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Music in history: overcoming historians’ reluctance to tackle music as a source

Music histories like these do not offer anything as technical as a musicological analysis, yet they treat music as much more than a soundtrack. They delve deeply into the stylistic attributes, technological production and commercial distribution of music, while situating it within broader contexts shaped by migration, empire, and war, as well as by racial, ethnic, and gender hierarchy.

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Protest songs and the spirit of America [playlist]

In a rare television interview, Jimi Hendrix appeared on a network talk show shortly after his historic performance at the Woodstock Music & Art Fair. When host Dick Cavett asked the guitarist about the “controversy” surrounding his wild, feedback-saturated version of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” Hendrix gently demurred.

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How sibling rivalry impacts politics

Was Ed Miliband right to stand against his brother David for the leadership of the Labour party in 2010? Or should he have stepped aside to give his elder brother a clear run? There was much media debate over his decision to challenge David, and relations between the brothers have remained cool and distant to […]

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How women really got the vote

The most important date is 1949, when the populous nations of China, India and Indonesia enfranchised women; that was 40 per cent of the world’s female population. What was driving these enfranchisements? The great movements of women’s suffrage, where tens of nations enfranchised in a few years, are associated with national solidarity and re-organisation.

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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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Brian Eno’s Music for Airports 40 years later

Forty years ago, Brian Eno released Ambient 1: Music for Airports and Virgin-EMI has just given it a deluxe vinyl re-issue. The first work to formally identify itself as “ambient,” it garnered modest attention and a bit of derision; Rolling Stone referred to it as “aesthetic white noise.”

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The evolution of the word “terror”

Terror comes into English in the late fourteenth century, partly from Middle French terreur, and partly directly from Latin terror. The word means both “the state of being greatly frightened” and “the cause of that state,” an ambiguity that is central to its future political meanings. In Early Modern English, terror comes to stand for a state of fear provoked on the very edge of the social.

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Making music American: a playlist from 1917

The entrance of the United States into World War I on April 6, 1917 inspired a flood of new music from popular songwriters. Simultaneously, the first recording of instrumental jazz was released in April 1917, touching off a fad for the new style and inspiring record companies to promote other artists before year’s end.

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Have you heard of René Blum?

Well? Have you? If not, it’s probably because René Blum’s lifelong career in the arts has been safely hidden from the history books.  Only his brother Léon Blum, the first Socialist and Jewish Prime Minister of France, received enormous attention. But Judith Chazin-Bennahum knows why René Blum deserves to be remembered: because he was an extraordinary man. Chazin-Bennahum’s book introduces the reader to the world of the Belle Epoque artists and writers, the Dreyfus Affair, the playwrights and painters who reigned supreme during the late 19th century and early 20th century period in Paris. Below she provides us with just a few of his most impressive accomplishments.

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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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What Matthew Shepard’s interment taught us about religion

On 26 October 2018, twenty years after two men in Wyoming brutally murdered gay college student Matthew Shepard, the Washington National Cathedral hosted a service to inter Shepard’s ashes in a permanent memorial. More than four thousand people attended the service that was co-led by the Reverend Gene Robinson, the first openly-gay elected bishop of […]

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Sick of sickness! Recovering a happier history

Horrible histories are not just for young readers: adult historians also seem to have a penchant for painful tales of disaster and distress. This is especially apparent in the realm of medical history, where it has been said that before the birth of modern pharmaceutics the complete recovery of health was so rare that it barely existed as a concept.

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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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Remembering the final moments of The Great War [excerpt]

11 November 2018 marks 100 years since the end of the Great War. Victory came at a great cost, seeing millions of fatalities in one of the deadliest wars in history. In the below excerpt from The Last Battle, World War I historian Peter Hart shares testimonies about the war’s end from the men who fought until the eleventh hour.

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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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