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Academic Insights for the Thinking World

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Fishing with Izaak Walton

By Marjorie Swann
The Compleat Angler opens with a man seeking companionship on a journey. “You are well overtaken, Gentlemen,” Izaak Walton’s alter-ego Piscator (Fisherman) exclaims as he catches up with Venator (Hunter) and Auceps (Falconer) north of London. “I have stretched my legs up Tottenham-hill to overtake you, hoping your business may occasion you towards Ware whither I am going this fine, fresh May morning.”

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My dearest Xandra…

Hugh Trevor-Roper was born 100 years ago today on 15 January 1914. The following is a letter from Hugh Trevor-Roper to Xandra Howard-Johnston from One Hundred Letters From Hugh Trevor-Roper, edited by Richard Davenport-Hines and Adam Sisman.

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The unknown financial crisis of 1914

By Richard Roberts
The mounting diplomatic crisis in the last week of July 1914 triggered a major financial crisis in London, the world’s foremost international centre, and around the world. In fact, it was the City’s gravest-ever financial crisis featuring a comprehensive breakdown of its financial markets. But it is virtually unknown.

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Top five buildings of Empire

By Ashley Jackson
All around the world the British built urban infrastructures that still dominate towns and cities, as well as developing complex transport networks and the ports and railway stations that gave access to them. The Empire’s creation of cityscapes and lines of communication is easy to overlook, so much has it become part of the fabric of the world in which we live that it has been rendered unremarkable.

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A gentleman’s tour of Regency London prisons

By Nicola Phillips

In eighteenth and early nineteenth-century England prisons were popular tourist sites for wealthy visitors. They were also effectively run as private businesses by the Wardens, who charged the inmates for the privilege of being incarcerated there. Indeed prisoners from the higher ranks of society, who had the means to pay for better accommodation, routinely expected to be treated better than lower class or “common” criminals.

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Vernon Scannell: War poetry and PTSD

By James Andrew Taylor
the more I read about his life after the war – the monumental drinking binges, the black-outs, the terrifying, sweating nightmares, and most of all the raging, unreasonable jealousies and the sickening violence that he meted out to his wife and, later, his lovers – the more I began to wonder whether this was not also the story of a man seriously damaged by his wartime experiences.

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In the footsteps of the fashionable world

By Hannah Greig
Each autumn, throughout the 1700s, London’s West End was transformed. Previously quiet squares were populated again, first by servants and tradesmen. After the houses were readied, their employers journeyed to the capital from their country estates between October and January. Snow, noted one observer, ‘brings up all the Fine folks [to London], flocking like half-frozen birds into a Farm-yard, from the terror…of another fatal month’s confinement…in the country’.

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How to be an English language tourist?

By David Crystal
Hilary and I asked ourselves this question repeatedly when we were planning the tour that we eventually wrote up as Wordsmiths and Warriors: The English-Language Tourist’s Guide to Britain. Where can you find out about the places that influenced the character and study of the English language in Britain? How do you get there? And what do you find when you get there?

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Top five untrue facts about Hitler

By Thomas Weber
It has been thirty years this month since the master forger Konrad Kujau had his fifteen minutes of fame. Kujau managed to fool Stern magazine in Germany and the Sunday Times into believing that Hitler had secretly kept a diary. On 25 April 1983, Stern went public with the sensational story that Hitler’s diaries – which Kujau had penned in the late 70s and early 80s – had surfaced and that the history of the century had to be rewritten. By 6 May, it had become clear that two of the most venerable German and British publications had become the laughing stock of their nations. While no-one still believes that Hitler kept a diary, many other untrue facts about Hitler have been surprisingly resilient

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In the path of an oncoming army: civilians in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars

By Mike Rapport
Modern wars, someone once wrote, are fought by civilians as well as by armed forces. In fact, it is of course a truism to say that civilians are always affected by warfare in all periods of the past – as the families left behind, by the economic hardship, by the horrors of destruction, plunder, requisitioning, siege warfare, hunger and worse. The involvement of civilians in modern wars, however, became more intense because, with the advent of ‘total war’, belligerent states began to mobilise the entire population and material resources of the country. The French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars were an early example of the ways in which a modern war could grind millions of people up in its brutal cogs, whether as conscripts in the firing lines of Europe’s mass armies and navies, or as civilians caught in the path of the oncoming battalions and trapped in the crossfire of the fighting itself. At the Oxford Literary Festival on 24 March, I will be speaking about the non-combatants who, in one way or another, found themselves entangled in the wars.

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Ten ways to rethink ‘Arthur’s Britain’

Guy Halsall, author of Worlds of Arthur: Facts and Fictions of the Dark Ages, illuminates the reality behind the façade of myths and legends concerning King Arthur. He outlines here ten ways which will challenge what you thought you knew about the legendary King Arthur and the world in which he was supposed to have lived.

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The death of Edmund Spenser

By Andrew Hadfield
Writing to his friend Dudley Carleton on 17 January 1599, the enthusiastic correspondent John Chamberlain (1553-1628) noted that “Spencer, our principall poet, coming lately out of Ireland, died at Westminster on Satturday last.” Chamberlain’s testimony confirms that Spenser died on 13 January. Chamberlain is a good recorder of court gossip and a barometer of what interested the upper echelons of London society.

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