Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

George Washington’s early love of literature [excerpt]

Unlike his contemporaries Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and Alexander Hamilton—George Washington isn’t remembered as an intellectual. But for what he lacked in formal education, Washington made up for in enthusiasm for learning. His personal education began at an early age and continued throughout his adult life. In the following excerpt from George Washington: A Life in Books, historian Kevin J. Hayes gives insight into Washington’s early love of literature.

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Hitchcock and Shakespeare

There are two adjectives we commonly use when discussing artists and artistic things that we feel deserve serious attention and appreciation: Shakespearean and Hitchcockian. These two terms actually have quite a bit in common, not only in how and why they are used but also in what they specifically refer to, and closely examining the ways in which Hitchcock is Shakespearean can be very revealing.

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Margaret Fuller and the coming democracy

Since the 30th April, I go almost daily to the hospitals,” Margaret Fuller told her friend Ralph Waldo Emerson in a 10 June 1849 letter. “Though I have suffered,–for I had no idea before how terrible gun-shot wounds and wound-fever are, I have taken pleasure, and great pleasure, in being with the men; there is scarcely one who is not moved by a noble spirit.”

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The world of Jane Austen [timeline]

Jane Austen was a British author whose six novels quietly revolutionized world literature. She is now considered one of the greatest writers of all time (with frequent comparisons to Shakespeare) and hailed as the first woman to earn inclusion in the established canon of English literature. Despite Austen’s current fame, her life is notable for its lack of traditional ‘major’ events. Discover Austen’s world, and its impact on her writing ….

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Travelling with Shakespeare

William Shakespeare is celebrated as one of the greatest Englishmen who has ever lived and his presence in modern Britain is immense. His contributions to the English language are extraordinary, helping not only to standardize the language as a whole but also inspiring terms still used today (a prime example being “swag” derived from “swagger” first seen in the plays Henry V and A Midsummer Night’s Dream).

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The Iliad and The Trojan War [excerpt]

The Iliad tells the story of Achilles’ anger, but also encompasses, within its narrow focus, the whole of the Trojan War. The title promises “a poem about Ilium” (i.e. Troy), and the poem lives up to that description. The first books recapitulate the origins and early stages of the Trojan War.

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Barth, the Menardian

For the better part of half a century, John Barth was synonymous with what was the last self-conscious attempt at constructing a universal aesthetic movement speaking for all of humanity but recognizing only its bourgeois, white constituent. Much like Virginia Woolf once could claim that “on or about December, 1910, human character changed,” Barth would argue that literary modernism was over.

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The life and work of Angela Carter [timeline]

Award-winning author Angela Carter is widely viewed as one of the great modern English writers. Known for her use of magic realism and picaresque prose, Carter’s writing style reflected the world around her, capturing 1960s counterculture and second wave feminism.

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A very British realignment

Over the first two years of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party, several commentators noted fascinating parallels with an iconic fictional account of a Labour leadership. First written as a novel by journalist and future Labour MP Chris Mullin in 1982, A Very British Coup depicts the surprise election of a radical left-wing Labour Party led by staunch socialist Harry Perkins in an imagined near future.

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Which Celtic goddess are you?

Although most people have heard of the Celts, very little is known about their customs and beliefs. Unlike the Ancient Greeks and Romans, few records of their stories exist.

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Valuing our ecological futures

Most people care about their potential futures. But there’s a threat to some of these possible futures. In 2016, globally we experienced the hottest consecutive year on record since 2000, with 2017 looking to break the record again. At the current rate of warming climates, along with other environmental concerns, living on the Earth will become more difficult, if not impossible, by the end of the century.

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Friendship in Shakespeare

In Shakespeare’s England, the term “friend” could be used to express a wide range of interpersonal relations. A friend could be anything from a neighbour, a lover, or fellow countryman, to a family member or the close personal acquaintance we understand as a “friend” today.

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English: The Journal of the English Association cover

Ivanka Trump’s sleeves (too long; didn’t read)

Like our students, we scholars don’t always finish our reading – but unlike our students, we are professionally cultivated in the crucial tasks of deciding what to read and how to read it. We might better equip our students if we openly discussed TL;DR instead, thereby acknowledging not only the great unread but the existence of a wide variety of reading modes, always working in concert with our cherished close reading.

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On the value of intellectuals

In times of populism, soundbites, and policy-by-twitter such as we live in today, the first victims to suffer the slings and arrows of the demagogues are intellectuals. These people have been demonised for prioritising the very thing that defines them: the intellect, or finely reasoned and sound argument. As we celebrate the 161st birthday of Bernard Shaw, one of the most gifted, influential, and well-known intellectuals to have lived, we might use the occasion to reassess the value of intellectuals to a healthy society and why those in power see them as such threats.

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Picking a fight in an empty room

This year marks the 137th anniversary of the birth of Seán O’Casey, one of the best-known of all Irish playwrights. His works first enthralled audiences at Dublin’s Abbey Theatre during the 1920s, and in the years since then his dramas have been repeatedly revisited by actors and directors.

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The paradox of Margery Kempe

After a period of chastity, Margery Kempe’s husband described one of those hypothetical scenarios that couples sometimes use to test each other. “Margery, if a man came with a sword and wanted to chop off my head unless I had sexual intercourse with you as I used to before, […] [would you] allow my head to be chopped off, or else allow me to have sex with you as I previously did?”

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