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Academic Insights for the Thinking World

  • Arts & Humanities

The secrets of newspaper names

A few years ago, two colleagues of mine traveled around the country documenting what was going on in the newspaper industry, talking to editors, reporters, and publishers in all 50 states. Reading their book, Practicing Journalism: The Power and Purpose of the Fourth Estate, I was struck by the great passion of journalists and their commitment to public service.

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On the Town and the long march for civil rights in performance

As we celebrate the golden anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a significant aspect of the struggle for racial equality often gets ignored: racial activism in performance. Actors, singers, and dancers mobilized over the decades, pushing back against racial restrictions that shifted over time, and On the Town of 1944 marked an auspicious but little-recognized moment in that history.

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Plato’s mistake

It started innocently enough at a lunch-time event with some friends at the Randolph Hotel in the centre of Oxford. ‘The trouble with Islam …’ began some self-opinioned pundit, and I knew where he was going. Simple. Islam lends itself to fanaticism, and that is why Muslims perpetrate so much violence in the name of religion. The pundit saw himself as Christian, and therefore a man of peace, so I had my cue. ‘Look out of the window. Over there in the fork of the road you see the Martyr’s Memorial. In 1555 the Wars of Religion were in full spate, Catholics were burning Protestants at the stake, Protestants were no less fanatical when their turn came, and things got even worse with the Civil War. So why are Muslims any worse?’

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the psychology of music

What can psychology tell us about music?

Music can intensify moments of elation and moments of despair. It can connect people and it can divide them. The prospect of psychologists turning their lens on music might give a person the heebie-jeebies, however, conjuring up an image of humorless people in white lab coats manipulating sequences of beeps and boops to make grand pronouncements about human musicality.

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The politics of “political” – how the word has changed its meaning

Over the course of history, the word “political” has evolved from being synonymous with “public sphere” or “good government” to meaning “calculating” or “partisan.” How did we get here? This adapted excerpt from Keywords for Today: A 21st Century Vocabulary explains the evolution. The problems posed by political result from a combination of the term’s semantic shift over the last several centuries and the changing face of post-national politics that have become so important since mid-twentieth century.

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Reflections on anthologising

The year was 1968 and I was a young postgraduate music student walking down King’s Parade in Cambridge when I saw the revered figure of David Willcocks, director of King’s College Choir, striding towards me. He had rock-star status in Cambridge and beyond, and although I knew him from his weekly harmony and counterpoint classes which I had attended, I wasn’t quite sure whether to nod politely, say ‘good afternoon, Mr Willcocks’, or hurry past hoping he hadn’t noticed me. Fortunately he spoke first.

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National Day of Listening [podcast]

In 2008, StoryCorps created World Listening Day for citizens of all beliefs and backgrounds to record, preserve, and share the stories of their lives. This year, we invite you to celebrate by listening to our podcast, The Oxford Comment.

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How well do you know William Godwin? [quiz]

In October, William Godwin (1756–1836) was featured as our Philosopher of the Month. He was a leading political philosopher and public intellectual during the crisis in British politics in the 1790s and achieved fame with the publication of his treatise ‘An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice’.

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What Matthew Shepard’s interment taught us about religion

On 26 October 2018, twenty years after two men in Wyoming brutally murdered gay college student Matthew Shepard, the Washington National Cathedral hosted a service to inter Shepard’s ashes in a permanent memorial. More than four thousand people attended the service that was co-led by the Reverend Gene Robinson, the first openly-gay elected bishop of […]

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Detroit music [quiz]

Detroit is known as the birthplace of Motown Records, but there’s more to the musical history of the city than just that, due to the key role of the public schools in music training, the impact on music of the auto companies and the media, and the huge variety of ethnic music-making across Detroit’s 139 square miles.

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A lesson in allegorical storytelling [podcast]

National Novel Writing Month challenges writers from all over the world to complete a 50,000-word novel within the month of November. To help guide our readers who have taken on the challenge, we reached out to three-time National Jewish Book Award winner Howard Schwartz. Howard offers a deeper reading of “The Lost Princess,” and his analysis demonstrates the power of allegories as literary devices.

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Graffiti artists are gaining recognition—and rights

Graffiti used to be thought of primarily as vandalism—as a furtive, illegal activity that defaced public property. It was seen as both a reflection of and contributor to urban decay. However, several recent high-profile lawsuits involving what is now called “exterior aerosol art” reveal just how far graffiti has advanced in cultural esteem and recognition as a legitimate art form.

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Why is it so difficult to throw away fetuses?

It has been five years since I started my research on anatomy in 19th century Belgium, but I remember my first visit to an anatomical collection like it was yesterday. It was the beginning of autumn and the temperature was cool enough to cause a slight numbness in my hands. I was not yet used to the piercing smell of alcohol and formaldehyde; a smell that soaked into my clothes and skin, and that I immediately associated with death.

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George Balanchine: mythology and reality

There are few choreographers with more influence in the world of ballet than George Balanchine. Over three decades after his death, his ballets are performed somewhere on the planet virtually every day. Two prominent dance institutions continue his legacy—the School of American Ballet and the New York City Ballet—and dancers who worked alongside him lead important companies and schools across America from Miami to Seattle.

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