Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

Arabia: ancient history for troubled times

In antiquity, ‘Arabia’ covered a vast area, running from Yemen and Oman to the deserts of Syria and Iraq. Today, much of this region is gripped in political and religious turmoil that shows no signs of abating.

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Gershwin and color: how blue is the Rhapsody?

Everyone knows George Gershwin as a composer, songwriter, pianist and icon of American music. But few know of his connections to the world of paintings and fine art. As a practicing artist himself, Gershwin produced over 100 paintings, drawings, and photographs.

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A crisis of commitment

A reasonable line of thought can give rise to a crisis of commitment: Many a commitment requires persistence or willpower, especially in the face of temptation. A straightforward example is the decision to quit smoking; another is the promise to be faithful to someone for the rest of one’s life.

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The garden palaces of Europe and Asia [interactive map]

In 1682, the French court moved from Paris to the former royal hunting lodge of Versailles, which had been transformed under the supervision of Louis XIV into Europe’s most splendid palace, one which moreover was set in a stunning park that stretched all the way to the horizon. Versailles established a fashion for palaces surrounded by ample gardens that most major European courts would soon imitate.

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Where is architecture truly ‘modern’?

Too often, we in Europe and the English-speaking world presume that we have a monopoly on both modernity and its cultural expression as modernism. But this has never been the case. Take, for instance, the case of sixteenth and seventeenth century urbanism in Europe and Asia. One can focus on the different ways in which classical precedent was deployed in Europe, teasing out the distinctions between the early and late Renaissance, not to mention Mannerism and Baroque.

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Art across the early Abrahamic religions

Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are considered kindred religions–holding ancestral heritages and monotheistic belief in common–but there are definitive distinctions between these “Abrahamic” peoples. The early exchanges of Jews, Christians, and Muslims were dominated by debates over the meanings of certain stories sacred to all three groups.

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Creativity and mental health

I am constantly perplexed by the recurring tendency in western history to connect creativity with mental disability and illness. It cannot be denied that a number of well-known creative people, primarily in the arts, have been mentally ill—for example, Vincent Van Gogh, Virginia Woolf, Robert Schumann, Robert Lowell, and Sylvia Plath.

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Why we like to blame buildings

On 27 October 2005, two French youths of Tunisian and Malian descent died of electrocution in a local power station in the Parisian suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois. Police had been patrolling their neighborhood, responding to a reported break-in, and scared that they might be subject to an arbitrary interrogation, the youngsters decided to hide in the nearest available building. Riots immediately broke out in the high-rise suburbs of Paris and in hundreds of neighborhoods across the country.

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10 moments in the life of Vincent van Gogh

Today, 29 July 2015 marks the 125th anniversary of the death of Vincent Willem van Gogh, the legendary Dutch post-impressionist painter behind Starry Night and Café Terrace at Night. His talents went widely unrecognized until after his death. Van Gogh was a brilliant artist with a tormented soul suffering from a mental illness.

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Down the doughnut hole: fried dough in art

Fried dough has been enjoyed for centuries in various forms, from the celebratory zeppole of St. Joseph’s Day to the doughnuts the Salvation Army distributed to soldiers during World War I. So important were doughnuts for boosting troop morale that when World War II came around, the Red Cross followed closely behind the US Army as it advanced across Europe, offering doughnuts from trucks specially outfitted with vats for deep-frying.

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The criminal enterprise of stealing history

After illegal drugs, illicit arms and human trafficking, art theft is one of the largest criminal enterprises in the world. According to the FBI Art Crime Team (ACT), stolen art is a lucrative billion dollar industry. The team has already made 11,800 recoveries totaling $160 million in losses.

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Six people who helped make ancient Naples great

The city that we now call Naples began life in the seventh century BC, when Euboean colonists from the town of Cumae founded a small settlement on the rocky headland of Pizzofalcone. This settlement was christened ‘Parthenope’ after the mythical siren whose corpse had supposedly been discovered there, but it soon became known as Palaepolis (‘Old City’), after a Neapolis (‘New City’) was founded close by.

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Redefining beauty in the suburbs of Victorian London

The British Museum’s current blockbuster show, Defining Beauty: the Body in Ancient Greek Art, amasses a remarkable collection of classical sculpture focusing on the human body. The most intriguing part of the show for me was the second room, “Body colour,” which displays plaster casts of several Greek sculptures brightly painted in green, blue, yellow, red and pink. The press has not known what to make of “Body colour.” It has been met with surprise, sneers, or been entirely ignored in otherwise glowing reviews.

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Vincent van Gogh’s images of motherhood

Vincent van Gogh’s turbulent relationship with mothers—especially his own—began a full year before his birth. On 30 March 1852, Anna Carbentus van Gogh gave birth to a son, Vincent Willem van Gogh, who was stillborn. Anna tearfully buried her son in the cemetery of the parsonage where the Van Goghs lived. A year later to the day, Anna would give birth to another son, whom she also named Vincent Willem van Gogh.

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A picture of violence and degradation

It is absolutely essential to take a critical view of source material when it comes to violent images and war photographs. Photos taken by perpetrators are always an expression of a relationship that is characterized by an imbalance of power between photographers and their subjects.

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The destruction of an Assyrian palace

Ashurnasirpal’s palace at Nimrud (Assyrian Kalḫu) was constructed around 865 BCE during a period in which Assyria was slowly becoming the empire that would come to rule most of the Middle East two centuries later. Ashurnasirpal’s palace is among the few Assyrian palaces to have been excavated (more or less) in its entirety. Measuring at least 2 hectares, it must have been one of the largest and most monumental buildings of its time.

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