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Academic Insights for the Thinking World

  • Arts & Humanities

Monteverdi turns 450

The year of 2017 has proved an exciting year for anniversaries. From the quincentennial of Martin Luther’s 95 theses of 1517, or the 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation in 1867, to the centenary of the 1917 Russian revolutions, the historic events commemorated this year call us into celebration as much as they urge us into reflection and contemplation.

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In search of political prisoners: A dialogue with Padraic Kenney

States around the world imprison people for their beliefs or politically-motivated actions. Oppositional movements of all stripes celebrate their comrades behind bars. Yet they are more than symbols of repression and human rights. Padraic Kenney discusses his new book, Dance in Chains: Political Imprisonment in the Modern World, which seeks to find universal answers to questions about the meaning and purpose of imprisonment.

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A brief history of libel

At a Cambridge court hearing in 1584, Margery Johnson reported that she heard Thomas Wylkinson refer to “the said Jane Johnson thus ‘A pox of God on thee, bitch fox whore, that ever I knew thee.’” If Wylkinson indeed called down such a curse on Jane, he was guilty not of libel, but of slander, a verbal attack on another person. Libel, in contrast, is defined as defamation by written or printed words, pictures, or in any form other than by spoken words or gestures.

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Screen

Communist laughter

“History is thorough and passes through many stages while bearing an ancient form to its grave.” So wrote Karl Marx in 1843, as he reflected on the collapse of Germany’s old regime whilst looking toward a revolutionary horizon. “The last phase of a world-historical form,” he adds, “is its comedy.” According to Marx, comedy has revolutionary value in that it allows us to part happily with the superannuated ways of the past.

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The changing nature of retirement

Whether you are approaching retirement, or are a few years or decades away from thinking about leaving the workforce, it is likely that you will be affected by the changing nature of retirement. Maybe it’s not your own retirement that is on the forefront of your mind, but your spouse or partner’s. Perhaps your parent or another family member is trying to navigate the complexities of their pension, all the while trying to decide whether and how to retire.

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Strangest things: The peculiar Byzantine Empire [quiz]

From stories of saints and relics to the (not-so) mundane traditions of daily life, Byzantium has long been regarded as one of history’s most curious civilizations. Rising from the rubble of the Roman Empire, this complex Christian society was a birthplace of literature, art, and architecture. How much do you know about Byzantine culture?

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Philosophy: Eternal topics, evolving questions

Philosophers are famous for disagreeing on the issues that interest them. Is morality objective? Is the mind identical to the body? Are our actions free or determined? Some professional philosophers will say no to these questions—but an almost equal number will say yes. Moreover, empirical data bears this out.

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Going back to instrumental lessons

Three existential questions are useful to all of us: “Who am I? Where do I come from? Where am I going?” The publication of The Integrated String Player got me thinking about these questions in regards to my trajectory as a cellist. I decided to go back to school, so to speak. This is my report.

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The massacre at Paris

When the church bells rang out in Paris on Saint Bartholomew’s Day, 24 August 1572, they heralded a massacre. At dawn, on royal orders the Catholic civic militia assassinated the admiral Gaspard de Coligny and other Protestant leaders. Their cry that “the king wills it!” preceded thousands of killings of Protestants in cities across France during the month that followed.

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Beethoven’s Ninth at the G-20

The world leaders who had gathered in Hamburg, Germany, this summer for the twelfth G-20 summit on 7 July 2017 found an unusual item on their itinerary: a performance of Beethoven’s Ninth symphony.

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Taxation and religion in 2018

2018 will be an interesting year for those concerned about the intersection of taxation and religion. Two important issues – the constitutionality of the parsonage allowance and the future of the Johnson Amendment – are primed for further controversy in the year ahead. Several months ago, Judge Crabb agreed with the FFRF that Section 107(2) is unconstitutional.

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What you can learn at a writing retreat

Recently I attended a writing retreat for faculty at my university. It was a three-day weekend break from email, grading and meetings. A dozen academic writers from a variety of disciplines gathered under the roof of a spacious rental home near a lake to talk about their projects, share strategies and concerns, and write for long stretches at a time.

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Organisms as societies

In the 19th century, biologists came to appreciate for the first time the fundamentality of the cell to all life. One of the early pioneers of cell biology, Rudolf Virchow, realized that the discovery of the cell brought with it a new way of seeing the organism and described it as a ‘cell state’. In the 20th century, this metaphor fell out of favour, but recent trends in biology suggest a revival.

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Why visit Vermeer?

An exhibition of paintings by Johannes Vermeer caused a frenzy in Washington DC in 1995. The National Gallery of Art was booked to capacity, and there were lines of hopeful visitors queued around the block, despite sub-zero conditions outside. Vermeer has just returned to Washington, and the gallery staff expects a full house, but have things changed now? Why would you bother to go to a museum to see great art? With the tap of a finger, you can see masterpieces up close on your screen; you can get nearer than any museum attendant would ever allow.

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Getting high on virtual reality

It’s a chilly November evening, but inside Apiary Studios in East London, things are heating up as the venue gradually fills with people. The atmosphere is electric; everyone is here for the Cyberdelics Incubator, an event aimed at showcasing the latest in psychedelic arts projects using immersive media and techno-wizardry.

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Quotes of the year: 2017 [quiz]

2017 certainly was a year to remember – from Donald Trump being inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States of America, to the United Kingdom formally triggering Brexit with Article 50; from Britain releasing its first new pound coin in 30 years, to Facebook reaching two billion monthly users. Celebrities, politicians, and athletes were as vocal as ever last year when it came to current events, but do you know Theresa from Trump, or Putin from a pensioner? Which famous face tried to discourage middle-aged men from wearing Lycra, and who assumed their new role would be easier?

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