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Academic Insights for the Thinking World

  • History

Edwin Muir and a story of Europe

While reading recently British Library correspondence files relating to the poet Edwin Muir—the 130th anniversary of whose birth will be on 15 May this year—I was struck, as I have often been, by the important part played in his development as man and poet by his contact with the life of Europe—a continent that is currently high on the agenda of many of us with a possible British Brexit in view.

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Hamilton: the man and the musical

For the past two years, the hip-hop musical Hamilton has been the toast of New York, winning all the awards—Grammies, Tonis, and even a Pulitzer Prize—and grossing higher receipts than any Broadway show in history. It’s coming to London later this year, November 2017, and judging by the interest and hype is already guaranteed to be a sell-out success for years to come.

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The presence of the past: selective national narratives and international encounters in university classrooms

The question of how to remember past events such as World War II has long become official business. Governments, intent on sustaining unifying national narratives, therefore choose what and how the past should be remembered and told, for example through teaching history at secondary schools and memorials/museums. For how states choose to remember tells us something important about how they see themselves.

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The role of women in the life of Frederick Douglass

Although Frederick Douglass captures his journey into freedom and political influence in his autobiographies, he reveals little about his private life. Douglass’s carefully crafted public persona concealed a man whose life was more complicated than he would have liked us to think. Women played key roles in guiding him throughout his turbulent life—from helping him escape slavery to solidifying his role as an abolitionist and suffragist.

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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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George Washington: the great mind behind early America

Throughout history, George Washington has been highly regarded for his common sense and military fortitude. When it comes to the Founding Fathers, his intellectual pursuits have been overshadowed by Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and Alexander Hamilton—who are conventionally considered the great minds of early America. Despite his relative lack of formal education, Washington remained an avid reader throughout his life.

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Ottonian queenship: powerful women in early medieval Germany

In 2008, archaeologists working on the cathedral at Magdeburg, in eastern Germany, opened an ancient tomb and rediscovered the bones of an Anglo-Saxon princess called Edith. She had died in the year 946, aged only about 30. Her remains were brought across the North Sea for scientific tests which verified the identification via tests on her tooth enamel, indicating that the bones belonged to someone who had grown up drinking water from the chalky landscapes of southern Britain.

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Punishing Peccadilloes? Illicit sex at the early Stuart courts

At the Tudor and early Stuart royal courts, the careers of influential politicians and courtiers often depended on the preferences of the monarchs: being in the king’s good graces often mattered as much or more for advancements than ability and training. The personality and quirks of the rulers affected many aspects of a courtier’s life, including what today might be considered the most private: their sex lives.

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What to do with a simple-minded ruler: a medieval solution

The thirteenth century saw the reigns of several rulers ill-equipped for the task of government, decried not as tyrants but incompetents. Sancho II of Portugal (1223–48), his critics said, let his kingdom fall to ruin on account of his “idleness,” “timidity of spirit,” and “simplicity”. The last term, simplex, could mean straightforward, but here it meant only simple-minded, foolish, stupid.

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Fame, race, Nella Larsen, and Nella the Princess Knight

Certainly my oddest moment as a scholar of the biracial woman novelist Nella Larsen (1891–1964) was the day I ran across her in the guise of a pink-clad children’s cartoon character, profiled in the New York Times. The unusual name “Nella” drew my eye to Nella the Princess Knight, but as I read further, the character’s similarities to the literary figure multiplied. Like the novelist, Nick Jr’s new heroine has a black father, a white mother, and a baby sister, and she lives in a multiracial community.

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The free press in the “Good War”

When the president declares war on the media, dubbing it the “enemy of the people,” the first instinct of its defenders is to take to Twitter to emphasize how many reporters have sacrificed their lives in reporting the news. The second is to hark back to two eye-catching events: the Vietnam War, when uncensored media reporting exposed the lies about how the conflict was being waged; and the Watergate scandal, when the Washington Post helped to uncover the massive attempt to cover-up the Nixon administration’s illegal bugging of the Democrats.

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Reading landscapes of violence

The Mewatis sought shelter on the Kala Pahar, the Black Mountain, as the Aravallis are called, but the very next day there was firing from an aircraft sent by the Bharatpur State. Azadi was no freedom but is instead locally called bhaga-bhagi (exodus) and kati (killing) in 1947.

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How libraries served soldiers and civilians during WWI and WWII

Essentials for war: supplies, soldiers, strategy, and…libraries? For the United States Army during both World War I and World War II, libraries were not only requested and appreciated by soldiers, but also established as a priority during times of war. In the midst of battle and bloodshed, libraries continued to serve American soldiers and citizens in the several different factions of their lives.

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Edward Gibbon, Enlightenment historian of religion

On 8 May 1788, Edward Gibbon celebrated the publication of the final three volumes of his History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire at a dinner given by his publisher Thomas Cadell. Gibbon (born 27 April 1737) was just 51; he had completed perhaps the greatest work of history ever written by an Englishman, and certainly the greatest history of what his contemporary David Hume called the “historical age,” and we think of as the Enlightenment.

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Are Americans in danger of losing their Internet?

It’s hard to imagine life without the Internet: no smart phones, tablets, PCs, Netflix, the kids without their games. Impossible, you say? Not really, because we have the Internet thanks to a series of conditions in the United States that made it possible to create it in the first place and that continue to influence its availability. There is no law that says it must stay, nor any economic reason why it should, if someone cannot make a profit from it.

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Heartthrobs and happy endings

Popular romance is often written to a formula. Our heroine falls for the attractions of the hero. Stuff gets in the way. They get through this and marry. We assume that they are happy thereafter. Most of the books published by Mills and Boon or Harlequin have some variation on this kind of narrative, centring on heartthrobs and happy endings.

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