rat-catcher in the seventeenth century, he springs up the stairs in the eighteenth century to become the plaything of smart young ladies and companion of literary lions such as Cowper, Dr Johnson, and Horace Walpole.

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Questioning the question: religion and rationality

We all know that asking questions is important. Asking the right questions is at the heart of most intellectual activity. Questions must be encouraged. We all know this. But are there any questions which may not be asked? Questions which should not be asked?

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The Yablo Paradox

Why study paradoxes?

Why study paradoxes? The easiest way to answer this question is with a story: In 2002 I was attending a conference on self-reference in Copenhagen, Denmark. During one of the breaks I got a chance to chat with Raymond Smullyan, who is amongst other things an accomplished magician, a distinguished mathematical logician, and perhaps the most well-known popularizer of `Knight and Knave’ (K&K) puzzles.

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The real story of Saint Patrick

Everyone knows about Saint Patrick — the man who drove the snakes out of Ireland, defeated fierce Druids in contests of magic, and used the shamrock to explain the Christian Trinity to the pagan Irish.

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War poetry across the centuries

‘Poetry’, Wordsworth reminds us, ‘is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings’, and there can be no area of human experience that has generated a wider range of powerful feelings than war. Below is an extract of two poems from The New Oxford Book of War Poetry.

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A back-to-school reading list of classic literature

With carefree summer winding to a close, we’ve pulled together some reading recommendations to put you in a studious mood. Check out these Oxford World’s Classics suggestions to get ready for another season of books and papers. Even if you’re no longer a student, there’s something on this list for every literary enthusiast.

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Is America generous? [infographic]

Being a generous person and donating a part of one’s income is something many people—and many religions—believe is important. In their Science of Generosity Survey, Christian Smith and Hilary Davidson took a closer look at this practice, particularly concerning Americans, to find not only how much of their income they donated, but how much they said they donated, as illustrated in this infographic.

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The road to hell is mapped with good intentions

Antebellum Americans were enamored of maps. In addition to mapping the United States’ land hunger, they also plotted weather patterns, epidemics, the spread of slavery, and events from the nation’s past.

And the afterlife.

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Poetry of the First World War

Song of Amiens

The horror of the First World War produced an extraordinary amount of poetry, both during the conflict and in reflection afterwards. Professor Tim Kendall’s anthology, Poetry of the First World War, brings together work by many of the well-known poets of the time, along with lesser-known writing by civilian and women poets and music hall and trench songs.

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Moral pluralism and the dismay of Amy Kane

There’s a scene in the movie High Noon that seems to me to capture an essential feature of our moral lives. Actually, it’s not the entire scene. It’s one moment really, two shots — a facial expression and a movement of the head of Grace Kelly.

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