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Academic Insights for the Thinking World

Who invented modern democracy?

Did modern democracy start its long career in the North Atlantic? Was it invented by the Americans, the French and the British? The French Revolution certainly helped to inject modern meaning into a term previously chiefly associated with the ancient world, with ancient Greece and republican Rome.

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Why do homo sapiens include so much variety?

The past is a mess. To pick a path through the mire, historians have appealed to providence, progress, environmental determinism, class struggle, biology and fate.  No explanation has worked – so far. But try shifting perspective: look for the broadest possible context, the most suggestive comparisons. Climb the cosmic crow’s nest. Imagine what history might […]

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Contemporary lessons from the fall of Rome

It’s a time-honored game, and any number can play. The rules are simple: just take whatever problem is bothering you today, add the word “Rome,” and voilà. You have just discovered why the mightiest empire in Western history came to an end.

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How six elements came together to form life on Earth

How did life begin? We will never know with certainty what the Earth was like four billion years ago, or the kinds of reactions that led to the emergence of life at that time, but there is another way to pose the question. If we ask “how can life begin?” instead of “how did life begin,” that simple change of verbs offers hope.

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How women really got the vote

The most important date is 1949, when the populous nations of China, India and Indonesia enfranchised women; that was 40 per cent of the world’s female population. What was driving these enfranchisements? The great movements of women’s suffrage, where tens of nations enfranchised in a few years, are associated with national solidarity and re-organisation.

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Remembering the final moments of The Great War [excerpt]

11 November 2018 marks 100 years since the end of the Great War. Victory came at a great cost, seeing millions of fatalities in one of the deadliest wars in history. In the below excerpt from The Last Battle, World War I historian Peter Hart shares testimonies about the war’s end from the men who fought until the eleventh hour.

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Alexander the Great in numbers [quiz]

Have you got Alexander’s number? The Treasures of Alexander the Great: How One Man’s Wealth Shaped the World explains the career of the Macedonian king by exploring a set of mind-blowing numbers. Test your knowledge of Alexander’s life with this quiz!

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Dystopia: an update

True aficionados of the earthly apocalypse cannot fail to have noted the deepening pessimism in discourses on what is often euphemistically referred to as “climate change”, but what should be designated “environmental catastrophe”. The Paris Agreement of 2015 conceded the need to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, albeit without binding nations to either achieve this specific target or impose specific binding targets in turn on the worst offenders, namely the fossil fuel industries.

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A quarter century into the exoplanet revolution

In 1969, half a century ago, astronauts first landed on Earth’s sole moon. The first successful robotic landers touched down on the much more distant Venus and Mars in 1970 and 1976, respectively, and in the same decade spacecraft flybys provided the first, fleeting close-ups of Jupiter and Saturn. It was not until two decades […]

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The allure of the peasant in organic farming

Idealizing pre-modern life has a long history in western culture. When Europeans discovered the vast new world of the Americas, new visions and possibilities arose in their imagination, not just of the Native Americans that populated the new continent, but of Europeans themselves. The English philosopher Thomas Hobbes understood Native Americans to live in a pre-civil condition, savages ridden with violence.

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Epidemics and the ‘other’

A scholarly consensus persists: across time, from the Plague of Athens to AIDS, epidemics provoke hate and blame of the ‘other’. As the Danish-German statesman and ancient historian, Barthold Georg Niebuhr proclaimed in 1816: “Times of plague are always those in which the bestial and diabolical side of human nature gains the upper hand.”

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History books for Dads [reading list]

In recent years, consumer surveys have shown an upward trend in Father’s Day gift-giving. According to the National Retail Federation, U.S. Father’s Day spending in 2017 hit record highs: reaching an estimated $15.5 billion. This change could be related to nature of modern fatherhood: today’s dads report spending an average of seven hours per week on child care (nearly triple what fathers reported 50 years ago). To celebrate Father’s Day, we put together a video collection of books we think dads will love. More details about each book can be found in the list below. If you have any reading suggestions for Father’s Day, please share in the comments section!

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Studying mass murder

In the twentieth century, 40 to 60 million defenseless people were massacred in episodes of genocide. The 21st century is not faring much better, with mass murder ongoing e.g. in Myanmar and Syria. Many of these cases have been studied well, both in detailed case studies and in comparative perspectives, but studying mass murder is no picnic.

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America’s neglected conflict: The First World War

Ask an American what comes to mind about the First World War and the response is likely to be “not very much,” and certainly less than about World War II. Perhaps that is to be expected, given the different circumstances under which the United States entered the two wars. In 1941 the choice was inescapable after the searing experience of Pearl Harbor.

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