Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

From Ebola to Zika

When we were finalizing our book for publication, the West African Ebola epidemic was emerging (we hadn’t picked Ebola as one of our case studies), and our publishers asked if we could include some information about it in the book.

Read More

What is combinatorics?

The subject of combinatorial analysis or combinatorics (pronounced com-bin-a-TOR-ics) is concerned with such questions. We may loosely describe it as the branch of mathematics concerned with selecting, arranging, constructing, classifying, and counting or listing things.

Read More

Bleak skies at night: the year without a summer and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein

Two hundred years ago this month, Mary Shelley had the terrifying ‘waking dream’ that she subsequently molded into the greatest Gothic novel of all time; Frankenstein. As all who have read the book or seen one of the many film adaptations will know, the ‘monster’ cobbled together out of human odds and ends by rogue scientist, Victor Frankenstein, is galvanised into existence by the power of electricity.

Read More

Mapping the moral high ground on fossil fuels

The so-called Suess effect in radiocarbon (14C) has been known for decades. Geological sources of carbon like coal and oil, that formed many millions of years ago, long since lost their radiocarbon through radioactive decay – they contain 14C-free “dead” carbon. From the mid-19th century the radiocarbon activity of the atmosphere declined as dead carbon from fossil fuels was dug out of the ground and burnt producing carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere.

Read More

Bird talk

For all its supposed isolation out there beyond the pale of acceptable discourse — marginal words in the mouths of marginal people — we know a good deal about slang. We know its lexis, and keep chasing down the new arrivals; we know its lexicographers, some very well; we know its speakers, and note that far from monosyllabic illiterates, they coin some of the most inventive usages currently on offer.

Read More

A brief history of crystallography

So, what is crystallography? Put simply, it is the study of crystals. Now, let’s be careful here. I am not talking about all those silly websites advertising ways in which crystals act as magical healing agents, with their chakras, auras and energy levels. No, this is a serious scientific subject, with around 26 or so Nobel prizes to its credit. And yet, despite this, it remains a largely hidden subject, at least in the public mind.

Read More

10 things everyone should know about environmental economics

Stephen Smith, author of Environmental Economics: A Very Short Introduction, gives us an insight into what environmental economists do, what environmental economics is about, and how it measures and influences our impact on the environment. He also explores the steps we need to take to protect it at an international level.

Read More

Labour and the legacy of antisemitism

We are currently living through a period when “antisemitism” seems to be on the rise in Europe, and is now a hot topic of debate in Britain, because of a few clumsy statements by some prominent Labour politicians (along with a very few statements that do appear to have an actual antisemitic animus).

Read More

What exactly is ‘agriculture’?

In February, when the local ewes were heavy with their lambs, the newspapers carried an article about a Japanese company called Spread, based in Kyoto. In a fully-automated operation covering just over an acre the company plans to be producing 30,000 heads of lettuce per day by 2017, and more than ten times that number within five years. The company’s website calls it a ‘vegetable factory’.

Read More

Sikhs and mistaken identity

American basketball star, Darsh Singh, a turbaned, bearded Sikh, featured this April in a Guardian Weekend piece on cyberbullying. He recalled how his online picture had been circulated with Islamophobic captions. Long before that he’d had to get used to people yelling things like “towelhead”. Since 9/11, Sikhs haven’t just been verbally insulted but have suffered ‘reprisal attacks’.

Read More

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.

Read More

Britain and the EU: going nowhere fast

A couple of years ago, I wrote about the consequences of David Cameron’s Bloomberg speech, where he set out his plans for a referendum on British membership of the EU. I was rather dubious about such a vote even happening, and even more so about the quality of the debate that would ensue. As much as I was wrong about the former, the latter has been more than borne out by events so far.

Read More

Theatre and race in Lorraine Hansberry’s Les Blancs

Many playwrights have explored race relations, particularly in America. The growth of the Civil Rights Movement gave rise to a range of plays protesting racism and exploring the African-American experience. Lorraine Hansberry made history as the first black woman to have a play on Broadway: A Raisin in the Sun, also the first play on Broadway to be directed by a black director.

Read More

10 surprising facts about Ancient Egyptian art and architecture

Ancient Egyptian art dates all the way back to 3000BC and provides us with an understanding of ancient Egyptian socioeconomic structures and belief systems. The Ancient Egyptians also developed an array of diverse architectural structures and monuments, from temples to the pyramids that are still a major tourist attraction today. But how much do you know about Ancient Egyptian art and architecture?

Read More

Hamilton the musical: America then told by America now

It was only after I finished writing The Founding Fathers: A Very Short Introduction that I got to see the off-Broadway version of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Hamilton: An American Musical” at New York City’s Public Theater. I was lucky enough to see the Broadway version (revised and expanded) last month.

Read More

10 facts you should know about moons

Proving to be both varied and fascinating, moons are far more common than planets in our Solar System. Our own Moon has had a profound influence on Earth, not only through tidal effects, but even on the behaviour of some marine animals. But how much do we really know about moons?

Read More