Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

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Why do you love the VSIs?

The 400th Very Short Introduction, ‘Knowledge’, was published this week. In order to celebrate this remarkable series, we asked various colleagues at Oxford University Press to explain why they love the VSIs.

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The Hunger Games and a dystopian Eurozone economy

The latest resounding dystopian success is The Hunger Games—a box-office hit located in a nation known as Panem, which consists of 12 poor districts, starved for resources, under the absolute control of a wealthy centre called the Capitol. In the story, competitive struggle is carried to its brutal extreme, as poor young adults in a reality TV show must fight to death in an outdoor arena controlled by an authoritarian Gamemaker, until only one individual remains.

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What commuters know about knowing

If your morning commute involves crowded public transportation, you definitely want to find yourself standing next to someone who is saying something like, “I know he’s stabbed people, but has he ever killed one?” . It’s of course best to enjoy moments like this in the wild, but I am not above patrolling Overheard in London for its little gems (“Shall I give you a ring when my penguins are available?”), or, on an especially desperate day, going all the way back to the London-Lund Corpus of Spoken English, a treasury of oddly informative conversations.

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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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The economics of Scottish Independence

On September 18, Scots will go to the polls to vote on the question “Should Scotland be an independent country?” A “yes” vote would end the political union between England and Scotland that was enacted in 1707. The main economic reasons for independence, according to the “Yes Scotland” campaign, is that an independent Scotland would have more affordable daycare, free university tuition, more generous retirement and health benefits, less burdensome regulation, and a more sensible tax system.

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Early Modern Porn Wars

One day in 1668, the English diarist Samuel Pepys went shopping for a book to give his young French-speaking wife. He saw a book he thought she might enjoy, L’École des femmes or The School of Women, “but when I came to look into it, it is the most bawdy, lewd book that ever I saw,” he wrote, “so that I was ashamed of reading in it.”

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George Burroughs: Salem’s perfect witch

On 19 August 1692, George Burroughs stood on the ladder and calmly made a perfect recitation of the Lord’s Prayer. Some in the large crowd of observers were moved to tears, so much so that it seemed the proceedings might come to a halt. But Reverend Burroughs had uttered his last words. He was soon “turned off” the ladder, hanged to death for the high crime of witchcraft.

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Engaged Buddhism and community ecology

For the most part, Buddhists have historically been less concerned with explaining the world than with generating personal peace and enlightenment. However, the emergence of “engaged Buddhism” – especially in the West, has emphasized a powerful commitment to environmental protection based in no small part on a fundamental ecological awareness that lies at the heart of Buddhist thought and practice.

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Ethical issues in managing the current Ebola crisis

Until the current epidemic, Ebola was largely regarded as not a Western problem. Although fearsome, Ebola seemed contained to remote corners of Africa, far from major international airports. We are now learning the hard way that Ebola is not—and indeed was never—just someone else’s problem.

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What goes up must come down

Biomechanics is the study of how animals move. It’s a very broad field, including concepts such as how muscles are used, and even how the timing of respiration is associated with moving. Biomechanics can date its beginnings back to the 1600s, when Giovanni Alfonso Borelli first began investigating animal movements. More detailed analyses by pioneers such as Etienne Jules Marey and Eadweard Muybridge, in around the late 1800s started examining the individual frames of videos of moving animals.

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Quebec French and the question of identity

The French language came to North America with the first French settlers in the 17th century. French and British forces had long been at war before the final victory of Britain in the mid 18th century; after the loss of New France, France lost contact with its settlers and Quebec French became isolated from European French.

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The month that changed the world: Tuesday, 4 August 1914

By Gordon Martel
At 6 a.m. in Brussels the Belgian government was informed that German troops would be entering Belgian territory. Later that morning the German minister assured them that Germany remained ready to offer them ‘the hand of a brother’ and to negotiate a modus vivendi.

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Why metaphor matters

Plato famously said that there is an ancient quarrel between philosophy and poetry. But with respect to one aspect of poetry, namely metaphor, many contemporary philosophers have made peace with the poets. In their view, we need metaphor. Without it, many truths would be inexpressible and unknowable.

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Colostrum, performance, and sports doping

By Martin Luck
A recent edition of BBC Radio 4’s On Your Farm programme spoke to a dairy farmer who supplies colostrum to athletes as a food supplement. Colostrum is the first milk secreted by a mother. Cow colostrum is quite different from normal cow’s milk: it has about four times as much protein, twice as much fat and half as much lactose (sugar).

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