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Academic Insights for the Thinking World

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Love Letter

Finding music in the life and letters of Edna St. Vincent Millay

I first became aware of the work of Edna St. Vincent Millay after composer Alison Willis set one of her poems (‘The Ballad of the Harp-Weaver’) for Juice Vocal Ensemble, a group I co-founded with fellow singers and composers, Kerry Andrew and Anna Snow. The collection from which this particular poem is taken won Millay the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1923 and helped to further consolidate her blossoming career not only as a poet but also as a writer of plays and short stories, receiving mass-recognition under the pseudonym, Nancy Boyd.

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The SHAPE of things [podcast]

In January, Oxford University Press announced its support for SHAPE, a new collective name for the humanities, arts, and social sciences and an equivalent term to STEM. SHAPE stands for Social Sciences, Humanities, and the Arts for People and the Economy and aims to underline the value that these disciplines bring to society. Over the last year or so, huge attention has—rightly—been placed on scientific and technological advancement but does that mean we’re overlooking the contribution of SHAPE in finding solutions to global issues?

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The “Ready… Set… Go!” phrase structure in Classical Era music

We all know the joyful anticipation of that exciting phrase. Whether getting ready for a “race” with my granddaughter or waiting for the gun at the start of a half-marathon, just the thought of it brings a bit of an adrenaline rush. This mindset transcends culture, space, and time, and presents itself structurally in Classical Era music.

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The Spanish Civil War: a nostalgia of hope

This summer will mark the 85th anniversary of the start of the Spanish Civil War, a brutal struggle that began with a military uprising against the democratic Second Republic and ended, three years later, in victory for the rebels under General Francisco Franco. The enduring fascination of that conflict, its ability to grip the global imagination, belies its geographical scale and is testament to the power of art.

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The Hidden History of Coined Words

Do you know how these words were coined? [Quiz]

Successful word-coinages—those that stay in lingual currency for a good, long time—tend to conceal their beginnings. In The Hidden History of Coined Words, author and word sleuth Ralph Keyes explores the etymological underworld of terms and expressions and uncovers plenty of hidden gems.

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On SHAPE: a Q&A with Lucy Noakes, Eyal Poleg, Laura Wright & Mary Kelly

OUP have recently announced our support for the newly created SHAPE initiative—Social Sciences, Humanities, and the Arts for People and the Economy. To further understand the crucial role these subjects play in our everyday lives, we have put three questions to four British Academy SHAPE authors and editors—social and cultural historian Lucy Noakes, historian of objects and faith Eyal Poleg, historical sociolinguist Laura Wright, and Lecturer in Contemporary Art History Mary Kelly—on what SHAPE means to them, and to their research.

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Evolution of a Taboo

The power of pigs: tension and taboo in Haifa, Israel

It might be an exaggeration to say a boar broke the internet. But when someone posted an image of wild boar sleeping on a mattress and surrounded by garbage from a recently-raided dumpster in Haifa, Israel in March, Twitter briefly erupted. In a recent article in The New York Times, Patrick Kingsley documented the uneasy relationship, not only between people and pigs, but also between the people who want the animals eliminated and those who welcome them. But Kingsley curiously omits an important detail: the drama over the fate of Haifa’s boar plays out against a backdrop of taboo and religious law.

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Becoming Someone New

Transformative choice and “Big Decisions”

Imagine being invited by a trusted friend to a “life-changing” event. Should you go? The event could be a church service, self-help talk, concert, movie, festival, hike, play, dinner party, book club, union organizing meeting, etc. What sorts of considerations do you reach for in making your choice? The philosopher L. A. Paul has put problems like these, termed transformative choices, on the map for philosophical and scientific inquiry.

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Poetry and the Language of Oppression: Essays on Politics and Poetics

Lyricism as activism: Sigurd Olson and The Singing Wilderness

Placing the reader in the poetic and ethical space is the first step toward direct action that affects the larger human community: a step toward activism. Activism formalizes the values that inspire and ultimately direct our will—and action—to preserve and protect. By opening new worlds, other spaces, and creating experiences for the reader—and, crucially, letting the reader explore those worlds for herself or for himself—the lyric writer has an opportunity to create a protected zone for significant communication.

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Spinoza

Was Spinoza a populist? [Long read]

Recent studies of Spinoza’s political theory in a contemporary perspective often place it in one of two categories, depicting him either as a defender of individual free speech and liberal democracy or as a champion of radical democracy and collective popular power. For some, he is something like a liberal supporter of the equal individual rights of all citizens to express whatever is on their mind, an early defender of “free speech.”

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Can skepticism and curiosity get along? Benjamin Franklin shows they can coexist

No matter the contemporary crisis trending on Twitter, from climate change to the US Senate filibuster, people who follow the news have little trouble finding a congenial source of reporting. The writers who worry about polarization, folks like Ezra Klein and Michael Lind, commonly observe the high levels of tribalism that attends journalism and consumption of it. The feat of being skeptical of the other side’s position while turning the same doubts on your own team is apparently in short supply. The consequences of skepticism about disagreeable points of view for the virtues of intellectual curiosity are not good.

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Appalling Bodies

Putting transphobia in a different biblical context

Right-wing and reactionary forces in the USA and UK are once again stoking panic about trans people and practices of gender and sexual variation. Their arguments, though, rely upon faulty assumptions about gender, particularly in relation to history and religion.

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