Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

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Thinking more about our teeth

By Peter S. Ungar
Most of us only think about teeth when something’s wrong with them — when they come in crooked, break, or begin to rot. But take a minute to consider your teeth as the extraordinary feat of engineering they are. They concentrate and transmit the forces needed to break food, again and again, up to millions of times over a lifetime. And they do it without themselves being broken in the process — with the very same raw materials used to make the plants and animals being eaten.

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Osagie K. Obasogie speaks with Skip Gates about colorblindness and race

Osagie K. Obasogie, J.D., Ph.D., is Professor of Law at the University of California, Hastings with a joint appointment at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences. His first book, Blinded By Sight: Seeing Race Through the Eyes of the Blind, was recently published by Stanford University Press and his second book on the past, present, and future of bioethics is under contract with the University of California Press.

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What the ovaries of dinosaurs can tell us

By Dr. Jingmai O’Connor
Understanding the internal organs of extinct animals over 100 million years old used to belong in the realm of impossibility. However, during recent decades exceptional discoveries from all over the world have revealed elusive details such as fossilized feathers, skin, and muscle.

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A day in Eyeth

By Jeannette D. Jones
There’s a legendary world in Deaf culture lore. It’s like Earth but it’s for people of the eye, so they call it Eyeth (get it? EARth, EYEth). In this world, people listen with their eyes with the comfort of being typical, just the way life is, unlike the existence of a Deaf person on Earth, heavily mediated through hearing devices, pads of paper, interpreters, lip reading, and gestures.

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Middle East food security after the Arab Spring

By Eckart Woertz
Syria and Egypt paradigmatically highlight the perils of food security in the Middle East. Oil exports of Egypt, the largest wheat importer of the world, ceased at the end of the 2000’s. Generating enough foreign exchange for food procurement became more difficult and plans for more self-sufficiency have failed in the face of limited water and land resources.

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Traditional farming practices and the evolution of gender norms across the globe

By Alberto Alesina, Paola Giuliano, and Nathan Nunn
The gender division of labor varies significantly across societies. In particular, there are large differences in the extent to which women participate in activities outside of the home. For instance, in 2000, the share of women aged 15 to 64 in the labor force ranged from a low of 16.1% in Pakistan to 90.5% in Burundi.

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Violence, now and then

By Hannah Skoda
We are used to finding a stream of extreme violence reported in the media: from the brutal familial holocaust engineered by Mick Philpott to the terror of the Boston bombings. Maybe it is because such cases seem close to home and elicit reactions both voyeuristic and frightened, that they gain so much more emotive coverage than quotidian violence in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

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The Trojan War: fact or fiction?

By Eric Cline
The Trojan War may be well known thanks to movies, books, and plays around the world, but did the war that spurred so much fascination even occur? The excerpt below from The Trojan War: A Very Short Introduction helps answer some of the many questions about the infamous war Homer helped immortalize.

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Celebrating Piltdown

By T. Douglas Price
Science works in mysterious ways. Sometimes that’s even truer in the study of the origins of the human race. Piltdown is a small village south of London where the skull of a reputed ancient human ancestor turned up in some gravel diggings a century ago. The find was made by Charles Dawson, a lawyer and amateur archaeologist, with an unusual knack for major discoveries.

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On animals and tools

By Robert St. Amant
Try this experiment: Ask someone to name three tools, without thinking hard about it. This is a parlor game, not a scientific study, so your results may vary, but I’ve done this dozens of times and heard surprisingly consistent answers. The most common is hammer, screwdriver, and saw, in that order.

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Is spirituality a passing trend?

Philip Sheldrake
“Spirituality” is a word that defines our era. The fascination with spirituality is a striking aspect of our contemporary times and stands in stark contrast to the decline in traditional religious belonging in the West. Although the word “spirituality” has Christian origins it has now moved well beyond these – indeed beyond religion itself.

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When a language dies

By Nancy C. Dorian
When he died recently, Bobby Hogg took the Cromarty fisherfolk dialect out of existence with him, at least as a fluently spoken mother tongue, and the media took notice. The BBC reported on his death, celebrating the unique nature of his native dialect. In an Associated Press report originating in London, his dialect was spoken of as “a little fragment of the English linguistic mosaic.” A knowledgeable University of Aberdeen linguist spoke of this as “the first time that an actual Scots dialect has so dramatically died with the passing of the last native speaker.”

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Unfit for the future: The urgent need for moral enhancement

By Julian Savulescu and Ingmar Persson
For the vast majority of our 150,000 years or so on the planet, we lived in small, close-knit groups, working hard with primitive tools to scratch sufficient food and shelter from the land. Sometimes we competed with other small groups for limited resources. Thanks to evolution, we are supremely well adapted to that world, not only physically, but psychologically, socially and through our moral dispositions. But this is no longer the world in which we live.

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AIDS and HIV in Africa

On HIV Testing Day, Gregory Barz and Judah M. Cohen, the American ethnomusicologists who edited The Culture of AIDS in Africa, reflect on the ways they came to their field research.

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How do humans, ants, and other animals form societies?

Forming groups is a basic human drive.  Modern humans are all simultaneously members of many groups — there is the book club, your poker buddies, all those fellow sport team enthusiasts. Most basic of all these groups is the connection we form with our society. This is one group people have always been willing to die for. During most of human history, foreigners have been shunned or killed. Allowing an outsider to join a society is typically an arduous process, when it is permitted at all.

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Modern childhoods and the growth of academic interest

I remember turning up on my first day as a junior academic in one of the older universities in the UK and proudly talking about my work as an anthropologist in Thailand working with young prostitutes, only to be met with the withering put-down that ‘it didn’t sound like anthropology — more like comparative social work.’ If it involved children, it couldn’t be a serious area of study. At the time I was totally deflated but today, such a comment would be nonsensical.

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