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Academic Insights for the Thinking World

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Remembrance Sunday

Remembrance Sunday, falling on 11th November in 2012 and traditionally observed on the Sunday closest to this date, marks the anniversary of the cessation of hostilities in the First World War. It serves as a day to reflect upon those who have given their lives for the sake of peace and freedom. We have selected a number of memorable, meaningful and moving quotes to commemorate the fallen.

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The birth of disco

By Denny Hilton
On this day in 1959, a nightclub opened its doors in the quiet city of Aachen, West Germany, and a small revolution in music took place. The Scotch-Club was similar to many restaurant-cum-dancehalls of the time, with one exception: rather than hire a live band to provide the entertainment, its owner decided instead to install a record player…

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Is America an empire?

By Timothy H. Parsons
The intense controversy that this question engenders is remarkable. On the left, critics of assertive American foreign, military, and economic policies depict these policies as aggressively immoral by branding them “imperial.” On the right, advocates for an even more forceful application of American “hard power,” such as Niall Ferguson and the other members of his self-described “neo-imperialist gang,” argue that the United States should use its immense wealth and military might to impose order and stability on an increasingly chaotic world.

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Josquin des Prez

By Jesse Rodin
No figure in Western music poses a greater challenge to the writing of history than Josquin des Prez (ca. 1450–1521). That’s because there is no composer of comparative fame — musicians regularly speak Josquin’s name in the same breath as Bach, Beethoven, or Brahms — about whom so very little is known.

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The Roman Republic: Not just senators in togas

When we gaze back at the ancient world of the Roman Republic, what images are conjured in our minds? We see senators clad in togas, and marching Roman legions. The Carthaginian Hannibal leading his elephants over the Alps into Italy, Julius Caesar crossing the Rubicon and his murder on the Ides of March. These images are kept fresh by novels and comic books, and by television series like Rome and Spartacus: Blood and Sand.

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The difficulty of insider book theft

By Travis McDade
On Sunday, the New York Times reported on the wholesale looting of the prestigious Girolamini Library in Naples, Italy, by its director, Marino Massimo de Caro. He seems to have treated the place as his own personal collection, stealing and selling hundreds — maybe thousands — of rare and antiquarian books during his 11 month tenure. This has provoked the normal amount of head-shaking and hand-wringing. But what is most striking — aside from the embarrassing appointment of the unqualified de Caro to the job in the first place — is how terrible a thief he was.

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The Demise of the Toff

By William Doyle
Born to tenants of a country squire in Yorkshire, I knew about what my grandmother called ‘toffs’ at an early age. The squire was a toff. As a child I scarcely realised that the squire and his lifestyle were already relics of a fast-disappearing pattern of society.

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A small town near Auschwitz: 70 years on

By Mary Fulbrook
Take a trip to the Polish town of Będzin today, and there is not a lot to see. The ruins of the old castle rise above the town; a Lidl supermarket helps the casual traveller searching in vain for an open pub or restaurant. This certainly does not seem to be a key location on the trail to Auschwitz, now the epicentre of what might be called Holocaust tourism.

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The medieval origins of 20th century anti-semitism in Germany

By Nico Voigtländer and Hans-Joachim Voth
When the Black Death struck in Europe, it killed between 30 and 70 percent of the population. What could account for such a catastrophe? Quickly, communities started to blame Jews for the plague. Pogroms occurred all over Switzerland, Northern France, the Low Countries, and Germany. Typically, the authorities in a location would be alerted to the “danger” by a letter sent from another town (Foa 2000). In typical cases, the city council then ordered the burning of the entire Jewish community.

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Who really deciphered the Egyptian Hieroglyphs?

The polymath Thomas Young (1773-1829) — physicist, physiologist, physician and polyglot, among several other things — became hooked on the scripts and languages of ancient Egypt in 1814, the year he began to decipher the Rosetta Stone. He continued to study the hieroglyphic and demotic scripts with variable intensity for the rest of his life, literally until his dying day.

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Off with Their Heads! (Or not…)

By Paul Friedland
Two hundred and twenty-three years ago today, the marquis de Launay looked out the window of the fortress of the Bastille and saw a large crowd of Parisians massing outside. Up until that moment, de Launay had possessed a rather cushy job, overseeing a “fortress” that, truth be told, probably held only six or seven prisoners, mostly lunatics and counterfeiters. The crowd expressed its intention to search the premises for gunpowder (to be used to defend the city from an imminent attack by royal forces which in fact never came), but de Launay refused them entry.

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Titanic: One Family’s Story

By John Welshman
At the time of the collision, Hanna Touma was standing in the doorway of the family’s cabin. She was talking to one of the other migrants from her village. It was just a jolt, but it made the door slam shut, cutting her index finger. Two of the men went to find out what had happened while Hanna went to the Infirmary to get her hand bandaged. Everyone she passed wondered what had caused the jolt and why the ship had stopped.

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Alan Turing, Code-Breaker

By Jack Copeland
Germany’s Army, Air Force, and Navy transmitted many thousands of coded messages each day during the Second World War. These ranged from top-level signals, such as detailed situation reports prepared by generals at the battle fronts and orders signed by Hitler himself, down to the important minutiae of war, such as weather reports and inventories of the contents of supply ships. Thanks to Turing and his fellow codebreakers, much of this information ended up in allied hands — sometimes within an hour or two of its being transmitted.

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5 July 1962: Algerian Independence

By Martin Evans
On 5 July 1962, Algeria achieved independence from France after an eight-year-long war — one of the longest and bloodiest episodes in the whole decolonisation process. An undeclared war in the sense there was no formal beginning of hostilities, the intensity of this violence is partly explained by the fact that Algeria (invaded in 1830) was an integral part of France, but also by the presence of European settlers who in 1954, numbered one million as against the nine million Arabo-Berber population.

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Treaty of Versailles signed

This Day in World History
On 28 June 1919, in the famous Hall of Mirrors of the French palace at Versailles, more than a thousand dignitaries and members of the press gathered to take part in and see the signing of the treaty that spelled out the peace terms after World War I. American President Woodrow Wilson, British Prime Minister Lloyd George, and French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau were the among the leaders in attendance.

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