Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

How we decide on cultural canons

Libraries, museums, and galleries are a few of the places where humanity attempts to preserve and transmit its cultural memory. The contents change depending on the period, even the time of the year, the community, and the target audience, but the aim remains the same: to preserve and renew memory and by extension to transfer […]

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Why performance poetry still matters after 24 centuries

Glastonbury Festival, England, June 2019 AD: the spoken-word poet Kate Tempest performs her poems before a huge, enthusiastic audience. Panathenaia Festival, Athens, June 419 BC: the Greek rhapsode Ion performs the poems of Homer before a huge, enthusiastic audience. Is there a historical connection between these events 2,400 years apart? Western poetry had its beginnings […]

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The mystery of the Elder Pliny’s skull

Has part of the body of the Elder Pliny, the most famous Roman victim of Vesuvius, been recovered?  The story surrounding the relic is a source of continuing fascination. When Vesuvius erupted in 79 C.E. the Elder Pliny was under 20 miles away. He was quite unaware that Vesuvius was a volcano, despite publishing Rome’s […]

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How well do you know Anne Brontë? [quiz]

Anne Brontë was born on 17 January 1820 and best known for her novels, Agnes Grey and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. In honour of the bicentenary of Anne Brontë’s birth, we have created a quiz to help you determine how well you know the youngest member of the Brontë literary family. Quiz image: Anne Brontë. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons. Feature […]

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Polychromy in Greek and Roman sculpture [video]

Coined by archaeologist and architectural theorist Antoine-Chrysostome Quatremère de Quincy, the term “polychromy” has been in use since the early 19th century to denote the presence of any element of colour in Greek and Roman sculpture.

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Why posh politicians pretend to speak Latin

When Jacob Rees-Mogg wished to criticise the judges of the European Union, he said, “Let me indulge in the floccinaucinihilipilification of EU judges.” The meaning of the jocular term (the action of judging something to be worthless) is not as important as its source—the Eton Latin Grammar. Latin and Latinate English flow readily from the […]

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Women of substance in Homeric epic

Men carve meaning into women’s faces; messages addressed to other men. In Achilles’ compound, the message had been: Look at her. My prize awarded by the army, proof that I am what I’ve always claimed to be: the greatest of the Greeks.  Pat Barker’s book The Silence of the Girls is one of a wave of novels giving a […]

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Alexander the Great in numbers [quiz]

Have you got Alexander’s number? The Treasures of Alexander the Great: How One Man’s Wealth Shaped the World explains the career of the Macedonian king by exploring a set of mind-blowing numbers. Test your knowledge of Alexander’s life with this quiz!

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Revealing the past of childhood before history

Through most societies of the human past, children comprised half the community. Archaeologists and their collaborators are now uncovering many aspects of the young in societies of the deep past, too long the ‘hidden half’ of prehistory.

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How ‘the future’ connects across subjects

‘Today’s world is complex and unreliable. Tomorrow is expected to be more so.’ – Jennifer M. Gidley, The Future: A Very Short Introduction From the beginning of time, humanity has been driven by a paradox: fearing the unknown but with a constant curiosity to know. Over time, science and technology have developed, meaning that we […]

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It’s not just decline and fall anymore…

One evening in mid-October 1764 the young Edward Gibbon sat among the ruins of the Capitol at Rome. The prospect before him must have looked like a Piranesi print–bony cattle grazing on thin grass in the shade of shattered marble columns. It was then and there that he resolved to write the history of the decline and fall of Rome.

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The Ancient Celts: six things I learned from Barry Cunliffe

Confession: I’m not an archaeologist nor a historian—at least not in any meaningful sense, though I do delight in aspects of both. But I was lucky enough to see Barry Cunliffe speak about the Ancient Celts at the Oxford Literature Festival earlier this year and then to have front row seats to the recording of this podcast, and I wanted to share a little of what I’ve learned.

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Rediscovering ancient Greek music

At the root of all Western literature is ancient Greek poetry—Homer’s great epics, the passionate love poems of Sappho, the masterpieces of Greek tragedy and of comic theatre. Almost all of this poetry was or originally involved sung music, often with instrumental accomp­animent.

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Divine victory: the role of Christianity in Roman military conquests

The Roman Empire derived its strength from its military conquests: overseeing territories across Europe, Africa and Asia. Before Christianity, emperors were praised and honored for their successes on the battlefield; as Christianity took root throughout Rome, it was used as a means to elevate emperors to an even greater status: raising them from successful imperialists to divinely appointed leaders.

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