Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

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Remembering the slave trade

By Jean Allain
Today is International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition, established by UNESCO “to inscribe the tragedy of the slave trade in the memory of peoples”. That tragedy was the development of, in Robin Blackburn’s words, a “different species of slavery”. One that took the artisan slavery of old (consisting in the main of handfuls of slaves working on small estates or as domestic servants) and industrialised it, creating plantations in the Americas which fed the near insatiable appetite of Europeans for sugar, coffee, and tobacco.

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Anthems of Africa

I would love to visit Africa someday. I think it would settle a lot of curiosity I have about the world. For now, my most informed experience regarding the place is a seminar I took this past semester, called Sacred and Secular African American Musics.

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Nelson Mandela: a precursor to Barack Obama

Not long before Barack Obama was first elected President of the United States, in October 2008, the African American novelist Alice Walker commented that the then still Senator Obama, as the leader in waiting of the most powerful nation on earth, might be regarded as a worthy successor to the towering figure of Mandela. She discerned within the American leader’s authoritative and crusading self-presentation the template of Robben Island’s most famous one-time resident.

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A flag of one’s own? Aimé Césaire between poetry and politics

Aimé Césaire (1913 – 2008) has left behind an extraordinary dual legacy as eminent poet and political leader. Several critics have claimed to observe a contradiction between the vehement anti-colonial stance expressed in his writings and his political practice. Criticism has focused on his support for the law of “departmentalization” (which incorporated the French Antilles, along with other overseas territories, as administrative “departments” within the French Republic) and his reluctance to lead his country to political independence.

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Freedom Day and democratic transition

By Robert P. Inman and Daniel L. Rubinfeld
Despite the recognized virtues of democratic rule, both for protection of personal rights and liberties and for economic progress, the current list of world governments still classifies 46 of all countries, or 25%, as dictatorships. Rulers in these existing dictatorial regimes resist the transition to democracy, often at a high cost each year in lives and resources.

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Kenyatta confirmed as Kenyan president but ethnic politics remain

By Gabrielle Lynch
On Saturday 30 March 2013, Kenya’s Supreme Court unanimously decided that Kenya’s presidential election — which had been held on 4 March — was conducted in a free, fair, transparent, and credible manner, and that Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto of the Jubilee Alliance were validly elected. Raila Odinga of the Coalition for Reform and Democracy (CORD) publicly disagreed with the court’s findings, but emphasised the supremacy of the constitution and wished Kenyatta and Ruto luck in implementing the 2010 constitution.

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Achebe

By Richard Dowden
A conversation with Chinua Achebe was a deep, slow and gracious matter. He was exceedingly courteous and always listened and reflected before answering. In his later years he talked even more slowly and softly, savouring the paradoxes of life and history. He spoke in long, clear, simple sentences which often ended in a profound and sad paradox

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Chinua Achebe, 1930-2013

Oxford University Press is sad to hear of the passing of Chinua Achebe. The following is an excerpt from The New Oxford Book of Literary Anecdotes, edited by John Gross.

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Images of Ancient Nubia

For most of the modern world, ancient Nubia seems an unknown and enigmatic land. Only a handful of archaeologists have studied its history or unearthed the Nubian cities, temples, and cemeteries that once dotted the landscape of southern Egypt and northern Sudan. Nubia’s remote setting in the midst of an inhospitable desert, with access by river blocked by impassable rapids, has lent it not only an air of mystery, but also isolated it from exploration.

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The 50th anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s imprisonment

By Kenneth S. Broun
This October 25th marks the fiftieth Anniversary of the beginning of Nelson Mandela’s twenty-seven years in South African prisons. He was initially sentenced in October, 1962 to five years imprisonment for inciting African workers to strike and for leaving the country without valid travel documents. Immediately after sentencing, he was sent to the Robben Island prison, lying off Cape Town harbor, where he was held in solitary confinement.

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Tutankhamun and the mummy’s curse

In the winter of 1922-23 archaeologist Howard Carter and his wealthy patron George Herbert, the Fifth Earl of Carnarvon, sensationally opened the tomb of Tutankhamun. Six weeks later Herbert, the sponsor of the expedition, died in Egypt. The popular press went wild with rumours of a curse on those who disturbed the Pharaoh’s rest and for years followed every twist and turn of the fate of the men who had been involved in the historic discovery. Long dismissed by Egyptologists, the mummy’s curse remains a part of popular supernatural belief. We spoke with Roger Luckhurst, author of The Mummy’s Curse: The true history of a dark fantasy, to find out why the myth has captured imagination across the centuries, and how it has impacted on popular culture.

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Who really deciphered the Egyptian Hieroglyphs?

The polymath Thomas Young (1773-1829) — physicist, physiologist, physician and polyglot, among several other things — became hooked on the scripts and languages of ancient Egypt in 1814, the year he began to decipher the Rosetta Stone. He continued to study the hieroglyphic and demotic scripts with variable intensity for the rest of his life, literally until his dying day.

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5 July 1962: Algerian Independence

By Martin Evans
On 5 July 1962, Algeria achieved independence from France after an eight-year-long war — one of the longest and bloodiest episodes in the whole decolonisation process. An undeclared war in the sense there was no formal beginning of hostilities, the intensity of this violence is partly explained by the fact that Algeria (invaded in 1830) was an integral part of France, but also by the presence of European settlers who in 1954, numbered one million as against the nine million Arabo-Berber population.

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50 years of Algerian independence

2012 marks the 50th anniversary of Algerian independence. Martin Evans, author of Algeria: France’s Undeclared War, talks about the complexities of Algerian colonial history and the country’s fight for independence in this new video.

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Downton Abbey and the Curse of King Tut

By Roger Luckhurst
You must surely have been tempted on occasion to curse Julian Fellowes, if not for the script of Young Victoria, then for the creation of Downton Abbey, that death star of good old-fashioned aristocratic virtue and due deference. For a little while, all public debate seemed to be sucked through the funnel of Downton discourse, coinciding as it did with the election of all those shiny Eton boys to government in 2010. But don’t worry: he may already be cursed.

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Kenyatta elected Kenya’s First Prime Minister

This Day in World History
On May 27, 1963, the people of Kenya voted for the first time in history for their own government. Winning a better than two-to-one majority of parliamentary seats was KANU, the Kenya African Nation Union. As a result, 73-year-old Jomo Kenyatta, leader of Kenya’s independence movement and head of KANU, was assured of becoming the nation’s first prime minister.

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