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Academic Insights for the Thinking World

Five things you might not know about Edmund Burke

Edmund Burke (1730-1797) was an Irishman and a prominent Whig politician in late 18th century England, but he is now most commonly known as “the founder of modern conservatism”—the canonical position which he has held since the beginning of the 20th century in Britain and the rest of the world.

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Secret history: uncovering stories that never officially happened

Spy fiction has been a popular genre for over 100 years. Tales of Bond and Bourne continue to fascinate audiences worldwide. Sometimes, however, the realities of the shadowy world of espionage can be just as engrossing. There is just one problem: finding out what actually happened. This is especially the case when writing about deniable interference in the affairs of others: intelligence officers know it as “covert action.”

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John Tyndall in America

The development of the world, and of scientific discovery, is highly contingent on the actions of individual people. The Irish-born John Tyndall (c. 1822–93), controversial scientist, mountaineer, and public intellectual, nearly emigrated to America in his early 20s, like so many of his fellow countrymen. Had he done so, the trajectory of nineteenth-century scientific discovery would have been different.

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The social importance of dance in the 17th and 18th centuries

In the 21st century, dance is a part of life—it can be an occupation, a part of traditional weddings, a hobby, and a pastime, among other things. However, it is regarded quite differently than it was in the time of the Enlightenment, when it was a much more important part of regular social life, especially for the wealthier classes. In this time, young adults went to dance instructors to make sure they were properly trained for the social activities they would soon be a part of. Read on for excerpts of correspondence from Electronic Enlightenment highlighting just how important dancing was to everyday life in the 17th and 18th centuries.

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Air Power: how aerial warfare has changed and remained the same

This year is the centenary of the Royal Air Force (RAF), which was the first independent air force.  Before I started writing Aerial Warfare, I would have assumed the answer to the question, ‘what was the first air arm?’ to be an early 20th century affair, armed with rickety biplanes.

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Shaping the legacy of Dame Cicely Saunders [excerpt]

She arrived in 1938, at age twenty-one, for the Michaelmas term. In that year, there were 850 women studying at the University, making up a record 18.5% of the student body. Cicely elected to read Politics, Philosophy, and Economics (P.P.E.). This programme of study had been established at Oxford in the 1920s as an alternative to ‘Greats’ or Classics. It was generally known as ‘Modern Greats’.

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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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Writing the first draft of history in the Middle Ages

The end of the twelfth century and the start of the thirteenth century proved to be a time where history seemed to be moving an an unusual speed. It as a period where one piece of remarkable news could hardly be apprehended before it was overtaken by another even more extraordinary. It is known as the Angevin dynasty, the era of Henry II, Thomas Becket, Richard the Lionheart, Eleanor of Aquitaine, and more.

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Miscarriages of justice

Today we take it for granted that anyone convicted of a crime should be able to appeal to a higher court. However, this wasn’t always so. English lawyers traditionally set great store in the deterrent value of swift and final justice. Over the course of the nineteenth century, reformers pressed for the establishment of a court that could review sentencing and order retrials on points of law or new evidence. These advocates of change met with fierce resistance from the judiciary and much of the legal profession, and the cause of reform had little success until a spectacular miscarriage of justice came to light.

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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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A holy revolution

With hundreds of churches built, rebuilt, or restored in the nineteenth century, they can be found nearly everywhere today. Out of thousands of possible choices, below are five characteristic specimens — four small churches and one large synagogue — that explain Victorian belief.

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Test your knowledge of the English legal system

The English legal system has a long history of traditions and symbolism. Do you know your periwigs from your powdered wigs, your judicial dress from your barrister’s robes, and your green bags from your gavels? While some of the quirks and traditions of the English legal system may seem archaic, even bizarre, they from part of the fundamental constitution of UK culture and are therefore of relevance to anyone with an interest in it.

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Who wrote Gulliver’s Travels?

Originally published anonymously, Jonathan Swift sent the manuscript for the satirical masterpiece Gulliver’s Travels to his publisher under a pseudonym and handled any correspondence and corrections through friends. As such, even though close friends such as Alexander Pope knew about the publication, Swift still kept up the ruse of feigning ignorance about the book in his correspondence with them.

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Historical Commemoration and Denial in Australia

Last month a statue commemorating Captain James Cook in Hyde Park in Sydney, Australia was attacked, the words ‘Change the date’ spray-painted on it. This act continues recent protests by indigenous people and their supporters which have called for the changing of the day upon which Australia celebrates its founding: 26 January 1788.

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The building blocks of ornithology

Museum collections are dominated by vat collections of natural history specimens—pinned insects in glass-topped drawers, shells, plants pressed on herbarium sheets, and so on. Most of these collections were never intended for display, but did work in terms of understanding the variety and distribution of nature.

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