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Academic Insights for the Thinking World

A Useful History of Britain

Beyond history and identity: what else can we learn from the past?

History is important to collective identity in the same way that memory is important to our sense of ourselves. It is difficult to explain who we are without reference to our past: place and date of birth, class background, education, and so on. A shared history can, by the same token, give us a shared identity—to be a Manchester United fan is to have a particular relationship to the Munich air disaster, the Busby babes, George Best, Eric Cantona, and so on.

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The decay of the art of lying, or homonyms and their kin

I have been meaning to write about homonyms for quite some time, and now this time has come. Here we are interested in one question only, to wit—why so many obviously different words are not distinguished in pronunciation, or, to change the focus of the enquiry, why language, constantly striving for the most economical and most perfect means of expression (or so it seems), has not done enough to get rid of those countless ambiguities.

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The Legacy of Racism for Children

“Stop acting like a child”: police denial of Black childhood

On 29 January 2021, Rochester police responded to an incident involving a Black nine-year-old girl, who they were told might be suicidal. An extended police body camera video of the incident shows the agitated child, her mother, and an officer attempting to de-escalate the situation.

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The Realness of Things Past

Have humans always lived in a “pluriverse” of worlds?

In the modern West, we take it for granted that reality is an objectively knowable material world. From a young age, we are taught to visualize it as a vast abstract space full of free-standing objects that all obey timeless universal laws of science and nature. But a very different picture of reality is now emerging from new currents of thought in fields like history, anthropology, and sociology.

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A Roman road trip: tips for travelling the Roman Empire this summer

As Europe reopens, consider a Roman road trip that takes inspiration from an ancient travel guide. The Vicarello itineraries describe what we might call the scenic route from Cádiz to Rome. Glimpses of the empire’s superlative architecture can be found along the way, and emerging digital tools can put primary sources at your fingertips.

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Passion's Fictions from Shakespeare to Richardson: Literature and the Sciences of Soul and Mind

Shakespeare and the sciences of emotion

What role should literature have in the interdisciplinary study of emotion? The dominant answer today seems to be “not much.” Scholars of literature of course write about emotion; but fundamental questions about what emotion is and how it works belong elsewhere: to psychology, cognitive science, neurophysiology, philosophy of mind. In Shakespeare’s time the picture was different. What the period called “passions” were material for ethics and for that part of natural philosophy dealing with the soul; but it was rhetoric that offered the most extensive accounts of the passions.

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Transgression and Redemption in American Fiction

Where have you gone, Jimmy Gatz? Roman Catholic haunting in American literary modernism

The year is 1924: the restriction acts designed to turn the tide of Eastern and Southern European immigration into a trickle have been signed into US law. However, nativist panic continues apace. In quick succession three titans of US literary modernism weigh in, each with the novel still judged their best: F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby (1925), Willa Cather’s The Professor’s House (1926), Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises (1926).

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Shakespeare and East Asia

Adapting Shakespeare: shattering stereotypes of Asian women onstage and onscreen

There has always been some perceived affinity between the submissive Ophelia and East Asian women. Ophelia is a paradox in world literature. Even when she appears to depend on others for her thoughts like her Western counterpart, the Ophelias in Asian adaptations adopt some rhetorical strategies to make themselves heard, balancing between eloquence and silence, shattering the stereotypes about docile Asian women.

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Which law applies to negotiable instruments?

The law of negotiable instruments is known for its sophistication and internal complexity. For centuries it has provided an effective legal solution for the pertinent needs of domestic and international commerce, facilitating predictability, protection of parties’ justified expectations, and the elimination of the risk involved in the physical carriage of money. The internal balance of its rules, doctrines, concepts, and principles has been achieved through a slow and ongoing evolution—a Sisyphean effort of adjudication tribunals to balance of the interests of commercial actors, fairness, legal predictability, and commercial utility.

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Whose streets? The picturesque, Central Park, and the spaces of American democracy

Last summer, during the “Black Lives Matter” protests in US cities galvanized by the murder of George Floyd, it was common to hear marchers chanting “Whose streets? Our streets!” In some instances, police seeking to break up the protests also took up this chant, an ironic retort to the crowd’s claim to political power. These contesting claims to possession of the city streets framed a conflict over social representation in contemporary US life: “whose streets” are they really

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Jewish American Writing and World Literature: Maybe to Millions, Maybe to Nobody

What does it mean to think of the world “in Jewish”?

Antisemitism has been increasingly in the headlines, from reports of violent incidents directly targeting Jews to the growing prominence of ethnonationalist discourse that makes frequent use of Jewish stereotypes. This surge in anti-Jewishness includes renewed attention to the medieval image of the wandering Jew, translated into contemporary parlance with the term “globalism.” It would be tempting to dismiss such ideas as uninformed distortions of Jewish culture and history. It may be useful then to think with the stereotype rather than against it. What does it mean to think of the world “in Jewish”? What might a vocabulary of Jewish worldliness reveal about the global present?

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