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Academic Insights for the Thinking World

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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Who said what about Margaret Thatcher? [quiz]

No-one was neutral about Margaret Thatcher. During her premiership (and ever since), she has inspired both wild enthusiasm and determined opposition, and many vivid descriptions as a result. Many critics have described Margaret Thatcher as divisive, accusing her of paying little attention to social issues. Do you know which of these remarks were made by her supporters and which by her opponents?

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The life and works of Elizabeth Gaskell

On 29 September 2017, we celebrate the 207th birthday of Elizabeth Gaskell, a nineteenth century English novelist whose works reflect the harsh conditions of England’s industrial North. Unlike some of her contemporaries, whose works are told from the perspectives of middle class characters, Gaskell did not restrict herself, and her novels Mary Barton and Ruth feature working class heroines.

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The mystery behind Frances Coke Villiers [extract]

Frances Coke Villiers was raised in a world which demanded women to be obedient, silent, and chaste. At the age of fifteen, Frances was forced to marry John Villiers, the elder brother of the Duke of Buckingham, as a means to secure her father’s political status. Defying both social and religious convention, Frances had an affair with Sir Robert Howard, and soon became pregnant with his child. The aftermath of their affair set Frances against some of the most influential people in seventeenth century England.

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