Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

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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Apparitions in the archives: haunted libraries in the UK

This Halloween we turn our sights to the phantoms haunting the libraries and private collections of Britain. From a headless ghost, to numerous abnormalities surrounding a vast collection of magical literature from a late ghost hunter, here are some stories around apparitions that have been glimpsed among the stacks – you can choose whether or not you believe them to be true….

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Doing the right thing: ethics in the Zombie Apocalypse [video]

From popular television shows like The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones to countless films, video games, and comics, stories of the Zombie Apocalypse have captivated modern audiences. With horror and fascination, we watch, read, and imagine the decimation of human society as we know it at the hands of the undead.

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Are we all living in the Anthropocene?

In 2000, atmospheric chemist Paul Crutzen and biologist Eugene Stoermer published a short but enormously influential article in Global Change Newsletter. In it, they proposed the adoption of a brand new geological epoch: the Anthropocene. Their argument: humans have had and will continue to have a drastic impact on the planet’s climate, biodiversity, and other elements of the Earth system, and the term “Anthropocene” – from the Greek anthropos, or “human” – most accurately describes this grim new reality.

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When rivers die – and are reborn

Most of the great cities of the world were built on rivers, for rivers have provided the water, the agricultural fertility, and the transport links essential for most great civilizations. This presents a series of puzzles. Why have the people who depend on those rivers so often poisoned their own water sources? How much pollution is enough to kill a river? And what is needed to bring one back to life?

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Would you survive the zombie apocalypse? [quiz]

The zombie apocalypse presents many challenges – for both the prepared and unprepared. As if dodging an aggressive and cannibalistic undead horde constantly in pursuit of brains isn’t enough, you must also forage for food, find shelter, and brave the elements in a world growing more inhospitable by the minute. Technology is no longer reliable, the creature comforts that we take for granted are no longer guaranteed, and our sense of safety is completely compromised.

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Not finding Bigfoot

The Renaissance is remembered as a time of renewed interest in scientific investigation, yet it also brought a huge increase in sightings of fantastic creatures such as mermaids and sea serpents. One explanation for this apparent paradox is that the revival of classical art and literature inspired explorers to look for the creatures of Greco-Roman mythology. Another reason was the expansion of trade. Cryptids, fantastic creatures that elude established terms of description, tend to arise on the boundary of two or more cultures.

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Crime and Punishment: From Siberia to St. Petersburg

Before the serial publication of Crime and Punishment in the prominent literary journal The Russian Messenger in 1866, the reception of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s works, and his reputation as a writer, had been somewhat mixed. The story of his career marks one of the most dramatic falls from grace and rise again stories in literary history.

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A Chopin-inspired reading list

I have always read “classics,” alongside contemporary titles, as an editor who desires to be informed by the past in shaping new publications; and a human who loves to read. We bring our personal and political lens to any work, and what makes reading and re-reading classics such an intellectually pleasurable occasion is to engage […]

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How Oscar Wilde’s life imitates his art

The idea that life imitates art is one of Oscar’s best yet most often misunderstood. It is central to his philosophy and to his own life. Take The Decay of Lying, for example, an essay in the form of a dialogue that he wrote in the late 1880s. What did he call the interlocutors? Why Cyril and Vyvyan, the names of his two young sons, of course. But the piece’s intellectual party really gets started when Wilde has his learned young gentlemen interview each other. Naturally, what is uppermost in their minds is the relationship between life and art.

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World literature: what’s in a name?

What is world literature, and why are (some) people saying such bad things about it? You might think world literature would be easy to define. You might think it should refer to all the literature in the world, past and present. And you might think that the study of world literature — which goes back […]

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The life and works of Elizabeth Gaskell

On 29 September 2017, we celebrate the 207th birthday of Elizabeth Gaskell, a nineteenth century English novelist whose works reflect the harsh conditions of England’s industrial North. Unlike some of her contemporaries, whose works are told from the perspectives of middle class characters, Gaskell did not restrict herself, and her novels Mary Barton and Ruth feature working class heroines.

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A Conversation With ALSCW President Ernest Suarez, Part 2

Last week, we shared an interview with Ernest Suarez, president of the Association of Literary Scholars, Critics, and Writers (ALSCW), the society who publishes Literary Imagination. Today, we continue the conversation, and with it, we are able to get an even closer and more personal look into the life of a literary academic.

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