Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

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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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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