Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

What to do with a simple-minded ruler: a medieval solution

The thirteenth century saw the reigns of several rulers ill-equipped for the task of government, decried not as tyrants but incompetents. Sancho II of Portugal (1223–48), his critics said, let his kingdom fall to ruin on account of his “idleness,” “timidity of spirit,” and “simplicity”. The last term, simplex, could mean straightforward, but here it meant only simple-minded, foolish, stupid.

Read More

Edward Gibbon, Enlightenment historian of religion

On 8 May 1788, Edward Gibbon celebrated the publication of the final three volumes of his History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire at a dinner given by his publisher Thomas Cadell. Gibbon (born 27 April 1737) was just 51; he had completed perhaps the greatest work of history ever written by an Englishman, and certainly the greatest history of what his contemporary David Hume called the “historical age,” and we think of as the Enlightenment.

Read More

Witches and Walpurgis Night

In modern British and American popular culture, Halloween is the night most associated with the nocturnal activities of witches and the souls of the dead. But in much of Europe the 30 April or May Eve, otherwise known as Walpurgis Night, was another moment when spirits and witches were thought to roam abroad. The life and death of Saint Walpurga, who was born in Dorset, England, in the eight century, has nothing to do with witchcraft or magic, though.

Read More

From the Bastille to Trump Tower?

Since his inauguration, President Donald J. Trump has courted controversy by issuing a series of tweets or executive orders. His endorsement of the efficacy of waterboarding, an illegal and degrading form of torture, or the decision to close the US frontiers to citizens of seven predominantly Muslim countries provoked outrage amongst his many opponents.

Read More

Councils and juntas in early modern Madrid

Nowadays it’s not uncommon to think of meetings as a time-consuming chore, and it was no different in the seventeenth century. During the 1660s, the count of Castrillo would complain to his wife about the long hours that he had to spend in committees. He was sometimes too busy even so much as to go to Mass, and when he was finally allowed out of the palace it might not have been until the early hours of the morning.

Read More

Reflecting on the Armenian Genocide

April 2014 marked the centenary of the initiation of mass murders of Armenians in Anatolia—events now known as the Armenian Genocide. As Robert Melson notes in the below introduction to Holocaust and Genocide Studies’ virtual issue on the subject, Turkish governments have consistently denied that the persecutions resulted from a policy of genocide.

Read More

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.

Read More

The role of smugglers in the European Migrant Crisis

Media coverage of the European migrant crisis often focuses on the migrants themselves—capturing their stories as millions escape violent conflicts and crushing poverty. In Migrant, Refugee, Smuggler, Savior, Peter Tinti and Tuesday Reitano consider the smugglers involved in transporting migrants throughout Europe. Although many smugglers are viewed as saviors, others give little regard to the human rights issues.

Read More

23 treaties of Utrecht that changed European history forever

11 April marks the 304th anniversary of the signing of the Peace of Utrecht by most of the representatives at the congress that convened to negotiate the terms that would end the War of the Spanish Succession. Or perhaps it should be 12 April. A few contemporaries alleged that the documents were backdated so that the ceremony would not fall on 1 April, or Fools’ Day, according to the old calendar.

Read More

The significance of the Russian Revolution for the 21st century

The year 2017 marks the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, one of seminal events of the 20th century. The Russian Revolution “shook the world,” as the radical American journalist John Reed so aptly put it, because it led to the establishment of the Soviet Union, the world’s first socialist and totalitarian society.

Read More

“The Church’s Enemies” – an extract from Luther’s Jews

Set against the backdrop of a Europe in turmoil, Thomas Kaufmann illustrates the vexed and sometimes shocking story of Martin Luther’s increasingly venomous attitudes towards the Jews over the course of his lifetime. The following extract looks at Luther’s early position on the Jews in both his writing and lectures.

Read More

Orlando: An audio guide

In honor of Virginia Woolf’s death (March 28, 1941), listen to Dr Michael Whitworth, editor of the Oxford edition of Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, introduce the novel, and discuss Woolf’s life and times in this Oxford World’s Classics audio guide.

“I feel the need of an escapade after these serious poetic experimental books…I want to kick up my heels and be off.”

Read More

10 facts about the origins of American deportation policy

One of the most important political, economic, legal, and ethical questions in the United States today is immigrant deportation policy. Where did the policy come from? When and why was it introduced in the United States? Who was the target of removal law? How were deportation laws enforced? In Expelling the Poor, historian Hidetaka Hirota, visiting assistant professor of history at the City University of New York-City College, answers these questions in revealing the roots of immigration restriction in the United States.

Read More

“Freedom! Freedom!”: 100 years since the fall of the Tsar

As midnight approached on 15 March 1917 (2 March on the Russian calendar), Tsar Nicholas II signed his manifesto of abdication, ending centuries of autocratic monarchical rule in Russia. Nicholas accepted the situation with his typical mixture of resignation and faith: “The Lord God saw fit to send down upon Russia a new harsh ordeal…During these decisive days for the life of Russia, We considered it a duty of conscience to facilitate Our people’s close unity…In agreement with the State Duma, We consider it to be for the good to abdicate from the Throne of the Russian State… May the Lord God help Russia.”

Read More