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Academic Insights for the Thinking World

How Roman skeptics shaped debates about God

More than a third of all millennials now consider themselves atheist, agnostic or “religiously unaffiliated.” But this doesn’t mean that they have all given up on spiritual life.  Some 28% of the unaffiliated attend religious services at least once or twice a month or a few times a year (and 4% go weekly). 20% of them […]

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How sabre-toothed cats got their bites

Big cats are the most specialized killers of large prey among carnivorans. Dogs, bears, or hyenas have teeth fit to deal with non-meat food items like bone, invertebrates or plants. Not the cats: In the course of evolution they lost almost all teeth not essential for killing prey or cutting meat. But in the distant […]

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How academics can leave the university but stay in academia

When “quit lit,” the trend of disillusioned PhDs writing personal essays about their decision to leave academia, hit its peak around 2013, I was just finishing my own PhD coursework. It seemed that every day, as I revised my dissertation proposal and worked on recruiting potential field sites, there was another column about the scarcity of tenure-track […]

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Muddy waters

When a word is isolated, etymologists are in trouble. A typical example is Engl. hunt, discussed last week (the post for February 12, 2020). But often, the cognates are so numerous that researchers are lost, embarrassed by the riches they face. This is what happens when we begin to investigate the origin of the English word mud.

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Nine books to read for Black History Month [reading list]

The month of February has been officially designated Black History Month since 1976 in order to, in President Gerald Ford’s words, “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.” In keeping with this tradition, we have gathered the below titles, which all engage in […]

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Five philosophers on the joys of walking

René Descartes argued that each of us is, fundamentally, a thinking thing. Thought is our defining activity, setting us aside from animals, trees, rocks. I suspect this has helped market philosophy as the life of the mind, conjuring up philosophers lost in reverie, snuggled in armchairs. But human beings do not, in fact, live purely […]

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How dating apps reflect our changing times

As we look forward to explore what’s next in love and sex, it makes sense to examine to the heart. That which lovers have once worn on their sleeve is now being navigated in the palm of our hands. With mobile devices and apps letting us literally explore desires with our fingertips, as social scientists […]

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An etymologist is not a lonely hunter

The posts for the previous two weeks were devoted to all kinds of bloodsuckers. Now the time has come to say something about hunters and hunting. The origin of the verbs meaning “hunt” can give us a deeper insight into the history of civilization, because hunting is one of the most ancient occupations in the world: beasts of prey hunt for food, and humans have always hunted animals not only for food but also for fur and skins.

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How to teach history better

These days, we often hear of a crisis in the discipline of history.  It’s not a crisis of research.  To be sure, there are debates and disputes over new methodologies, theoretical frames, the price and speed of publication, and even the relative value of publishing in public, digital, and traditional media.  There is also the […]

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How to diversify the classics. For real.

As (I hope) Barnes and Noble and Penguin Random House have just learned, appropriating the concept of diverse books for an opportunistic rebranding insults the idea they claim to honor. If you were off-line last week, here’s a brief recap. The bookseller and publisher announced (and then abandoned) plans to publish “Diverse Editions” – not books by writers of […]

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Why the Great Recession made inequality worse

Many compare the Great Recession to the Great Depression for its severity and scale. Yet, a decade later, it is clear that their consequences on the distribution of economic resources in the United States cannot be more different. The decades following the Great Depression substantially reduced the wealth of the rich and improved the economic […]

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How to use maps to solve complex problems

Imagine that you’ve just been appointed the head of operations for a five-star hotel in Manhattan. Your boss calls you in her office on your first day and says: “Our biggest problem is how slow elevators are. Everyone complains about it, and we can’t have that. Speed them up.” How would you do it? Most […]

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The problem with overqualified research

Not all research findings turn out to be true. Of those that are tested, some will need to be amplified, others refined or circumscribed, and some even rejected. Practicing researchers learn quickly to qualify their claims, taking into account the possibility of improved measurements, more stringent analyses, new interpretations, and, in the extreme, experimental or […]

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Four reasons why the Indo-Pacific matters in 2020

If there is one place in the world that we need to keep our eyes on for a better understanding of the dynamics of international affairs in 2020, it is the Indo-Pacific region. Here are four reasons why. The Indo-Pacific is hard to define Politically, the Indo-Pacific is still a contested construct in the making. […]

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How old music conservatories turned orphans into composers

If you approached bystanders on a street corner in sixteenth-century Naples and asked them “What do conservatories conserve?” the likely answers would not have been “performing arts” or “rare plants.” No, you would have been told confidently that conservatories conserved orphans and foundlings. These church-sponsored orphanages practiced a kind of alchemy—they took in defenseless little […]

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Celebrating Black History Month with America’s top musicians [playlist]

Black History Month is cause for celebration and remembrance of black excellence throughout American history. This February, we’re celebrating with a playlist highlighting some of the most remarkable musicians of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Beginning with ragtime pioneer, Scott Joplin, this playlist navigates through the many different musical movements created and perfected by black artists. Ragtime gave […]

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