Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

How Wayfair opens the door to taxing internet sales

In a much anticipated decision, the US Supreme Court in South Dakota v. Wayfair, Inc. declared, by the narrowest of margins, that a state may require an internet seller to collect sales and use taxes even if the seller lacks physical presence in the state seeking to impose the obligation to collect its tax. Wayfair is an important decision, though much of the popular reporting about it has been overstated.

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From Eugène Rougon to Donald Trump: Émile Zola and politics

Zola modeled the characters, plot, and settings of his novel His Excellency Eugène Rougon (1876) on real people and events, drawing on his own experience as a parliamentary reporter in 1869–71 and secretary in 1870 to the Republican deputy Alexandre Glais-Bizoin. But the novel is not a mere chronicle of politics during the French Second Empire (1852–70).

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How much do patents matter to innovation?

Patents—rights that governments grant to inventors for new inventions—pervade the modern world. The US alone grants about 300,000 of them annually, mostly for components of, or methods relating to, larger end products. Your smartphone, for example, contains thousands of patented features; but even many seemingly simpler items, such as cosmetics, often contain one or more.

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The politics and power of nostalgia

The summer exam season is now upon us so let me start this month’s blog with a simple question: ‘What role does nostalgia play in explaining ‘the populist signal’?’ A recent report suggests that the role of nostalgic narratives has become a central element of contemporary politics that tap into (and to some extent fuel) anti-political sentiments amongst the public.

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How to write a biography

This year I’ve been reading a lot of biographies and writing some short profile pieces. Both experiences have caused me to reflect back on a book-length biography I wrote a few years ago on the little-known educator Sherwin Cody. Writing a book-length biography was a new experience for me at the time. I learned a lot along the way. Here are a few tips based on my experience.

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Rediscovering ancient Greek music

At the root of all Western literature is ancient Greek poetry—Homer’s great epics, the passionate love poems of Sappho, the masterpieces of Greek tragedy and of comic theatre. Almost all of this poetry was or originally involved sung music, often with instrumental accomp­animent.

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An interactive view of the giraffe

Giraffes are some of the best-known, well-loved animals of the African safari. But today, many variations of these long-necked herbivores are listed as vulnerable or endangered due to habitat depletion and poaching.

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Real sex films capture our changing relationship to sex

In 2001, the film Intimacy was screened in London as the first “real sex” film set in Britain. With a French director and international leads (the British Mark Rylance and New Zealander Kerry Fox), the film was controversial even before screening.

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Full of fear: really dreadful

Fear is a basic emotion in all living creatures, because it makes them recognize and avoid danger. It is therefore no wonder that so many words for it have been coined. Language can describe fear by registering the physical reaction to it, for instance, shaking and trembling (quite a few words for “fear” in the Indo-European languages belong here) or trying to flee from the source of danger, as in Greek phobós, known from the suffix -phobe and all kinds of phobias (phébomai “I fear; I flee from”; its Russian cognate beg- designates only “running”).

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Bridging partisan divides over scientific issues

The current era in the Western hemisphere is marked by growing public distrust of “intellectual elites.” The present U.S. administration openly disregards, or even suppresses, relevant scientific input to policy formulation.

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Basic goods as basic rights

f we were to try summarizing the many statements on human rights within the United Nations system, it might be as follows: basic goods are basic rights. True, there was an old approach to human rights that focused exclusively on “negative” political rights and cast doubt on “positive” subsistence rights. For example, it has been argued that we should not focus on economic or social rights because this would distract attention from political rights.

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Reluctant migrants in Italy

The attempted murder of six African immigrants in the streets of the northern province of Macerata in February 2018 brought to mind an earlier history of black bodies in Italy. In April 1943, the fascist Ministry of Italian Africa transported a group of over fifty Africans to Macerata from Naples. Today, immigration is transforming Italy to an increasingly diverse country.

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Martin Luther’s Polish revolution

Last year, Playmobil issued one of its best-selling and most controversial figurines yet, a three-inch Martin Luther, with quill, book, and cheerful pink plastic face. This mini-Luther celebrated the 500th anniversary of the Reformation

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European Public Law: facing the challenge of decline

In recent years, Europe has lost much of its promise. The financial crisis, the debt crisis, the refugee crisis, the apparent systemic deficiencies of national and supranational governance structures, as well as a fading confidence in democratic government, have led to a certain impression of “messiness.”

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Gun control is more complex than you think

In the public debate over gun control, many people talk as if our only options are to support or oppose it. Although some endorse more expansive views, many still talk as if our choices are quite limited: whether to support or oppose a small number of

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