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Academic Insights for the Thinking World

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Soldier, sailor, beggarman, thief

By Clive Emsley
Soldiers, sailors, and airmen reflect the societies from which they come. We should not be surprised therefore if they reflect vices as well as virtues; yet there is often hostility to anyone picking up on the vices of service personnel. When putting together a recent book, I was denied permission to use a quotation from the memoir of an infantry lieutenant about theft by members of his platoon in Germany in 1945. It might be asked: why was the information put in the memoir if it was not to be read? It was not always thus.

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In the path of an oncoming army: civilians in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars

By Mike Rapport
Modern wars, someone once wrote, are fought by civilians as well as by armed forces. In fact, it is of course a truism to say that civilians are always affected by warfare in all periods of the past – as the families left behind, by the economic hardship, by the horrors of destruction, plunder, requisitioning, siege warfare, hunger and worse. The involvement of civilians in modern wars, however, became more intense because, with the advent of ‘total war’, belligerent states began to mobilise the entire population and material resources of the country. The French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars were an early example of the ways in which a modern war could grind millions of people up in its brutal cogs, whether as conscripts in the firing lines of Europe’s mass armies and navies, or as civilians caught in the path of the oncoming battalions and trapped in the crossfire of the fighting itself. At the Oxford Literary Festival on 24 March, I will be speaking about the non-combatants who, in one way or another, found themselves entangled in the wars.

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Ben Jonson: such is fame

By Ian Donaldson
Some years ago, while I was working in Australia’s national capital, Canberra, I was about to give a lecture on Ben Jonson when the telephone rang. It was the Canadian High Commission on the phone. A small delegation (I was told) was just setting out to hear the lecture, and wanted more precise directions to the place where I’d be speaking.

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Eating horse in austerity Britain

By Dr Mark Roodhouse
On 27 April 1942, the Bow Street magistrates convicted The Waldorf Hotel, London, its head chef, and a London horseflesh dealer for ignoring the regulations fixing the maximum price of horsemeat. The chef paid the dealer £6 10s for 78 lb of horsemeat, nearly double the official price of £3 18s. Two American journalists, staying at The Waldorf while reporting on the enthronement of the new Archbishop of Canterbury, read the news with consternation.

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An Oxford guide to women’s history: quiz

In the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography you’ll currently find biographies of 6340 women who’ve shaped British history and culture between the 1st and 21st century — making it one of the most extensive accounts of women’s contribution to national life. Who are these women?

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Ten ways to rethink ‘Arthur’s Britain’

Guy Halsall, author of Worlds of Arthur: Facts and Fictions of the Dark Ages, illuminates the reality behind the façade of myths and legends concerning King Arthur. He outlines here ten ways which will challenge what you thought you knew about the legendary King Arthur and the world in which he was supposed to have lived.

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Five things you might not know about Bobby Moore

By Daniel Parker
From the iconic image of Bobby Moore holding the World Cup trophy aloft to the famous embrace between him and Pele during the 1970 World Cup, from his loyalty to West Ham United Football Club to his brave struggle against bowel cancer in his later years, Bobby Moore represents a significant chapter in the history of world football. But what about the man behind the bronze? Here are five things you might not have known about the man known as Mooro:

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On the Battle of the Atlantic

Winston Churchill is surrounded by many popular and well-entrenched myths. Despite his long and close relationship with the Royal Navy, he is regarded by many as an inept strategist who interfered in naval operations and often overrode his professional advisers with inevitably disastrous results. In the video below, we chatted with author Christopher Bell, who shed some light on the misconceptions behind the Battle of the Atlantic.

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Richard Burbage: Shakespeare’s first Hamlet

By Bart van Es
The death of Richard Burbage in 1619 caused a minor scandal. So lavish was the outpouring of grief that it threatened to overshadow official mourning for Queen Anne who had died a few days before. Shakespeare’s leading actor had a legendary status in the seventeenth century. It is also a minor scandal that he is not more famous today.

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On this day: the 50th anniversary of Sylvia Plath’s death

Philip Carter
Today, 11 February 2013, marks the 50th anniversary of the death of the poet Sylvia Plath (1932-1963). It is an event that has significantly shaped biographies and critical studies of her work — particularly following the publication of Ariel (1965), her posthumous collection edited and prepared by Ted Hughes. Then, as now, many reviewers regarded these poems as foretelling the circumstances of her death. Plath’s biography in the Oxford DNB offers an alternative perspective.

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‘Dr. Murray, Oxford’: a remarkable Editor

Dictionaries never simply spring into being, but represent the work and research of many. Only a select few of the people who have helped create the Oxford English Dictionary, however, can lay claim to the coveted title ‘Editor’. In the first of an occasional series for the OxfordWords blog on the Editors of the OED, Peter Gilliver introduces the most celebrated, Sir James A. H. Murray.

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Five facts about Thomas Bodley

This week marks the 400th anniversary of the death of Sir Thomas Bodley, diplomat and founder of the Bodleian Library. After retiring from public life in 1597, Bodley decided to “set up my staff at the library door in Oxon; being thoroughly persuaded, that in my solitude, and surcease from the Commonwealth affairs, I could not busy myself to better purpose, than by reducing that place (which then in every part lay ruined and waste) to the public use of students.”

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The legacy of the Napoleonic Wars

Mike Rapport
The Duke of Wellington always has a traffic cone on his head. At least, he does when he is in Glasgow. Let me explain: outside the city’s Gallery of Modern Art on Queen Street, there is an equestrian statue of the celebrated general of the Napoleonic Wars. It was sculpted in 1840-4 by the Franco-Italian artist, Carlo Marochetti (1805-1867), who in his day was a dominant figure in the world of commemorative sculpture. Amongst his works is the statue of Richard the Lionheart, who has sat on his mount and held aloft his sword outside the Houses of Parliament since 1860.

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The two funerals of Thomas Hardy

By Phillip Mallett
At 2.00 pm on Monday 16 January 1928, there took place simultaneously the two funerals of Thomas Hardy, O.M., poet and novelist. His brother Henry and sister Kate, and his second wife Florence, had supposed that he would be buried in Stinsford, close to his parents, and beneath the tombstone he had himself designed for his first wife, Emma, leaving space for his own name to be added. But within hours of his death on 11 January, Sydney Cockerell and James Barrie had established themselves at his home at Max Gate, and determined that he should be laid in Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey.

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The death of Edmund Spenser

By Andrew Hadfield
Writing to his friend Dudley Carleton on 17 January 1599, the enthusiastic correspondent John Chamberlain (1553-1628) noted that “Spencer, our principall poet, coming lately out of Ireland, died at Westminster on Satturday last.” Chamberlain’s testimony confirms that Spenser died on 13 January. Chamberlain is a good recorder of court gossip and a barometer of what interested the upper echelons of London society.

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