Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

Three millennia of writings – a brief history of Chinese literature

Chinese scholars traditionally have considered the Han fu-rhapsody, Tang shi-poetry, Song ci-song lyrics, and Yuan qu-drama, as the highest literary achievements of their respective dynasties. However, Chinese literature embraces a far wider range of writing than these four literary genres. Explore a treasure trove that offers rich information about Chinese society, thought, customs, and social and political movements

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1917: A reading list

In order to fully understand key moments in history, it is important to review the culture that created them. As 2017 draws to a close, we have compiled a reading list that will help to contextualize history from 100 years ago. Transport yourself to a truly world-changing year in our shared history — 1917 — with any of the following titles.

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10 great writers from China’s long literary history

China is one of the world’s oldest countries, and its long history goes hand in hand with its rich literary tradition. The names Confucius, Lao Tzu, and Sun Tzu are well-known around the world, but many of China’s poets, philosophers, and novelists remain hidden gems to outsiders. Take a look at the list below and discover 10 of China’s greatest writers, from the Zhou dynasty to the 20th century.

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Who wrote Gulliver’s Travels?

Originally published anonymously, Jonathan Swift sent the manuscript for the satirical masterpiece Gulliver’s Travels to his publisher under a pseudonym and handled any correspondence and corrections through friends. As such, even though close friends such as Alexander Pope knew about the publication, Swift still kept up the ruse of feigning ignorance about the book in his correspondence with them.

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Reinforcing the patriarchy: tricksters in literature and mythology

Have you ever noticed how much your favorite stories have in common? Boy meets girl, falls in love, gets married. Hero goes on a quest, meets a wise old man, and saves the day. There’s a reason for this repetition, if you believe the Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung. Jung found that his psychotherapy patients would tell stories containing elements of ancient mythology, even when they had never been exposed to these myths.

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How to write for an encyclopedia or other reference work

From time to time, many of us will have the opportunity to write for a reference work like an encyclopedia or a handbook. The word encyclopedia has been around for a couple of thousand years and comes from the Greek term for general education. Encyclopedias as general reference books came about in the eighteenth century and the most ubiquitous when I was a student was the Encyclopedia Britannica.

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On writing: nine quotes from classic authors

You’ve gotten through the first week of National Novel Writing Month. Have you’ve been hitting your word count? Writing 1,665 words every day may not sound like a lot, but sitting down in front of a blank page each day begins to feel like a struggle. Find some inspiration from these Oxford World’s Classics authors!

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The plot thins

In The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark, the heroine teaches in Edinburgh in the 1930s. She has a special set of favourites amongst her pupils, loves one-armed Roman Catholic art teacher and WW1 veteran Teddy Lloyd, and sympathises with Mussolini. A member of her set, Sandy, eventually sleeps with Lloyd and then becomes a nun, writing a book called The Transfiguration of the Commonplace.

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Crime and punishment, and the spirit of St Petersburg

Crime and Punishment is a story of a murder and morality that draws deeply on Dostoevsky’s personal experiences as a prisoner. It contrasts criminality with conscience, nihilism with consequences, and examines the lengths to which people will go to retain a sense of liberty. One of the factors that brought all these things together was the novel’s setting, around the Haymarket in St Petersburg, where the grandeur of the imperial capital gives way to poverty, squalor, and vice.

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What’s going on in the shadows? A visual arts timeline

Although cast shadows lurk almost everywhere in the visual arts, they often slip by audiences unnoticed. That’s unfortunate, since every shadow tells a story. Whether painted, filmed, photographed, or generated in real time, shadows provide vital information that makes a representation engaging to the eye. Shadows speak about the shape, volume, location, and texture of objects, as well as about the source of light, the time of day or season, the quality of the atmosphere, and so on.

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Celtic goddesses to inspire writers [slideshow]

In Greek Mythology, the muses were called upon by artists and musicians to guide and inspire their work. This National Novel Writing Month, we’ve traveled to the Celtic isles to call upon some lesser known goddesses to help inspire different genres and tropes you may wish to put to paper. Referencing Celtic Mythology: Tales of Gods, Goddesses, and Heroes, we’ve pulled together a list of five Celtic goddesses for writers.

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Fake facts and favourite sayings

When the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations was first published in 1941, it all seemed so simple. It was taken for granted that a quotation was a familiar line from a great poet or a famous figure in history, and the source could easily be found in standard literary works or history books. Those early compilers of quotations did not think of fake facts and the internet. “Fake facts”, or perhaps more accurately misunderstandings, have been around in the world of quotations for a long time.

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A Q&A with art historian Janet Wolff on memoir writing

Janet Wolff is a renowned art historian and writer. A combination of memoir, family history, and cultural criticism, Janet Wolff’s Austerity Baby is more than just your typical memoir; touching on themes of exile, displacement, and mortality – all of which remain relevant today. In this interview, Wolff recounts her inspiration, process, and family discoveries during her writing and research.

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The importance of physics for humanists and historians

If you studied history, sociology, or English literature in your post-secondary education, it was probably in part because physics was too hard to understand or not as interesting. If you did not pay attention to quiet developments in the world of physics over the past several decades, you missed some very interesting important discoveries. Today, physics is not what our parents or even any of us who went to high school or university in the last quarter of the twentieth century learned because the physicists have been busy learning a lot of new things.

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Shakespeare, Sinatra, and the Philosophy of Aging [excerpt]

Aging in the world of entertainment is portrayed in a variety of ways. In some cases it’s graceful and elegant; in others it’s manic and doddering. Shakespeare has dealt with this subject numerous times with vast reinterpretations in productions through the centuries. In this excerpt from Aging Thoughtfully: Conversations about Retirement, Wrinkles, Romance, and Regret, authors Martha C. Nussbaum and Saul Levmore look at the classic example of King Lear, and how different portrayals of this elderly character can be a reflection of how people see aging and infirmity in modern times.

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