Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World


Seeking the elusive dead

It is a well-known fact of British prehistory that burial monuments, sometimes on a monumental scale, are well-documented in the Neolithic and Bronze Age, but largely absent in the Iron Age, outside certain distinctive regional groups at particular periods.

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Charles West and Florence Nightingale: Children’s healthcare in context

At the dawn of the children’s hospital movement in Europe and the West (best epitomised and exemplified by the opening of London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children (GOSH) on 14 February 1852), the plight of sick children was precarious at all levels of society. After a long campaign by Dr Charles West, Great Ormond Street hospital was the first establishment to provide in-patient beds specifically for children in England.

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The literary fortunes of the Gunpowder Plot

The conspirators in what we now know as the Gunpowder Plot failed in their aspiration to blow up the House of Lords on the occasion of the state opening of parliament in the hope of killing the King and a multitude of peers. Why do we continue to remember the plot? The bonfires no longer articulate anti-Roman Catholicism, though this attitude formally survived until 2013 in the prohibition against the monarch or the heir to the throne marrying a Catholic.

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The right to a fair trial: part one

Our legal history stretches back well over eight centuries. But however long this history may be, it is not one of which we can be universally proud, and the freedoms which we enjoy today have had to be hard won over the centuries.

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“Challenging change” – extract from A Foot in the River

We are a weird species. Like other species, we have a culture. But by comparison with other species, we are strangely unstable: human cultures self-transform, diverge, and multiply with bewildering speed. They vary, radically and rapidly, from time to time and place to place. And the way we live – our manners, morals, habits, experiences, relationships, technology, values – seems to be changing at an ever accelerating pace. The effects can be dislocating, baffling, sometimes terrifying. Why is this?

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Shakespeare and the suffragettes

The nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were famously the age of “Bardolatry,” Shakespeare-worship that permeated artistic, social, civic, and political life. As Victorian scientific advances including Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, published in On the Origin of Species (1859), destabilised Christianity as ultimate arbiter of truth, rhetoricians invoked Shakespeare’s plots and characters to support their arguments.

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Dickens’ fascination with London [map]

At the height of his career – during the time he was writing Great Expectations and Our Mutual Friend – Dickens wrote a series of sketches, mostly set in London, which he collected as The Uncommercial Traveller. The persona of the ‘Uncommercial’ allowed Dickens to unify his series of occasional articles by linking them through a shared narrator.

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“There is figures in all things”: Historical revisionism and the Battle of Agincourt

Young Cressingham, one of the witty contrivers of Thomas Middleton’s and John Webster’s comedy Anything for a Quiet Life (1621), faces a financial problem. His father is wasting his inheritance, and his new stepmother – a misogynistic caricature of the wayward, wicked woman – has decided to seize the family’s wealth into her own hands, disinheriting her husband’s children.

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Charles Williams: Oxford’s lost poetry professor

It was strikingly appropriate that Sir Geoffrey Hill should have focused his final lecture as Oxford Professor of Poetry on a quotation from Charles Williams. Not only was the lecture, in May 2015, delivered almost exactly seventy years after Williams’s death; but Williams himself had once hoped to become Professor of Poetry.

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Richard Cobden: hero of the Left or Right?

This year marks the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the death of the great Victorian politician and ‘sage’, Richard Cobden, born in 1804, who died on 2 April 1865. Once a name familiar to every school-child, the prophet of ‘free trade, peace, and goodwill’ is now all but forgotten save among professional historians but he has spawned a diverse political legacy.

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Five astonishing facts about women in Shakespeare

What would Macbeth be without Lady Macbeth? Or Romeo and Juliet with only Romeo? Yet there’s an enormous disparity between female and male representation in Shakespeare’s play. Few, great female characters deliver as many lines or impressive speeches as their male counterparts. While this may not be surprising considering 16th century society, literature, and theater, data can reveal a wider disparity than previously thought.

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10 things you need to know about Magna Carta

This year marks the 800th anniversary of one of the most famous documents in history, the Magna Carta. Nicholas Vincent, author of Magna Carta: A Very Short Introduction , tells us 10 things everyone should know about the Magna Carta.

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Does war cause xenophobia?

Does war cause xenophobia? Or does xenophobia cause war? That’s a “chicken and egg” sort of question. The fact is, fear of “the other” had already prevailed in pre-World War I European society—even in more liberal polities such as Britain—later manifesting itself in various ways throughout the conflict.

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Yorkshire: the birthplace of film?

Any assertions of ‘firsts’ in cinema are open invitations to rebuttal, but the BBC has recently broken news of a claim that the West Yorkshire city of Leeds was in fact film’s birthplace. Louis Le Prince, a French engineer who moved to Leeds in 1866, became one of a number of late 19th-century innovators entering the race to conceive, launch, and patent moving image cameras and projectors.

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Florence Nightingale’s syphilis that wasn’t

Nursing lore has long maintained that the mysterious illness that sent Florence Nightingale to bed for 30 years after her return from the Crimea was syphilis. At least that’s what many nursing students were told in the 1960s, when my wife was working on her BSN. Syphilis, however, would be difficult to reconcile with the fact that Nightingale was likely celibate her entire life and had not a single sign or symptom typical of that venereal infection.

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