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Academic Insights for the Thinking World

Transcending Dystopia

Digging into the vaults of the unknown: the “Transcending Dystopia” research diaries

Research for Transcending Dystopia over the course of almost a decade was truly a journey, piecing together disparate snippets that have been transmitted in different repositories to gain insight into the musical practices and lives of Jews in postwar Germany. Among the 26 archives and private collections I consulted, two experiences stand out—the first being somewhat unusual, the second being quite extraordinary.

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After the Black Death

The Black Death: how did the world’s deadliest pandemic change society?

COVID-19 has ignited global interest in past pandemics, and the Black Death of 1346-53 is the worst in recorded history. Recent research has transformed our understanding of this lethal disease, which coincided with environmental stress and rapid climate change. But in the long term it proved a watershed in human history, triggering a range of institutional, economic, and social changes that opened up the route to liberal modernity.

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Athens After Empire

Capturing your “rude” conqueror

Roman civilization is one of the foundation stones of our own western culture, and we are often exposed in newspaper and magazine articles, books, and even TV documentaries to the glories of Roman art, architecture, literature (the chances are you’ve read Virgil’s Aeneid), rhetoric (we’ve all heard of Cicero), even philosophy. Yet in the late first century BC the Roman poet Horace wrote: “Captive Greece captured her rude conqueror and introduced her arts to the crude Latin lands” (Epistle 2.1.156). Did he really mean that Rome owed its cultural and intellectual heritage to the Greeks?

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Athens After Empire

Down but never out

The Athenians were in a panic in 490 BC. A Persian army had landed at Marathon, on the coastline east of Athens, intent on capturing the city and even conquering all Greece. The famous battle of Marathon was Athens’ coming of age as a military power; a decade later its navy helped to block another Persian invasion (led by Xerxes), a stepping-stone to Athens’ rise as a wealthy imperial power.

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MI5, the Cold War, and the Rule of Law

MI5 and Russian interference, now and then

On 21 July 2020, the UK parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee published its long-delayed report on “the Russian threat to the UK.” Although heavily redacted, the report was wide-ranging and dealt with a number of issues, including the threat to democracy, highlighting concerns about potential Russian interference in the Scottish referendum in 2014, the EU […]

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Beethoven 1806

Beethoven’s virtual collaborations

Since the onset of the pandemic, online platforms like Facebook and YouTube have become indispensable hubs of musical collaboration. Simply scroll down your Facebook feed to encounter collaborative virtual performances of everything from “Over the Rainbow” to Mahler’s Third Symphony, each one painstakingly assembled from individual recordings of sequestered singers and isolated instrumentalists. While physically distant musical collaborations […]

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Eastern Medieval Architecture

The reconversion of Hagia Sophia in perspective

At the beginning of January 1921, a special service was held in the cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City, with Orthodox and Episcopal clergy offering prayers in six languages—Hungarian, Greek, Arabic, Russian, Serbian, and English—for the restoration of Hagia Sophia as a Christian sanctuary. As reported in the New York Times, the […]

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Inca Apocalypse by R. Alan Covey

The apocalypse of the Inca empire [timeline]

The Inca Empire rose and fell over the course of a millennium, driven to its demise by internal strife and Spanish conquistadors. This timeline highlights a few key events from the rise of the Inca Empire to its apocalypse.    Header image by Eliazaro via Pixabay

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Writing a non-fiction historical thriller

The distinguished biographer, Ben Pimlott, used to say that historians should try to write like novelists. To my knowledge, he never developed the thought, but what he meant was clear. While the historical monograph may make a significant contribution to knowledge, too often it is boring to read. He wanted us to deploy the skills […]

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The dividing line between German culture and Nazi culture

In November 1942, Anne Frank drafted a fictional advertising brochure for the rear part of the building in central Amsterdam that sheltered her and other Jews. Turning Nazi oppression on its head, she ruled that “all civilized languages” were permitted, “therefore no German.” Still, she was prepared to qualify the ban on the language of […]

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How ancient Christians responded to pandemics

Ancient Christians knew epidemics all too well. They lived in a world with constant contagion, no vaccines, medieval medical practices, and no understanding of basic microbiology. Hygiene was horrendous, sanitation sickening. People shared “toilette paper”(a sponge-on-a-stick). Besides that, in the second and the third centuries CE, two pandemics rocked the Roman World. The first, the […]

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How China spurs global dissent

China’s rulers launched the New Silk Road venture—a trillion-dollar development campaign that is often compared to the Marshall Plan—to promote connectivity across what they believed to be poorly integrated regions of Eurasia and Africa. Much to their surprise, however, they discovered that many of these societies were already wired to the hilt—not by the infrastructure […]

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Polychromy in Greek and Roman sculpture [video]

Coined by archaeologist and architectural theorist Antoine-Chrysostome Quatremère de Quincy, the term “polychromy” has been in use since the early 19th century to denote the presence of any element of colour in Greek and Roman sculpture.

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