Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

Nebuchadnezzar to Saddam Hussein: The history of the myth of Babylon

‘Babylon’ is a name which throughout the centuries has evoked an image of power and wealth and splendour – and decadence. Indeed, in the biblical Book of Revelation, Rome is damned as the ‘Whore of Babylon’ – and thus identified with a city whose image of lust and debauchery persisted and flourished long after the city itself had crumbled into dust. Powerful visual images in later ages, l perpetuate the negative image Babylon acquired in biblical tradition.

Read More

What has functional brain imaging discovered?

Functional magnetic brain imaging (fMRI) is a method that allows us to study the workings of the human brain while people perceive, reason and make decisions. The principle on which it is based is that, when nerve cells or neurons in a particular region become active, there is an increase in the blood supply to that brain area. This can be visualized because the scanner can be sensitized to the changes in the blood oxygen level that occur when the nerve cells become active.

Read More

Leibniz and Europe

At the turn of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, national states were on the rise. Versailles was constructed as a stage on which the Sun King, Louis XIV, acted out the pageant of absolute sovereignty while his armies annexed neighbouring territories for the greater glory of France. At the death of Charles II of Spain in November 1700, the Spanish throne and its extensive possessions in Italy, the Low Countries and the New World passed to his grandson, Philip, Duke of Anjou.

Read More

Conditioning in the classroom: 8 tips for teaching and learning

You are probably familiar with animal learning and conditioning. You probably know that certain behaviours in your pet can be encouraged by reward, for example. You may also know something of the science behind animal conditioning: you may have heard about Pavlov’s drooling dogs, Skinner’s peckish pigeons or Thorndike’s cunning cats. However, what you may not know is that the scientific study of animal conditioning has provided psychologists with an armoury of principles about how training can be most effective.

Read More

10 interesting facts about criminal justice

And what is the best way to ensure an easy transition for offenders that are about to be released? Julian Roberts, author of Criminal Justice: A Very Short Introduction, tells us the top 10 things everyone should know about criminal justice, and what the chances and limitations of the Western system are.

Read More

A Copernican eye-opener

Approximately 500 years ago a Polish lawyer, medical doctor, and churchman got a radical idea: that the earth was not fixed solidly in the middle of all space, but was spinning at a thousand miles per hour at its equator and was speeding around the sun at a dizzying rate. Unbelievable, critics said. If that were true, at the equator people would be spun off into space. And it would be much harder to walk west than east.

Read More

Facing the Führer: Jesse Owens and the history of the modern Olympic games

Enjoying Rio 2016? This extract from Sport: A Very Short Introduction by Mike Cronin gives a history of the modern Olympic games; from its inspiration in the British Public school system, to the role it played in promoting Nazi propaganda. The modern Olympic Games, and their governing body, the International Olympic Committee (IOC), came into being in 1894 and were the brainchild of Pierre de Coubertin. A Frenchman with a passionate interest in education, de Coubertin had visited England.

Read More

Some very short reflections on social psychology

What emerged from these studies was a whole area of psychology that revealed the motives and processes that drive peoples’ prejudices. Discovering that it was a basic tendency to categorize that lies at the heart of prejudice had huge implications. It meant that to tackle prejudice we have to not only address the social, the economic and the political: we also need to tackle the psychological.

Read More

Rio 2016: evidence of greatness or a bid for recognition?

The eve of the opening ceremonies of the Rio de Janeiro Olympics is a good time to reflect not only on Brazil’s role as the organizer the games, but whether the experience of the host country tells us anything about the status of the BRICS–one of the most important economic groupings in the world, and one which you may never have heard of. As nations much showcased since 2001 as big, dynamic, rising countries, much of their global projection has focused as much on spectacle as on substantive achievements.

Read More

This year’s other elections

The primaries, the conventions, and the media have focused so much attention on the presidential candidates that it’s sometime easy to forget all the other federal elections being held this year, for 34 seats in the Senate and 435 in the House (plus five nonvoting delegates). The next president’s chances of success will depend largely on the congressional majorities this election will produce.

Read More

A Q&A with Katie Stileman, Publicist for the VSI series

Katie Stileman works as the UK Publicist for Oxford University Press’s Very Short Introductions series (VSIs). She tells us a bit about what working for OUP looks like. If she wasn’t working on publicity at OUP, she would be doing publicity for Taylor Swift.

Read More

Welfare states and the great unraveling

We appear to be on the verge of a great unraveling – a period in which the established arrangements of political and economic life are rapidly coming undone. And at heart of these events is the question of the welfare state and the security of working people in contemporary capitalism.

Read More

10 things you need to know about taxation

Stephen Smith, author of Taxation: A Very Short Introduction, tells us 10 things we need to know about taxation, and gives us an insight into why we need taxes, how economic processes determine taxes, and how they can make political change.

Read More

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