Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

Secret history: uncovering stories that never officially happened

Spy fiction has been a popular genre for over 100 years. Tales of Bond and Bourne continue to fascinate audiences worldwide. Sometimes, however, the realities of the shadowy world of espionage can be just as engrossing. There is just one problem: finding out what actually happened. This is especially the case when writing about deniable interference in the affairs of others: intelligence officers know it as “covert action.”

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Towards a postcolonial nineteenth century

French and Francophone Studies is a vibrant and diverse field of study, in which research on nineteenth century literature, and research from the perspective of postcolonial theory, are thriving—and indeed represent particular areas of growth. What does it mean, then, to argue for a “postcolonial nineteenth century”? It would certainly be misleading to see the two areas as completely divorced or discordant.

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The eleventh hour: a look at the final battles of the Great War [timeline]

On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918, the Great War came to an end. Conventional accounts of the war often allow these closing battles to be overshadowed by opening moves and earlier battles. However, the human costs behind the Allied victory cannot be truly understood without examining the summer of 1918. Using personal accounts featured in The Last Battle, the timeline below captures the final battles of World War I through the eyes of the men fighting them.

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Advancements by women throughout history [Timeline]

“It is well known that women receive little or no attention in traditional history writing.” In honour of women’s history month, we will be looking at the vital role of women in history. Based on numerous journal articles and covering various periods between the 1300s and 1950s the timeline highlights key figures and movements that contributed towards the advancement of women across various regions.

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Why the past is disputed and academic historians (don’t) matter

In all these instances, academic historians have either been sidelined, or have become the victims of politically motivated onslaughts. Still, the disputes per se are not a late modern phenomenon. Similar debates occur in any society that records its past. They form part of historical culture. Having a past and knowing it was considered to be a mark of civilisation. But where did this need for a past come from?

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Knowledge of the Holocaust: the meaning of ‘extermination’

Did ordinary Dutchmen know of the Holocaust during the war? That might seem an easy question to answer. Research has shown that the illegal press, Dutch radio broadcast from London, and even exiled queen Juliana characterized the deportation of the Jews almost from the beginning in the summer of 1942 as mass murder, destruction and, in the Queen’s words, “systematic extermination.”

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In search of political prisoners: A dialogue with Padraic Kenney

States around the world imprison people for their beliefs or politically-motivated actions. Oppositional movements of all stripes celebrate their comrades behind bars. Yet they are more than symbols of repression and human rights. Padraic Kenney discusses his new book, Dance in Chains: Political Imprisonment in the Modern World, which seeks to find universal answers to questions about the meaning and purpose of imprisonment.

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The war on Christmas: a two thousand year history [timeline]

Is there a war on Christmas? Yes. And it’s been fought for almost two thousand years. Since their earliest incarnation, Christmas festivities have been criticized and even outlawed. In the timeline below, historian and Christmas expert Gerry Bowler takes a look at this long history—from nativity protests in 240 through the billboard wars of 2014.

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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 relevance of the Russian Revolution [video]

This year, 2017, marks the centennial of the Russian Revolution, a defining moment in time with ripple effects felt across the world to this day. In the following video, author Laura Engelstein sits down with Oxford University Press editor Tim Bent to discuss the history of the revolution, its global impact, and her book Russia in Flames: War, Revolution, Civil War, 1914-1921.

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Not finding Bigfoot

The Renaissance is remembered as a time of renewed interest in scientific investigation, yet it also brought a huge increase in sightings of fantastic creatures such as mermaids and sea serpents. One explanation for this apparent paradox is that the revival of classical art and literature inspired explorers to look for the creatures of Greco-Roman mythology. Another reason was the expansion of trade. Cryptids, fantastic creatures that elude established terms of description, tend to arise on the boundary of two or more cultures.

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100 years since the world shook [excerpt]

The fall of the Romanov dynasty may have occurred in an instant, but the wheels were set in motion long before 1917. The effects of the Russian revolution were felt far beyond the borders of Eastern Europe and changed the course of world history forever. In this centenary year, Laura Engelstein, author of Russia in Flames: War, Revolution, Civil War, 1914-1921, takes us back to the brutal battles that took place at the beginning of the 20th century, and gives us reason as to why we need to revisit it now.

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What drives displacement and refuge?

Global refugee numbers are at their highest levels since the end of World War II, but the system in place to deal with them, based upon a humanitarian list of imagined “basic needs,” has changed little. In this excerpt from Refuge: Rethinking Refugee Policy in a Changing World, authors Paul Collier and Alexander Betts explain the cause and effect of mass violence, a far too common pre-cursor to refugee crises and global displacement.

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Warfare as the creator and destroyer of nations

There are at least four ways in which warfare in its changing forms has been formative in the rise and transformation of national collectivities. First, warfare has been central for much nation-state formation. Most nation-states that came into existence before the mid-20th century were created by war or had their boundaries defined by wars or internal violence.

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Why are world food problems so hard to solve?

More than 20 million people in Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia, and northeast Nigeria are now facing extreme hunger, with the potential for not just widespread death, but also the deepening of long-term political and military crises in East Africa. United Nations humanitarian coordinator Stephen O’Brien has called this food crisis the world’s greatest humanitarian crisis since 1945.

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April 1917: the end of American neutrality in WWI

Mary Roberts Rinehart’s journey since 1914 perhaps best represents the mood and the moment of April 1917. She had been one of the first Americans to urge a more assertive posture toward the war. Two years earlier, Rinehart had written that although she supported the United States taking a more active pro-Allied stance in the wake of the Lusitania tragedy, she was glad that her sons were then too young to fight if it came to war.

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