Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

Why British communities are stronger than ever

Although it’s fashionable to bemoan the collapse of traditional communities in Britain and the consequent loss of what social scientists have come to call “social capital”, we should be wary of accepting this bold story at face value.

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A forgotten African satirist: A.B.C. Merriman-Labor

In 1904, twenty-six-year-old A.B.C. Merriman-Labor stamped the red dust of Freetown’s streets from his shoes and headed for London. There he intended to prove his literary skill to the world. The Sierra Leone Weekly News had assured him that his color would no obstacle there, and he could “go anywhere, wherever his merits, either intellectual or social, will take him.”

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Standing in Galileo’s shadow: Why Thomas Harriot should take his place in the scientific hall of fame

The enigmatic Elizabethan Thomas Harriot never published his scientific work, so it’s no wonder that few people have heard of him. His manuscripts were lost for centuries, and it’s only in the past few decades that scholars have managed to trawl through the thousands of quill-penned pages he left behind. What they found is astonishing—a glimpse into one of the best scientific minds of his day, at a time when modern science was struggling to emerge from its medieval cocoon.

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250 Years of Oxford weather

Talking about the weather is a national obsession. Thomas Hornsby talked about the weather, or at least wrote about it, in Oxford back in the mid-eighteenth century. His surviving diaries from 1767 mark the commencement of the longest continuous single-site weather records in the British Isles, and one of the longest anywhere in the world.

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Queen Victoria’s 200th birthday

Few lives have been as heavily documented as Queen Victoria’s, who kept a careful record of her own life in journals from a young age. In celebration of Victoria’s 200th birthday today, discover six facts you may not have known about one of the longest-reigning British monarchs.

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Should the people always get what they want from their politicians?

Should we listen to the voice of “the people” or the conviction of their representatives? Britain’s vote to leave the European Union has inspired virulent debate about the answer. Amidst Theresa May’s repeated failure to pass her Brexit deal in the House of Commons this spring, the Prime Minister appealed directly to the frustrations and feelings of the people. “You the public have had enough,” she asserted in a speech of March 20.

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How historians research when they’re missing crucial material

It can be deeply frustrating to know that that all the answers on a particular topic were once on a scrap of paper that is now gone forever. However, neither the blank page nor the dreaded word ‘weeded’ need be an insuperable barrier to historical research. Alternative sources nearly always exist; it is just a matter of finding them.

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Gardens and cultural memory

Most gardens are in predictable places and are organised in predictable ways. On entering an English suburban garden, for example, one expects to see a lawn bordered by hedges and flowerbeds, a hard surface with a table for eating al fresco on England’s two days of summer, and a water feature quietly burbling in a corner.

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Harold Wilson’s resignation honours – why so controversial?

On February 6 Marcia Falkender, the Baroness Falkender, died. She was one of the late Prime Minister Harold Wilson’s closest and longest-serving colleagues, first as his personal then political secretary. An enigmatic figure, she has been variously reviled, mocked, and defended since the end of Wilson’s political career.

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The Cambridge Philosophical Society

In 2019, the Cambridge Philosophical Society celebrates its 200th anniversary. When it was set up in 1819, Cambridge was not a place to do any kind of serious science. There were a few professors in scientific subjects but almost no proper laboratories or facilities. Students rarely attended lectures, and degrees were not awarded in the […]

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How boring was life in the British Empire?

For centuries, the British Empire has been portrayed as a place of adventure and excitement. Novels and films, from Robinson Crusoe to Lawrence of Arabia, romanticized the empire. Yet in 1896, after only one month in India, twenty-one year old Winston Churchill declared Britain’s largest and most important colony “dull and interesting.”

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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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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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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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Are we misinformed or disinformed?

“Disinformation” is a common term at present, in the media, in academic and political discourse, along with related concepts like “fake news”. But what does it really mean? Is it different from misinformation, propaganda, deception, “fake news” or just plain lies? Is it always bad, or can it be a useful and necessary tool of statecraft? And how should we deal with it?

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