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Academic Insights for the Thinking World

The forgotten history of free trade: the Medici dynasty and Livorno

The Medici had everything, almost. They got immensely rich as bankers during the fifteenth century. As patrons of the arts they assembled some of the finest collections in Italy. They placed two scions on the papal throne as Leo X and Clement VII. They won political control over the city of Florence. The Medici lacked only one thing to render their earthly felicity complete: they lacked a port city.

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Lützen and the birth of modern warfare

The battle of Lützen between the imperial and Swedish armies was fought about 19km southwest of Leipzig in Saxony, Germany, on Tuesday 16 November 1632. It was neither the largest nor the bloodiest battle of the Thirty Years War (1618-48), Europe’s most destructive conflict prior to the twentieth-century world wars, but it is certainly the best remembered today. Lützen’s place in military history has even wider resonance.

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Europeans and Britain’s wider world

Is the wider world really the alternative to Europe that some of today’s commentators claim? Britain’s eighteenth-century experience suggests not. Then, the supposed alternatives, in the eyes of some contemporaries, were Europe and empire. But look more closely at Britain’s empire, and we can see that its development, defence, and expansion owed much to other Europeans.

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Sexuality and the Holocaust

When, at one point in 2008, Nancy Wingfield approached me with the idea that I should write a paper about prostitution in Theresienstadt, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. That was probably for the best, because before long, I was confronted with hostile, personal attacks from survivors, which demonstrated quite clearly how sensitive the topic was.

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What’s in her name?

It must top the list of famous misquotes: Shakespeare’s Juliet did not say “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” But she did ask “What’s in a name?” thus pinpointing a problem that still vexes women today. When I turned 40, I rebranded myself from Pat to Patricia, a shift that was personally gratifying yet had no serious effects. But some women have had to contemplate more serious consequences.

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The counter-revolution in Europe

Several months after the fall of the Berlin Wall Ralf Dahrendorf wrote a book fashioned on Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France called Reflections on the Revolution in Europe. The intention was to explain the extraordinary events taking place in Europe around 1989.Today we are witnessing an equally turbulent period in Europe, however heading in the opposite direction.

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Want to know the Latin for “true love”?

Then Ovid is your man – and woman, as the case may be … Fidus amor. That’s “true love” in Latin. Historically, such love is often claimed to have emerged with the troubadours of twelfth century Provence. The troubadours used the Occitan term fin amor for this kind of love rather than the more famous […]

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Simon of Montfort and the Statutes of Pamiers

“Kill them. The Lord will know those that are his.” This statement, attributed to a Cistercian abbot at the sack of Béziers in 1209, encapsulates for the modern mind the essence of the Albigensian Crusade (1208-1229). However, a view of the Albigensian Crusade that encompasses only its violence will miss a great deal of the movement’s significance.

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The Islamic monuments of Spain: four centuries ago and today

Spanish historians and antiquarians in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries revised the medieval reception of Islamic monuments in the Peninsula as architectural wonders and exotic trophies. They endeavoured to re-appropriate these hybrid architectures by integrating them into a more homogeneous cultural memory focused on Spain’s Roman and Christian past.

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Knowledge of the Holocaust: the meaning of ‘extermination’

Did ordinary Dutchmen know of the Holocaust during the war? That might seem an easy question to answer. Research has shown that the illegal press, Dutch radio broadcast from London, and even exiled queen Juliana characterized the deportation of the Jews almost from the beginning in the summer of 1942 as mass murder, destruction and, in the Queen’s words, “systematic extermination.”

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The hippie trail and the question of nostalgia

The term ‘hippie’ was coined around 1965; the term ‘hippie trail’ began to circulate in the late 1960s: it referred principally to the long route from London (or sometimes Amsterdam) to Katmandu. This was not an actual path, although disparate travellers often, by coincidence, followed a route that led through the same cafés, campsites, border-crossings, […]

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A few bad apples: Stalin, torture, and the Great Terror

On 10 January 1939, Stalin wrote that the Central Committee of the Communist Party had permitted the use of what was euphemistically called “the application of physical measures of persuasion” in interrogations from 1937. To date, there is no extant written order on the use of torture during the Great Terror. Stalin’s admission demonstrates conclusively that directives on torture came from the top.

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Catalan language, identity, and independence

The Catalan sovereignty movement came to a head on 1 October 2017 in a beleaguered referendum declared illegal by the Spanish government, which sent in thousands of police and civil guard troops, used force against would-be voters, confiscated ballot boxes, and jailed civic leaders and elected officials on charges of sedition. The political crisis for the Spanish state as well as Catalonia continues.

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The massacre at Paris

When the church bells rang out in Paris on Saint Bartholomew’s Day, 24 August 1572, they heralded a massacre. At dawn, on royal orders the Catholic civic militia assassinated the admiral Gaspard de Coligny and other Protestant leaders. Their cry that “the king wills it!” preceded thousands of killings of Protestants in cities across France during the month that followed.

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Putin and patriotism: national pride after the fall of the Soviet Union [excerpt]

Following the fall of the Soviet Union, Vladimir Putin undertook the formidable task of uniting a restless and disorganized Russia. Throughout the early 1990s, the national narrative behind USSR’s regime remained unclear—causing national pride to deteriorate in the confusion. In the following excerpt from The Long Hangover, journalist Shaun Walker sheds light on how Putin used Russia’s victory in World War II to reestablish patriotism within the new Russia.

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The Great Terror in Soviet Ukraine: a timeline

Between the summer of 1937 and November 1938, the Stalinist regime arrested over 1.5 million people for “counterrevolutionary” and “antisoviet” activity and either summarily executed or exiled them to the Gulag. This was Stalin’s “Great Terror” and, contrary to popular belief, the largest number of victims were not elites or “Old Bolsheviks,” but common people. Below is a timeline of The Great Terror in Soviet Ukraine.

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