Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

The German Revolution of 1918-19: democratic ancestry or subjective liberation?

The German Revolution of 1918-19 has never been easy to identify with, and its hundredth anniversary once again throws this difficulty into sharp relief. While it is salutary in principle to appreciate Germany’s often forgotten democratic history, there is a price to pay for downplaying the complexity of the transition from wartime to postwar society in favour of a political narrative for our times.

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Danger, devotion, and domestic life in Renaissance Italy

Renaissance Italians had many ways of warding off danger. They would hang strings of coral above their beds or place Agnus Dei—small pendants decorated with the Lamb of God and containing fragments of wax from the Easter candle burned at St Peter’s in Rome—in their infants’ cribs.

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Coronations and composite states: the Austrian-Habsburg case

To mark the 65th anniversary of her coronation, Queen Elizabeth II has given a rare interview in which she talked about the event from the extraordinary perspective of the main participant. Her delightful remark that crowns “are quite important things” betrayed intimate familiarity with the meaning of the ceremonial trappings associated with an ancient tradition that in most places has now died out.

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The flow of physics

Galileo was proud of his parabolic trajectory. In his first years after arriving at the university in Padua, he had worked with marked intensity to understand the mathematical structure of the trajectory, arriving at a definitive understanding of it by 1610—just as he was distracted by his friend Paolo Sarpi who suggested he improve on the crude Dutch telescopes starting to circulate around Venice.

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Democracy and political violence: the case of France

Does democratic politics eliminate political violence? Are citizens of a democracy prepared to resolve their political differences solely at the ballot box? The fighting at Charlottesville, Virginia in August 2017 suggests that these are questions as relevant today as at the highpoint of European political confrontation during the interwar years.

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Animal of the month: 10 facts about lions

Lions have enchanted humans since early Antiquity, and were even represented in European cave paintings from 35,000 years ago. They are regularly the main characters in folklore and allegory, appearing everywhere from African folktales to the Bible. It is not hard to see why lions are so ubiquitously revered. Their fearsome yet stunning appearance, combined with their endearing hunting tactics and formidable roar, answers any questions as to why early societies named the lion ‘King of the Beasts’, and indeed explains why this name is still used today.

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From Galileo’s trajectory to Rayleigh’s harp

A span of nearly 300 years separates Galileo Galilei from Lord Rayleigh—Galileo groping in the dark to perform the earliest quantitative explorations of motion, Lord Rayleigh identifying the key gaps of knowledge at the turn into the 20th century and using his home laboratory to fill them in. But the two scientists are connected by a continuous thread.

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It’s not just decline and fall anymore…

One evening in mid-October 1764 the young Edward Gibbon sat among the ruins of the Capitol at Rome. The prospect before him must have looked like a Piranesi print–bony cattle grazing on thin grass in the shade of shattered marble columns. It was then and there that he resolved to write the history of the decline and fall of Rome.

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Did Muslims forget about the Crusades?

The crusades are so ubiquitous these days that it is hard to imagine anyone ever forgetting them. People play video games like Assassin’s Creed (starring the Templars) and Crusader Kings II in droves, newsfeeds are filled with images of young men marching around in places like Charlottesville holding shields bearing the old crusader slogan “Deus vult” (God wills it!), and every year books about the crusades are published in their dozens, informing readers about the latest developments in crusader studies.

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Rediscovering ancient Greek music

At the root of all Western literature is ancient Greek poetry—Homer’s great epics, the passionate love poems of Sappho, the masterpieces of Greek tragedy and of comic theatre. Almost all of this poetry was or originally involved sung music, often with instrumental accomp­animent.

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Reluctant migrants in Italy

The attempted murder of six African immigrants in the streets of the northern province of Macerata in February 2018 brought to mind an earlier history of black bodies in Italy. In April 1943, the fascist Ministry of Italian Africa transported a group of over fifty Africans to Macerata from Naples. Today, immigration is transforming Italy to an increasingly diverse country.

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Martin Luther’s Polish revolution

Last year, Playmobil issued one of its best-selling and most controversial figurines yet, a three-inch Martin Luther, with quill, book, and cheerful pink plastic face. This mini-Luther celebrated the 500th anniversary of the Reformation

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History books for Dads [reading list]

In recent years, consumer surveys have shown an upward trend in Father’s Day gift-giving. According to the National Retail Federation, U.S. Father’s Day spending in 2017 hit record highs: reaching an estimated $15.5 billion. This change could be related to nature of modern fatherhood: today’s dads report spending an average of seven hours per week on child care (nearly triple what fathers reported 50 years ago). To celebrate Father’s Day, we put together a video collection of books we think dads will love. More details about each book can be found in the list below. If you have any reading suggestions for Father’s Day, please share in the comments section!

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The Second World War as refugee crisis

On this, the 74th anniversary of the end of the Second World War in Europe, when refugee camps across the globe are overflowing, it’s worth considering that the war itself was the violent climax of a massive refugee crisis. Even before the refugee problems caused by the First World War and the Bolshevik Revolution could be solved, Hitler’s seizure of power in early 1933 convinced Jews and left-leaning political opponents of Nazism to leave their homes. Not long after, refugees from the Spanish Civil War trekked into southern France, followed by millions of families fleeing from the Wehrmacht’s blitzkrieg through western Europe.

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Rome: the Paradise, the grave, the city, the wilderness

The following is an abridged extract from The Rome We Have Lost by John Pemble and discusses how Rome, the eternal city, the centre of Europe and, in many ways, the world evolved into a city no longer central and unique, but marginal and very similar in its problems and its solutions to other modern cities with a heavy burden of “heritage.” These arguments illuminate the historical significance of Rome’s transformation and the crisis that Europe is now confronting as it struggles to re-invent without its ancestral centre—the city that had made Europe what it was, and defined what it meant to be European.

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Learning about the First World War through German eyes

Thanks to the ongoing centenary commemorations, interest in the First World War has never been higher. Whether it be through visiting the poppies at the Tower, touring the battlefields of Belgium and France, tracking grandad’s war or digging in local archives to uncover community stories – unprecedented numbers of people have come face to face with their history in new and exciting ways.

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