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Academic Insights for the Thinking World

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The Cambridge Philosophical Society

In 2019, the Cambridge Philosophical Society celebrates its 200th anniversary. When it was set up in 1819, Cambridge was not a place to do any kind of serious science. There were a few professors in scientific subjects but almost no proper laboratories or facilities. Students rarely attended lectures, and degrees were not awarded in the […]

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From orientalism to ornamentalism

Recently, the Metropolitan Museum of Art hosted an exhibit called China Through the Looking Glass. The exhibition’s spectacular and unabashed display of Orientalist commodification and appropriation charmed many and repelled others. The exhibition, extended months beyond its original schedule due to its enormous popularity, reminds us how enduring the so-called Asian fetish still is in western culture and how […]

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Reconsidering the period room as a museum-made object

Period rooms were widespread among European museums during the last decades of the nineteenth century, and became popular in North American institutions in the early twentieth. But the debate about whether period rooms are “authentic” or “fake” tends to ignore what they really are: a museum-made object.

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How boring was life in the British Empire?

For centuries, the British Empire has been portrayed as a place of adventure and excitement. Novels and films, from Robinson Crusoe to Lawrence of Arabia, romanticized the empire. Yet in 1896, after only one month in India, twenty-one year old Winston Churchill declared Britain’s largest and most important colony “dull and interesting.”

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Why do homo sapiens include so much variety?

The past is a mess. To pick a path through the mire, historians have appealed to providence, progress, environmental determinism, class struggle, biology and fate.  No explanation has worked – so far. But try shifting perspective: look for the broadest possible context, the most suggestive comparisons. Climb the cosmic crow’s nest. Imagine what history might […]

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Contemporary lessons from the fall of Rome

It’s a time-honored game, and any number can play. The rules are simple: just take whatever problem is bothering you today, add the word “Rome,” and voilà. You have just discovered why the mightiest empire in Western history came to an end.

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Frederick Douglass’ family and the roots of social justice

Frederick Douglass. Just the name alone is enough to inspire us to think of a life lived in activism and an unceasing fight for social justice. But there are other names in the life story of Frederick Douglass that are far more unknown to us, those of his daughters and sons: Rosetta, Lewis Henry, Frederick Jr., Charles Remond and Annie Douglass.

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How six elements came together to form life on Earth

How did life begin? We will never know with certainty what the Earth was like four billion years ago, or the kinds of reactions that led to the emergence of life at that time, but there is another way to pose the question. If we ask “how can life begin?” instead of “how did life begin,” that simple change of verbs offers hope.

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Letters from the Antebellum

While tensions continued to boil in the United States with the outbreak of the civil war in 1861 on the horizon, those aiming to assist slaves in securing their freedom often used letter correspondences to plan escape routes and share elated stories of their successes.

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Congratulations to Cyberwar

Oxford University Press has won the 2018 R. R. Hawkins Award, which is awarded by the Association of American Publishers to a single book every year to “recognize outstanding scholarly works in all disciplines of the arts and sciences.” 

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Black History Month: a reading list

February marks the celebration of Black History Month in the United States and Canada, an annual celebration of achievements by Black Americans and a time for recognizing the central role of African Americans in U.S history. Dr. Carter G. Woodson founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life, which initiated the first variation of Black History month, titled, Negro History Week in 1926 during the second week of February. The Association for the Study of Negro Life and History expanded the February celebration in the early 1970’s, renaming it Black History Month, however, it was not until 1976 that every president designated the month of February as Black History Month.

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150 Years of the Periodic Table

2019 marks the 150th anniversary of the creation of the periodic table, and it has been declared the International Year of the Periodic by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

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