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Academic Insights for the Thinking World

How Nations Remember

What does the history of Victory Day tell us about Russia’s national identity?

Every year on 9 May, Russia observes Victory Day as its most important national holiday. It celebrates the end of the Great Patriotic War (1941-1945) by staging events that dwarf those of any other country. But Victory Day is not just about the past. It is also about national identity in the present, and as this identity project has changed, so has the memory of the war.

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SHAPE and societal recovery from crises

The SHAPE (Social Sciences, Humanities, and the Arts for People and the Economy) initiative advocates for the value of the social sciences, humanities, and arts subject areas in helping us to understand the world in which we live and find solutions to global issues. As societies around the world respond to the immediate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, research from SHAPE disciplines has the potential to illuminate how societies process and recover from various social crises.

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Native conquistadors: the role of Tlaxcala in the fall of the Aztec empire

The Spanish invasion of Mesoamerica, leading to the collapse of the Aztec empire, would have been impossible were it not for the assistance provided by various groups of Native allies who sensed the opportunity to upend the existing geopolitical order to something they thought would be to their advantage. No group was more critical to these alliances than the Tlaxcaltecs.

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Seven Myths of the Spanish Conquest

The three greatest myths of the Fall of Tenochtitlán

13 August 2021 marks the moment, exactly five hundred years ago, when Spanish conquistadors won the battle for Tenochtitlán, completing their astonishing conquest of the Aztec Empire, initiating the three-century colonial era of New Spain. At least, that is the summary of the event that has since predominated. In recent decades, scholars have developed increasingly informed and complex understandings of the so-called Conquest, and opinions in Mexico itself have become ever more varied and sophisticated.

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A Roman road trip: tips for travelling the Roman Empire this summer

As Europe reopens, consider a Roman road trip that takes inspiration from an ancient travel guide. The Vicarello itineraries describe what we might call the scenic route from Cádiz to Rome. Glimpses of the empire’s superlative architecture can be found along the way, and emerging digital tools can put primary sources at your fingertips.

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Mexican independence from Spain and the first Mexican emperor

Mexico had been battling its way towards independence from Spain for some years when, in 1820, the Mexican-born officer, Agustín de Iturbide y Arámburu (1783-1824), proclaimed a new rebellion on behalf of what he called the Plan of Iguala. This called for Mexican independence, a constitutional monarchy with the Spanish king or another member of the Bourbon dynasty at its head, the Catholic religion as the only religion of Mexico, and the unity of all inhabitants, no matter what their origin, ethnicity, or social class.

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Sandbows and Black Lights

The mermaid in the fishbowl: the rise of optical illusions and magical effects

The nineteenth century saw the publication of several books explaining how magical effects and spectral appearances could be performed using the science of optics. It started in 1831, when Sir David Brewster (famed for his discovery of Brewster polarization and inventing the kaleidoscope) published “Letters on Natural Magic.” In this book, Brewster showed how to produce images of ghosts using partially silvered mirrors and by using a magic lantern to project images onto screens or onto clouds of vapor.

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Saint Napoleon? How Napoleon used religion to bolster his power

Though not a believer himself, Napoleon was well aware that religion was a vital tool for any ruler, especially when many of his subjects were believers. As he said to his secretary, Emanuel Las Cases, on St Helena at the end of his life: “from the moment that I had power, I hastened to re-establish religion. I used it as foundation and root. It became the support of good morals, of true principles, of good manners.”

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The Making of a Terrorist

Thirteen new French history books [reading list]

Bastille Day is a French national holiday, marking the storming of the Bastille—a military fortress and prison—on 14 July 1789, in an uprising that helped usher in the French Revolution. In the lead up to the anniversary of Bastille day, we’re sharing some of the latest French history titles, for you to explore, share, and enjoy. We have also granted free access to selected chapters, for a limited time, for you to dip into.

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The Shock of America

The rise and fall of the European Super League: when the American challenge backfires

In the long history of America’s influence on the politics of innovation in Europe, the case of the planned football Super League stands out. This is not because of the project as such, but simply because, of all the variety of responses Europe has produced when faced with the latest American novelty, none has provoked enthusiasm and rejection—above all rejection—with such extraordinary intensity, unity, and speed.

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Charlie Brown's America

9 new books to explore our shared cultural history [reading list]

How did the Peanuts gang respond to–and shape–postwar American politics? How has a single game become a cultural touchstone for urban Chinese Americans in the 1930s, incarcerated Japanese Americans during World War II, and Jewish American suburban mothers? Were 19th Century Brits very deeply bored? Cultural and social history bring to life the beliefs, understandings, and motivations of peoples throughout time. Explore these nine books to expand your understanding of who we are.

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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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