Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

A tragic necessity? The Reformation approaches 500

Pope Francis recently visited Lund, Sweden to acknowledge with Lutherans the religious significance of the coming year leading up to the 500th anniversary of the Reformation on 31 October 2017. This is the customary date given when Martin Luther placed his 95 Theses on the Castle Church door of Wittenberg, Saxony. A plethora of events across the globe are in the works to commemorate the epochal event.

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British and Irish family names [infographic]

As the population of Britain and Ireland grows, some surnames are becoming even more common and widespread, alongside a steady continuation of uncommon surnames; but how many of us know anything about our family names’ origins – where it comes from, what it means today, and exactly how long it has actually been around for? Names derive from the diverse language and cultural movement of people who have settled in Britain and Ireland over history

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Sugar plums and mince pies

The Worcester joiner, John Read, appears to have been a regular customer of Thomas Dickenson, but two purchases stand out: on 25 December 1740 and again on 26 December 1741 he bought sugar plums and spices to the value of 5 shillings and 2 pence. Perhaps these were a special treat for his family, marking the festive season with small luxuries to relieve what was probably an otherwise rather unremarkable diet.

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Celebrity and politics before Trump

Donald Trump’s surprising victory in the 2016 US Presidential election demonstrated that celebrity is now a political force to be reckoned with. It would seem that this mix of celebrity culture and politics is a relatively new phenomenon, and indeed celebrity itself is often thought to be something distinctly modern. But there were celebrities long before that particular word identified them as such.

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The history behind selected family names in Britain and Ireland [map]

We all have a surname, but how many of us know anything about its roots – origin, history, and what it means today? Family names are evidence of the diverse language and cultural movement of people who have settled in Britain and Ireland over history. Surnames can be varied, but not uncommon – for example there a large amount of occupational names like Smith and Baker.

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Scots Wa Who? Forgotten poems of Scotland

Scotland has inspired much celebrated poetry over the ages, from the stirring verses of Robert Burns, to the imaginative tales of Robert Louis Stevenson and Walter Scott. These poets are now household names, but how many outside of Scotland have heard of William Dunbar or James Hogg?

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Winnicott: the ‘good-enough mother’ radio broadcasts

Our appetite for books on baby care seems unquenchable. The combination of the natural curiosity and uncertainty of the expectant mother, the unknowable mind of the infant, and the expectations of society creates a void filled with all kinds of manuals and confessionals offering advice, theory, reassurance, anecdotes, schedules… and inevitably, inconsistency, disagreement, and further anxiety.

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War stories of WWII

Historian Daniel Todman coalesces various aspects of military history and the personal narratives from those who were in battle. Linking the strategic, political, and cultural sides of war, Todman aims to capture the true consequences of WWII. The excerpt below, from Britain’s War: Into Battle, 1937-1941, illustrates the fluidity of history by telling the stories of the author’s two grandfathers, both veterans with their own respective views on the war.

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What did Shakespeare write?

We have always known already that Shakespeare was a collaborator; he was a man of the theatre which is an inherently very collaborative, social art. The news is that he also collaborated as a writer much more than we used to think he did. We can now say with a high degree of certainty that upward of third of his plays were co-written in some sense or other. In most film portrayals, Shakespeare seems to produce his plays in isolation.

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BHS is back

wrote recently of the demise of department store retailer BHS as a high street presence in the UK. It is a moot point whether some of the pains that ultimately led to the demise of the business were self-inflicted. But what cannot be doubted is that the disappearance of BHS from high streets and shopping centres is a very salutary example f the huge structural shifts which are reshaping the retail industry today.

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Washington, Gates, and a battle for power in the young United States

Conspiracies are seldom what they are cracked up to be. It is in their nature for people to gossip and complain. Through it all they sometimes agree with each other, or pretend to for other reasons. Thus eavesdroppers looking for conspiracy can imagine plenty of it in almost any gathering, particularly if alcohol is lubricating and amplifying the discussions. So it was that in the winter of 1777-78 that some commonplace military griping got elevated to the level of conspiracy, at the center of which were a few hapless men later referred to as the “Conway Cabal.”

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Who were Shakespeare’s collaborators?

When we read Shakespeare’s Complete Works we are primarily, of course, reading Shakespeare. But as a bonus we also get, in the same volume, an excellent anthology of most of the important playwrights who were his collaborators. Shakespeare collaborated for the same reason that most people do: different members of the team are especially good at different tasks.

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Arthur Conan Doyle: spirits in the material world

Sherlock Holmes is literature’s greatest rationalist; his faith in material reality is absolute. In his certainty, he resembles his creator; but not in his materialism. From the beginning of his writing career, Doyle was fascinated by the spirit world. One of his favourite literary modes, the Gothic, allowed him to explore the world of spirits and the supernatural, of vengeful mummies and predatory vampires, of ghosts and necromancers.

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Learning about lexicography: A Q&A with Peter Gilliver (Part 2)

Peter Gilliver has been an editor of the Oxford English Dictionary since 1987, and is now one of the Dictionary’s most experienced lexicographers; he has also contributed to several other dictionaries published by Oxford University Press. In addition to his lexicographical work, he has been writing and speaking about the history of the OED for over fifteen years. In this two part Q&A, we learn more about how his passion for lexicography inspired him to write a book on the development of the Oxford English Dictionary.

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Learning about lexicography: A Q&A with Peter Gilliver (Part 1)

Peter Gilliver has been an editor of the Oxford English Dictionary since 1987, and is now one of the Dictionary’s most experienced lexicographers; he has also contributed to several other dictionaries published by OUP. In addition to his lexicographical work, he has been writing and speaking about the history of the OED for over fifteen years. In this two part Q&A, we learn more about how his passion for lexicography inspired him.

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Shakespeare’s contemporaries and collaborators [infographic]

While it is obvious that Shakespeare drew a tremendous amount of inspiration from Christopher Marlowe (note the effect of The Jew of Malta, Hero and Leander, and Tamburlaine on The Merchant of Venice, As You Like It, and Shakespeare’s history plays, respectively), this kind of borrowing and […]

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