Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

Humankind’s battle to conquer the seas

The relationship, through history, between humans and the sea has been one of conflict and conquest. The dangers of traveling on such a fickle, treacherous, and alien environment could easily mean death for early seafarers and explorers (and indeed it still can today). What is even more impressive, and perhaps mind-boggling, is that those venturing to sea in pre-history did not know what they would find, if anything at all. So why did humans first take to the sea? What drove them to surf and sail into the unknown? One reason may be our inquisitive nature.

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The Oxford Illustrated History of Witchcraft and Magic

The art of witchcraft: six illustrations [slideshow]

Witchcraft dates back 5,000 years to the beginning of writing. Its history offers glimpses into the human psyche and has excited the minds of artists, playwrights, and novelists for centuries. Referencing The Oxford Illustrated History of Witchcraft and Magic, we’ve pulled together a slideshow of six fascinating facts about the history of witchcraft.

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100 years since the world shook [excerpt]

The fall of the Romanov dynasty may have occurred in an instant, but the wheels were set in motion long before 1917. The effects of the Russian revolution were felt far beyond the borders of Eastern Europe and changed the course of world history forever. In this centenary year, Laura Engelstein, author of Russia in Flames: War, Revolution, Civil War, 1914-1921, takes us back to the brutal battles that took place at the beginning of the 20th century, and gives us reason as to why we need to revisit it now.

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Perpetual peace

In the fall of 1697, the great powers of Europe signed a series of peace treaties at Rijswijk [Ryswick], near The Hague, which ended the Nine Years’ War (1688–1697), in which France was opposed by a great coalition of the Holy Roman Emperor, Britain, the Dutch Republic, and Spain. In its first article, the peace treaty between Britain and France, signed on 20 September 1697 (21 CTS 409), stated that, henceforth, there would be ‘universal and perpetual peace’

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Nine things you didn’t know about love and marriage in Byzantium

The Byzantine civilization has long been regarded by many as one big curiosity. Often associated with treachery and superstition, their traditions and contributions to the ancient world are often overlooked. Referencing A Cabinet of Byzantine Curiosities, we’ve pulled together nine lesser known facts about love and marriage in Byzantium.

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A prison without walls? The Mettray reformatory

The Mettray reformatory was founded in 1839, some ten kilometres from Tours in the quiet countryside of the Loire Valley. Over almost a hundred years the reformatory imprisoned juvenile delinquent boys aged 7 to 21, particularly from Paris.

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Mapping Reformation Europe

Maps convey simple historical narratives very clearly–but how useful are simple stories about the past? Many history textbooks and studies of the Reformation include some sort of map that claims to depict Europe’s religious divisions in the sixteenth century.

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Why do humans commit extraordinary evil?

The hideous deeds committed by members of ISIS raise the question why humans alone, among the species, at times engage in mass killings of their own kind. We can find help in understanding this vexing issue by looking at the men who organized and carried out the Nazis’ attempted destruction of the Jewish people known as the Holocaust.

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How well do you know the history of physics? [quiz]

Less than four centuries separate the end of the Renaissance and the theories of Copernicus, Galileo, and Newton from the development of quantum physics at the turn of the 20th century. During this transformative time, royal academies of science, instrument-making workshops, and live science demonstrations exploded across the continent as learned and lay people alike absorbed the spectacles of newfound technologies, devices, and innovations.

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Werner Herzog’s hall of mirrors

Werner Herzog turns 75 this September and remains as productive as ever. More than only a filmmaker, he directs operas, instructs online courses, and occasionally makes cameo appearances on television shows including Parks & Recreation and The Simpsons. He has been directing films for nearly six decades, and he released three feature-length films within months of each other in 2016.

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How to educate your child in the seventeenth century

The end of summer and beginning of autumn mean that children and young adults worldwide are heading back to school. While much has changed since the time of the seventeenth century – which children were allowed to go to school and which weren’t, and what they were taught there, for example – one thing that has not changed is the worry a parent feels about their child getting the best education they can.

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The Paris Peace Conference and postwar politics [extract]

But the centerpiece of the Paris Peace Conference was always the Treaty of Versailles, signed on June 28, 1919, five years to the day after a teenaged Serbian nationalist, Gavrilo Princip, had assassinated Austrian archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife in Sarajevo. The treaty and the conference are thus closely linked but not quite synonymous.

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The steeples of Essex and Tyrone: Irish historians and Brexit

One of the glib accusations levelled against Irish history is that it never changes–that its fundamental themes are immutable. Equally, one of the common accusations against Irish historians is that (despite decades of learned endeavour) they have utterly failed to shift popular readings of the island’s past. Yes, the Good Friday Agreement and its St […]

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Gottschalk: a ninth-century heretic, dissenter, and religious outlaw

“Just as a dog returns to its own vomit, so a fool reverts to his folly” (Proverbs 26:11). Thus did medieval church officials condemn unrepentant heretics and those who recanted, but later allegedly returned to their crimes. The typical punishment — burning at the stake — purged the offenders’ pollution from the church. This familiar image of burning heretics shapes today’s popular and scholarly perspectives of the European Middle Ages.

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The Red Cross in Nazi Germany

Built on the Geneva Conventions of 1949, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was founded to protect the lives and dignity of victims of armed conflict and violence and to provide them with assistance. But despite being one of the world’s most revered aid organizations, the ICRC has a complicated and unsettling history.

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Remembering the life and music of Antonio Vivaldi

For many who at least known his name, Antonio Vivaldi is the composer of a handful of works heard on the radio or a drive-time playlist of 100 Famous Classical Pieces, featured in TV (and internet) commercials, movies and concerts by students, amateurs, and professionals. Pieces such as The Four Seasons (featured prominently in Alan Alda’s 1981 film, The Four Seasons), the Gloria in D RV 589 and the Violin Concerto in A Minor Op. 3 No. 6 (familiar to most students of the Suzuki Violin Method) are staples of the repertoire and frequently rank high on lists of popular classical music.

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