Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

Exploring the Da Vinci Requiem

Wimbledon Choral Society and conductor, Neil Ferris, commissioned me to write the Da Vinci Requiem to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Leonardo da Vinci’s death. Leonardo died on 2 May 1519 at the Château du Clos Lucé, Amboise, France; Wimbledon Choral Society will premiere the work in the Royal Festival Hall, London, on 7 May 2019.

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Notre-Dame, a work in progress

At dusk on Monday, April 15th, just in time for the evening news, the world was treated to the horrendous spectacle of uncontrollable flames licking the roof of Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris. The fire spread from a scaffold that had been installed six months earlier for restorations.

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Reconsidering the period room as a museum-made object

Period rooms were widespread among European museums during the last decades of the nineteenth century, and became popular in North American institutions in the early twentieth. But the debate about whether period rooms are “authentic” or “fake” tends to ignore what they really are: a museum-made object.

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Contemporary lessons from the fall of Rome

It’s a time-honored game, and any number can play. The rules are simple: just take whatever problem is bothering you today, add the word “Rome,” and voilà. You have just discovered why the mightiest empire in Western history came to an end.

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A European peace plan turns 325

2018 marks the 325th anniversary of the publication of William Penn’s Essay towards the Present and Future Peace of Europe, which proposed, among other things, the establishment of a European Parliament.

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Forty years of democratic Spain

Spaniards are celebrating with some fanfare the 40th anniversary of their democratic constitution that was approved overwhelmingly in a referendum on 6 December 1978, sealing the end of the 36-year dictatorship of General Francisco Franco, the victor of the country’s civil war. Whichever way one looks at it, Spain has been transformed profoundly since then.

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Remaking Europe after the First World War

In the wake of the November 11, 1918 armistice between Germany and the Allies, high-minded idealism confronted a mélange of very unpleasant realities. All the belligerents had claimed to be fighting for a noble set of aims, and the United States President, Woodrow Wilson, went further. He proposed the creation of a supranational agency, the League of Nations, to govern international relations in a pacific age of transparent, altruistic diplomacy.

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Ypres: the city of ghosts

Today’s Ieper still has thousands of British visitors, with tourism as important to the economy of the city as it was in the twenties. But, in addition to the British, the Australians, Canadians, and New Zealanders are now coming in even greater numbers, as well as people from many other nations fascinated and intrigued by meeting the last great eyewitness left of the Great War: the landscape. Modern Ieper is a world forged and shaped in the furnace of a conflict that ended one hundred years ago this November.

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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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