Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

Misattributed quotations: do you know who really said it? [quiz]

The seemingly simple task of asking who said what has perhaps never been more difficult. In the digital age, quotations can be moved around, attributed, questioned, re-appropriated, and repeated in the blink of an eye. If someone is “widely quoted” as saying something and it sounds more or less right, many people take this to be sufficient proof of the quotation’s origin. With that said, do you really know who said what?

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A Q&A with art historian Janet Wolff on memoir writing

Janet Wolff is a renowned art historian and writer. A combination of memoir, family history, and cultural criticism, Janet Wolff’s Austerity Baby is more than just your typical memoir; touching on themes of exile, displacement, and mortality – all of which remain relevant today. In this interview, Wolff recounts her inspiration, process, and family discoveries during her writing and research.

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Who said what about Margaret Thatcher? [quiz]

No-one was neutral about Margaret Thatcher. During her premiership (and ever since), she has inspired both wild enthusiasm and determined opposition, and many vivid descriptions as a result. Many critics have described Margaret Thatcher as divisive, accusing her of paying little attention to social issues. Do you know which of these remarks were made by her supporters and which by her opponents?

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The political legacy of Andrew Jackson

Sometime after rising to international fame in 1815, Andrew Jackson lamented that his critics had him all wrong. Whether from ignorance or malice, they spread rumors and lies about his actions and motives. They also smeared his wife, Rachel, with whom he often shared his sense of persecution.

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A dangerous mission: loyalty and treason during the American Revolution

The American Revolution was at once a national, a continental, and an imperial phenomenon. It produced a new American republic, rearranged power relations and territorial claims across North America, and altered Europeans’ global empires. It inspired stirring statements about universal rights and liberties even as it exposed disturbing divisions rooted in distinctions of class, ethnicity, race, and gender.

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Punishing Peccadilloes? Illicit sex at the early Stuart courts

At the Tudor and early Stuart royal courts, the careers of influential politicians and courtiers often depended on the preferences of the monarchs: being in the king’s good graces often mattered as much or more for advancements than ability and training. The personality and quirks of the rulers affected many aspects of a courtier’s life, including what today might be considered the most private: their sex lives.

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Ellington’s A Drum Is a Woman turns 60

Recent research on African-American jazz icon Duke Ellington (1899-1974) has increasingly focused on the composer-pianist-bandleader’s post-World War II achievements: a torrent of creativity across film, theater, and dance perhaps unrivaled in American music. But the unleashing of Ellington’s “late career” genius was not a foregone conclusion. It would take an ambitious — if not a […]

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John Capgrave and a medieval view of scholarship as service

John Capgrave is one of the few medieval authors whose birthday we know. As he composed his universal history known as the Abbreviation of Chronicles, he recorded that on 21 April 1393, “the friar who made these annotations was born.” And lest this entry be overlooked amidst the doings of the powerful, he inserted his personal nota bene mark, a trefoil, beside it in the margin.

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Michelangelo’s uncelebrated birthday and uncertain death

We will scarcely acknowledge, much less celebrate, the unremarkable 502nd anniversary of Michelangelo Buonarroti’s birth. Nor would Michelangelo. While the aristocratic artist was alert to the precise time and date of his birth, he paid absolutely no attention to any of his subsequent birthdays.

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Can we have more than one friend? According to Montaigne, no

The Essais are the perfect mate to accompany anybody, throughout all stages of life. It is always interesting to explore Michel de Montaigne’s life and his marvellous book: the Essais. Within his lifespan, Montaigne was able to find true friendship for himself and record its effects therein. Here we propose to navigate Montaigne’s approach to friendship.

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The many voices of Dickens

Charles Dickens’s reputation as a novelist and as the creator of Ebenezer Scrooge, one of the most globally recognized Christmas miser figures, has secured him what looks to be a permanent place in the established literary canon. Students, scholars, and fans of Dickens may be surprised to learn that the voice many Victorians knew as “Dickens,” especially at Christmastime, was also the voice of nearly forty other people.

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Alan Turing’s lost notebook

Alan Turing’s personal mathematical notebook went on display a few days ago at Bletchley Park near London, the European headquarters of the Allied codebreaking operation in World War II. Until now, the notebook has been seen by few — not even scholars specializing in Turing’s work. It is on loan from its current owner, who acquired it in 2015 at a New York auction for over one million dollars.

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Was Phillis Wheatley’s husband a crook or a dreamer?

Of the many known unknowns about the life of Phillis Wheatley (1753?–1784), the first published African American poet, one of the greatest has been her husband’s character. Until very recently, all we’ve had to go on were two very brief nineteenth-century accounts of John Peters (1746?–1801). The first depicts him as a failed grocer with an aspiration to gentility, who married Phillis in April 1778, and who abandoned her as she lay dying in desperate poverty six years later.

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Five tragic love stories across time

This time of year is often filled with images of romance, hearts, and cupid’s bows, but not all love stories end in happily ever after. Who among us hasn’t had their heart broken, or felt the sting of rejection once (or twice)? But we all know that life without love (even if it’s painful) isn’t much of a life. As Charles Darwin once said, ‘Much love much trial, but what an utter desert is life without love’.

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