Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

The historical roots of Iran: an interview

In April 2017 Bridget Kendall, former BBC diplomatic correspondent and now Master of Peterhouse, Cambridge, interviewed Michael Axworthy, author of Iran: What Everyone Needs to Know® about the history of Iran, the characterization of Iran as an aggressive expansionist power, and the current challenges and developments in the country today. Below is a transcribed version of part of the interview.

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Aleppo: the key to conflict resolution in the Syrian civil war?

Finally, just a couple months ahead of the sixth year’s end in the conflict, an agreement has been reached in Astana, Kazakhstan on 24 January 2016 by the participation of the major domestic and international state and nonstate actors, who had stake in the conflict. Why is Aleppo significant? Why are there external states supporting various rebel groups? And, why did the conflict in Syria take so long to resolve?

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Ancient legal papyri bring lost world to life

Everyone has heard of the ancient Jewish religious scrolls discovered at Qumran by the Dead Sea in the middle of the 20th century. But who is aware that nearly 100 legal papyri have been found in the same region, or that they allow unparalleled access to the ancient social world of Judea and Nabatea in the period 100 BCE to 200 CE?

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Preventing the next flight from Bethlehem

A part of the Christmas story tells how the Holy Family fled Bethlehem, warned in a dream of the vengeful plans of a mad monarch. In recent years, Christians have once again found cause to flee the town of his birth. The case study of Palestinian Christians is emblematic of the larger problems faced by Christian populations in the Middle East.

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The Oxford Place of the Year 2016 is… Aleppo

The Twitter poll has closed and the results are in: our Place of the Year for 2016 is Aleppo. Aleppo lead the polls for longlist and shortlist consistently, and news from the city has dominated coverage of the Syrian Civil War in 2016.

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The paradoxical intellectualism of Gershom Scholem

Gershom Scholem (1897-1982) is widely known as the founder of the academic study of Jewish mysticism or Kabbalah. In the nearly thirty-five years since his death, Scholem’s star has continue to shine brightly in the intellectual firmament and perhaps even more brightly now than in his lifetime.

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An Interview with Jörg Matthias Determann

When I first started researching historiography in Saudi Arabia, I came across many publications by government organizations, as they were the most readily available. At first glance, many of these history books told the same story: a narrative that focused on the royal family and its creation of a first Saudi state during the eighteenth century, a second Saudi state during the nineteenth century, and finally the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia during the twentieth century.

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Holy crap: toilet found in an Iron Age shrine in Lachish

In September, the Israel Antiquities Authority made a stunning announcement: at the ancient Judean city of Lachish, second only to Jerusalem in importance, archaeologists have uncovered a shrine in the city’s gate complex with two vandalized altars and a stone toilet in its holiest section. “Holy crap!” I said to a friend when I first read the news.

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Nebuchadnezzar to Saddam Hussein: The history of the myth of Babylon

‘Babylon’ is a name which throughout the centuries has evoked an image of power and wealth and splendour – and decadence. Indeed, in the biblical Book of Revelation, Rome is damned as the ‘Whore of Babylon’ – and thus identified with a city whose image of lust and debauchery persisted and flourished long after the city itself had crumbled into dust. Powerful visual images in later ages, l perpetuate the negative image Babylon acquired in biblical tradition.

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Observing Ramadan at the Qatar National Library

Every year, we welcome June with dreams of beaches, warm sunshine and a well-deserved vacation. This year, for over 1 billion Muslims across the globe, June represents something more spiritual as it marks the holy month of Ramadan.

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Saladin’s Islamic State

Aleppo, Mosul, Tikrit, Acre… Until just a few years ago, these names meant little to the average American. Now they are all too familiar, as are the atrocities being committed there in the name of religion. Eight hundred years ago the situation in that region was much the same, except then, Christians were committing acts of cruelty no less numerous or shocking than Muslims.

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Sectarian tensions at home

The execution of the popular Shia cleric Nimr al-Nimr by Saudi authorities at the beginning of this year has further intensified Sunni-Shia sectarian tensions not just in Saudi Arabia but the Middle East generally. The carrying out of the sentence, following convictions for a range of amorphous political charges, immediately provoked anti‑Saudi demonstrations among Shia communities throughout the Middle East.

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Shakespeare and Islam

Without Islam there would be no Shakespeare. This may seem surprising or even controversial to those who imagine a “national bard” insulated from the wider world. Such an approach is typified in the words of the celebrated historian A.L. Rowse, who wrote that when it came to creatively connecting with that world, Shakespeare, the “quiet countryman,” was “the least engaged writer there ever was.”

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Can history help us manage humanitarian crises?

People frequently ask whether the study of history can help in managing humanitarian crises. This question is particularly timely given the massive outflow of refugees from Syria and the problems of admitting large numbers of refugees to other countries, including the United States.

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